Recipe Substitutions for Cooking Emergencies

Say you're making a vinaigrette dressing for a salad and suddenly realize that you're out of vinegar. You do have lemons, which are an acceptable substitute, but how much lemon do you use? Or maybe you don't have whole milk for a gratin dish, but you do have skim milk. Is skim milk okay? Situations like these are what the following recipe substitutions are all about.

Some ingredients are almost always interchangeable: For example, you can substitute vegetable or olive oil in most cases for butter when sautéing or pan frying; lemon juice for vinegar in salad dressings and marinades; almonds for walnuts in baked breads and muffins; vegetable stock for beef or chicken stock in soups, stews, or sauces; and light cream for half-and-half.

But sometimes there is no acceptable substitution for an ingredient. Other times, the substitution is very exact and specific. This is most often the case for baked goods, where you need to follow a formula to produce a cake, soufflé, pastry, or bread with the perfect height, density, and texture.

Most of the following substitutions are for emergency situations only — when you have run out of an essential ingredient and need a very specific replacement.

For thickening soups, stews, and sauces:

  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch or potato flour = 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

  • 1 tablespoon arrowroot = 2 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

For flour:

  • 1 cup minus 2 tablespoons sifted all-purpose flour = 1 cup sifted cake flour

  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sifted cake flour = 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour

  • 1 cup sifted self-rising flour = 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour plus 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder and a pinch of salt

For leavening agents in baked goods:

  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda plus 1/3 teaspoon cream of tartar = 1 teaspoon double-acting baking powder

  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda plus 1/2 cup buttermilk or yogurt = 1 teaspoon double-acting baking powder in liquid mixtures only; reduce liquid in recipe by 1/2 cup

For dairy products:

  • 1 cup whole milk = 1/2 cup unsweetened evaporated milk plus 1/2 cup water

    or 1 cup skim milk plus 2 teaspoons melted butter

    or 1 cup water plus 1/3 cup powdered milk

    or 1 cup soy milk

    or 1 cup buttermilk plus 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1/4 cup whole milk plus 1/3 cup melted butter = l cup heavy cream (but not for making whipped cream)

  • 1 cup skim milk =1 cup water plus 1/4 cup nonfat powdered milk

    or 1/2 cup evaporated skim milk plus 1/3 cup water

  • 1 cup sour milk = 1 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt

    or 1 cup minus 1 tablespoon milk, plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice

    or white vinegar after standing 5 to 10 minutes

  • 1 cup sour cream = 1 cup plain yogurt

For eggs:

  • 2 egg yolks = 1 egg for thickening sauces and custards

  • 4 extra-large eggs = 5 large eggs or 6 small eggs

For sweetening:

  • 1 cup sugar = 1 cup molasses (or honey) plus 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1 cup brown sugar = 1 cup white sugar plus 1 1/2 tablespoons molasses

Miscellaneous substitutions:

  • 1 cup broth or stock = 1 bouillon cube dissolved in 1 cup boiling water

  • 1 square (1 ounce) unsweetened chocolate = 3 tablespoons cocoa plus 1 tablespoon butter, margarine, or vegetable shortening

  • 1 square (1 ounce) semisweet chocolate = 3 tablespoons cocoa plus 1 tablespoon butter, margarine, or vegetable shortening plus 2 tablespoons sugar

  • 1 2- to 3-inch piece of vanilla bean = 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

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