20 surprising baking substitutes that actually work

If lockdown hasn’t made a baker of you just yet, give it time. It seems we’re all turning to baking as a popular pastime lately, and no wonder – it’s a therapeutic, mindful task that’s great for all ages and abilities, plus you (hopefully) end up with a tasty treat at the end. It’s even been found to be the number one hobby for increasing happiness levels.

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However, with the entire nation fixated on whizzing up cakes, breads and biscuits galore, the essential ingredients required for baking are vanishing off the shelves quicker than you can say lockdown. But that needn’t mean you put down your whisk just yet. Get your pinny back on because, while the basics may be near impossible to track down, there are great substitutes for each of the vital baking components – flour, eggs, butter and sugar – that work for a range of recipes, from breads and brownies to cakes and cookies.

Just remember that, while these alternative ingredients can closely replicate the role of common baking ingredients, they may act differently and are not necessarily like-for-like swaps. Adjust measurements accordingly and watch out for which substitutes best suit which type of bake.

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They can also alter the taste or texture of your bake (and may even make it vegan or gluten-free), but that’s definitely not always a bad thing – embrace the difference and who knows, you might find your new favourite way of baking.

(N.B. swapping regular flour for a non-gluten flour, such as the below suggestions, will affect your bakes elasticity and ability to rise, making them better used in cakes and quick breads, such as banana bread, rather than yeast breads. If subbing flour in a yeast bread, consider increasing the amount of yeast used).

Subbing ingredients may take some trial and error, so don’t be disheartened if your bake isn’t perfect the first time using a new ingredient. Alternatively, look for recipes that specifically call for that type of ingredient to ensure the measurements and ratios are correct.

Read on for our alternative baking ingredients and you’ll be baking up a storm (read: making an absolute mess) in the kitchen in no time.

Substitutes for flour

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Almond flour

Made from finely ground almonds, this low-carb, nutrient dense flour leans on the sweeter side, making it ideal for cookies and cakes, but also happy enough in savoury bakes such as bread and pizza dough – and any macaron recipe directly calls for almond flour, anyway.

How to swap: For yeast doughs of all kinds, use 1/3 almond flour for the amount stated in the recipe. For non-yeast recipes (cookies, scones, cakes, biscuits, muffins etc), use 1/4 almond flour of the amount specified in the recipe.

Buckwheat flour

A popular gluten-free flour alternative, buckwheat flour has cholesterol-lowering effects and is high in fibre. It’s best used in pancakes, cookies, wraps and pound cakes – basically anything that doesn’t need to rise – while soba noodles and blinis are both primarily made with buckwheat flour.

How to swap: Unless following a recipe that directly calls for buckwheat flour only, it should be used in combination with lighter flours, so you will still need some all-purpose or plain flour to hand – only replace up to half of the flour required with buckwheat.

Chickpea flour

This dense, high protein flour is made from dried ground chickpeas and is often used in Indian cooking, so you should find it easily in any good Indian food shop. It’s a good substitute in cookies, muffins, brownies, pizza dough and flatbreads but works particularly well in pancakes and banana bread. Remember, as a gluten-free flour baked goods won’t rise as much and its denser texture means it absorbs more liquid than all-purpose flour. It’s also perfect for coating meat and fish before frying, as a binder in burgers or as a thickener in soups and sauces.

How to swap: To substitute for normal flour, use 3/4 of the amount required.

Coconut flour

Made from ground coconut flesh, this flour is high in fibre, low in calories and contains good, heart-healthy fats. It’s highly absorbent, so swapping it can take a little trial and error, but can be done (we’ve used it in Pret’s cookie recipe and it worked a treat). If in doubt, look for specific coconut flour recipes first to get used to how it behaves, before using it as a swap. It will give a mild coconut flavour to your bake, but it’s subtle enough not to overpower.

How to swap: Substitute coconut flour for plain flour at a 1:4 ratio and add one egg for  every 1/4 cup (32g) of coconut flour.

Oats

You may find oat flour in the shops, but you can just as easily blitz some in a food processor or blender to create your own oat flour. You can use it to coat chicken before frying as well as in baking. It’s great in pancakes, waffles, muffins, breads, cakes, cookies – pretty much anything!

How to swap: Substitute oat flour on a 1:1 ratio for plain flour, but some trial and error may prove you need to also use more liquid e.g. eggs, and leavening agent, such as baking powder. Alternatively, use it to replace up to 30 per cent of the flour stated in a recipe, combining the two.

Substitutes for eggs

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Fruit purée

Puréed or mashed fruit can be a great substitute for eggs in quick breads and cakes. Apple puree (either from the baby food aisle or made from scratch) or mashed bananas work best here, but pumpkin purée or mashed avocado can also work well, especially as a binder in burgers or salad dressings.

How to swap: Use 1/4 cup (59ml) of fruit puree in place of each egg e.g. 2 eggs = 60-65g fruit puree.

Flax seeds

When ground and combined with water, flax seeds become a thick mixture that acts a lot like eggs. A large quantity can add a nutty flavour to a bake, so it’s recommended use is in pancakes, brownies and muffins. It can also be a good binder in meatballs and burgers.

How to swap: Mix 1 tablespoon ground flax seed with 3 tablespoons warm water for every egg. Let the mixture stand for a minute before using.

Nut butter

Full of healthy fats, just like eggs, nut butters are an excellent egg substitute. Depending what type of nut butter you use, they can add a strong flavour, but that’s not an issue – use it to enhance the flavour of your bake. Always use smooth, not crunchy, as this will affect the texture of your bake.

How to swap: Sub 3 tablespoons of nut butter for every egg required.

Mashed potato

Now, stay with us here. Trust us, this can really work and won’t make your cakes taste like a roast dinner. Mashed potato can add moisture to any bake that calls for an egg and it creates a lovely airy texture in breads, too. It’s also excellent in brownies. Tip: boil your spuds until they’re really soft, we don’t want any lumps here!

How to swap: Swap each egg for 1/4 cup (59ml) of mashed potato or 2 tablespoons of instant mash before rehydrating.

Tofu

Tofu, specifically silken tofu, works very well in recipes that call for lots of eggs, however it’s more dense than eggs, so consider using in bakes with a closer texture, such as brownies.

How to swap: Use 1/4 cup (59ml) silken tofu, mashed or whipped, for every egg.

Aquafaba

Aquafaba is the liquid found in cans of chickpeas and it makes for a great egg substitute, especially popular with vegans. It whips well so is ideal in meringues and macarons, but can be used in most baking recipes, sweet or savoury (the bean flavour disappears once cooked).

How to swap: Use 3 tablespoons of aquafaba for every egg. Before adding, whip it slightly until foamy – if making meringues, use an electric mixer to properly beat it, just like you would egg whites.

Substitutes for butter

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Apple sauce

As well as being a good egg sub, apple sauce or puree is also a good butter alternative. Best used in dense cakes, either find it in the baby food aisle or make your own by peeling and chopping an apple and heating it gently in a pan or microwave with water until it’s soft enough to mash.

How to swap: For best results, replace just half the butter with apple sauce, but if you don’t mind a denser, more moist bake go ahead and replace all of it at 1:1 ratio.

Avocado

Not just great on toast, mashed avocado can also replace butter in baking. Doing so can sometimes lower the calorie content and creates a softer, chewier baked good, so it’s ideal for cookies.

How to swap: Replace at 1:1 ratio and reduce your oven temperature by 25 per cent and slightly increase your baking time – this will ensure an even bake.

Vegetable oil

While the finished product may lack some flavour that the butter would have provided, vegetable oil can be a good substitute for butter in an emergency, especially in recipes that call for melted butter. It won’t work in cakes that require the creaming method (beating butter and sugar together) as oil can’t be beaten to incorporate air.

How to swap: Use 80 per cent of the weight of butter as oil and make up the difference with another liquid such as milk or sour cream to stop your cake becoming too greasy or heavy.

Plain or greek yoghurt

Using plain or greek yoghurt in baking will reduce the fat content of your bake – it works best in cake recipes, but bear in mind it will make it denser and richer and could add an slight acidic twang. Avoid using in recipes that call for a lot of butter as you could end up with a soggy cake.

How to swap: Either swap at a 1:1 ratio or swap half of the butter for yoghurt. If doing a full swap, you may need to up the amount of flour.

Prune purée

This works best in recipes that involve chocolate or cinnamon – just use shop-bought puréed prunes from the baby food aisle or whizz up some prunes in a food processor.

How to swap: Swap at a 1:1 ratio.

Substitutes for sugar

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Honey

Honey is sweeter than sugar, so subbing sugar for honey requires using less; remember the darker the honey, the stronger the flavour. Depending on the honey, this swap could add an interesting flavour to your bake. Honey will work in any baked good.

How to swap: Use 1/2 – 2/3 the amount of sugar called for in the recipe as honey and subtract 1/4 of the amount of other liquids from the recipe. If the recipe doesn’t already require baking soda, add a 1/4 tsp baking soda for every 1 cup (340g) honey used. Lastly, lower the oven temperature slightly as honey burns quicker than sugar.

Maple syrup

The thicker and darker your maple syrup the better it will be for baking with. It’s only 60 per cent as sweet as sugar, but is a decent substitute in most bakes.

How to swap: Use 3/4 cup (255g) for every 1 cup (201g) of granulated sugar and decrease the amount of other liquids in the recipe by 3 tablespoons to compensate for the added liquid.

Agave

Agave is about 1 and a half times sweeter than sugar, meaning you can use much less to achieve the same sweetness, therefore reducing the calorie content of a bake. It works well in chewy bakes like flapjacks as well as sticky cakes and muffins.

How to swap: Use the same method as described above for substituting honey. Reduce your oven temperature by about 10C and increase the baking time slightly.

Stevia

Stevia is a natural sweetener that is up to 300 times sweeter than sugar, so is another good way to cut the calories in a bake. It can easily be found in granule, tablet or liquid form in most supermarkets.

How to swap: Follow package instructions for ingredient substitutions, or follow a stevia-specific recipe for the best outcome.