Ah, the holidays, when everyone’s kitchen goes into overdrive, turning out goodies and sweets to keep the world’s Christmas tummies merry and bright. But sooner or later, every busy baker and clever cook is bound to hit a snag: The recipe calls for an ingredient you simply don’t have. You thought the bottle of vanilla was fresh, but it’s almost empty. You could have sworn the carton was full, but only one or two eggs remain. What to do?
You could send your husband to the convenience store to get gouged. Everyone enjoys that, especially Yogi, who is doing the gouging. (This is not racist. His name is Yogi and boy does he gouge.) Or, you could put on your thinking toque and rustle up a substitute. A substitute! Good kitchen sense means thinking on your feet, and substitutes are the backbone of baking, unless you are, in fact, cooking a backbone, and you are out of backbone. Then you’re out of luck.
Here are some of my most-used kitchen substitutions:
Short on eggs? Substitute 1/4 cup of unsweetened applesauce for each egg you’re missing. Or you could swap in half a mashed banana. Just don’t think too hard about why it’s okay to use banana, which is absolutely bristling with sucrose, but the substitution guides always specify unsweetened applesauce. Baking is a science, okay? And science means you shut up. If you don’t have apples or bananas or eggs, you could always use arrowroot powder. I won’t tell you how much, because we all know you don’t have arrowroot powder. Dude, you don’t even have eggs.
Recipe calls for buttermilk but you’re fresh out? The next best thing is a scant cup of regular milk with a tablespoon of vinegar stirred in. Let it sit for five minutes before stirring, to give the ghost of your grandmother a chance to sidle in and make that sucking noise she makes when you did something stupid; then continue cooking as normal. *kshhh*
Sour cream and yogurt are very often interchangeable, so feel free to swap them in and out. In and out! You could even use cottage cheese. In and out, up and down, side-side-side-side-side! You could even try mayonnaise, as long as there are enough other strong ingredients to mask the flavor. Few people know this, but mayonnaise is actually made of cheese. A dairy product, if you will. Yes it is. Why is it cheese-colored, then?
Recipe calls for unsalted butter, but all you have is salted? Get over yourself. No one cares. What is this for, cookies? Your cookies are rubbery little wrinkled dough puddles with hair in them. Gray hair. People are buying them at the bake sale solely to remove them from public view. The salt ratio being marginally out of balance is not what’s going to make or break your project, bunky.
Springform pan gone missing? Try taking a normal pan and lining it with tinfoil, then putting little pebbles from the stream all along the inside. Crimp the tinfoil along the top end and fashion little vents with a melon baller, then pour the batter over that with a wry little twisting motion of the wrist while looking in the other direction and pretending not to notice what is happening. It won’t do anything, but at least you could try. Try putting your husband’s car keys in there. Put Meow Mix, see if I care.
A little low on flour? Try this trick: Slowly tear the pages out of your most infuriating cookbook with all the precious details about a frugal but free-spirited childhood in Soho, and stuff them into the food processor. Add a little truffle oil, pulse two or three times, and boom. You’ll have an excuse to go to the Salvation Army and pick yourself out a new food processor. While you’re out, you can get some flour.
Lost your will to live? Try eating, instead.
Hope this helps, and happy baking! *kshhh*