Substitute with confidence

So often when we’re looking to try something new in the kitchen we’ll get a recipe – from a magazine, from the Internet, from a friend – and we’ll stick to it. Lacking the confidence to substitute you’ll go out and buy up obscure ingredients because the recipe calls for it. If you’re guilty of this you’ll know because with a quick look in your cupboard you’ll find mostly full containers of random ingredients you’ve only ever used once. You may have even forgotten they are there. And you’re confused why they’re not needed for more dishes.

Baking is like a chemistry experiment. You need the right ingredients, mixed in the right order and heated to the right temperature for the right amount of time. And when we diverge from any of this the result can be anything from a disappointment to a disaster.

But, like in chemistry, if you know the composition and function of what you’re working with, it’s easier to make substitutions. Substitutions can be for health, for wealth or for just making use of what’s already in your cupboard.

People often have a hard time just relaxing in the kitchen, by why sweat it? Make a mistake today, learn from it tomorrow and try again. That’s what cooking – and life – is all about.

Here’s a quick vegan baking guide to some substitution that might come in handy.

Flour

Flour is what gives shape and structure to your baking. There are different types of flour available depending on how much (or little) gluten you need. For dense, heavy breads gluten is your friend, so hard wheat, high protein bread flour is used. But for light and fluffy cakes and pastries you’ll want as little gluten as possible, this is where the soft wheat cake flour or multipurpose flours come in handy. The fats and sugars you add to your baking also work to minimize the gluten production.

Avoid bread flour in baking as it’s too dense. The non-gluten forming family of flour includes: oat, corn, rice potato and soy all help to lighten the texture of your baking. However, these flours tend to affect the taste when used in large quantities so you’ll want to mix them with a wheat flour. Multipurpose flours work for most general baking. If you need something really tender and crumbly go for the super low gluten producing cake and pastry flours.

Liquid

Liquids have several purposes.
They help to:

  • bind and solidify the structure of your baking,
  • act as steam to cook from within
  • act as a leavening agent to give your baking height
  • contribute to the overall flakiness of the product
  • spread the flavor through the baking.

Water can be subbed in for just about any liquid, although it’s best to add the water last pouring it in small doses until the right consistency is met. There are several milk substitutes on the marked made from almonds, rice or soy, but if you don’t have any of these to hand 3/4 cup of water will generally equal 1cup of milk. If you want a fattier milk substitute for moister baking add 3 tablespoons of liquefied margarine to the water.

Juice is another substitute although you’ll want to add come baking soda to neutralize the acidity. If it’s juice you’re trying to substitute – use whatever juice you happen to have. If you’re all out 1/2 teaspoon of vinegar and water will work.

Leavening agents

The leavening agent is what causes you baking to rise up into a fluffy delicious treat. Typically this is a mix of baking soda and baking powder. You’ll want to follow the recommended amounts as too much will give you a flat final product and too little leaves your baking heavy and soggy. And it’s also good to note that although there are substitutions for both, baking soda and baking powder are not interchangeable.

Baking soda – Use 1/4 tsp for every cup of flour used. To substitute try adding three times more baking powder than baking soda called for. If doing this you’ll need to also substitute all acidic ingredients for non-acidic (eg. orange juice is out, water and soy milk is in).

Baking powder – Use 1 tsp for every cup of flour used. If you haven’t any try 1/4 tsp baking soda mixed with 1/2 cup of soy yogurt. If you live at a particularity high altitude your baking will be affected and so you’ll need to make adjustment to the amount of baking powder used. If you don’t already know he substitutions to make for altitude, Google will help.

Fats

The fats create air bubbles which help baked goods to rise and give them a moist or fluffy texture. It also helps to bind everything together. Fats include vegetable shortening, oil, mashed avocado, baby food fruits and apple sauce. In traditional baking it’s butter, but as a vegan you may reach for the margarine instead – this is okay for cookies and denser items that don’t need that lift. But for cakes and muffins don’t, margarine doesn’t have the same properties as fats. For health and fantastic results I love avocado.

Sugars

Sugars do more than sweeten your baking they also add volume and texture while acting as a preservative. The sugars in your baking attract moisture which acts to prevent gluten forming while giving the final product a longer shelf life. If the recipe calls for white sugar using brown or raw will work just as well. Often I cut whatever the recommended sugar content is in half and everything has always turned out tasty. Honey and fruit both act as great natural replacements for sugar.

Salt

Salt strengthens gluten and adds flavor. When used with yeast, salt will stop baking from rising too quickly. Most sources discourage not adding salt, especially to bread. But for baked good, if you haven’t got any on hand going without isn’t gong to be the end of the world. If you’re worried your baking will be tasteless without salt try other spices or choose an egg replacer like apple sauce or bananas which will give more flavor to your baking. If you happen to have celery seed (not celery salt) on hand that will work as well.

Eggs

For vegans, eggs can be one of the more difficult items to replace. And typically, people will either stay away from baking all together or they’ll buy an expensive powdered egg replacer. It’s fair enough for the new baker as eggs play a very big role in ensuring your baked goods come out right. Eggs help baked goods to rise, they add fat for a lighter texture, the yolks are an emulsifier giving a smooth texture and the protein aids the structure of the baked goods.

Substitutions: Mashed bananas and apple sauce are both quick and easy options, although they can alter the flavor. Silken tofu soaks up the flavors its mixed with. One tablespoon of flax seeds mixed with water is a good substitute when the eggs are meant to thicken rather than soften your baking.

The easiest way to learn about what works and what doesn’t is to make substitutions and see what happens. Checking with your friends and family members who are more experienced in baking can also help you make the safer choices for a successful baking.

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