A couple weeks ago, I was craving chocolate cake. The problem? I had no eggs, butter or milk in the house. Pandemic-induced food shortages—plus the fact I hadn’t been shopping in a while—meant I was low on just about everything you need to bake. Luckily, baking isn’t a zero-sum game; there are a number of substitutes for each of the most common baking ingredients, including flour, milk, butter and eggs.
If you are craving chocolatey treats or other baked goods but don’t have all the ingredients, you have option. The ideal substitute will vary depending on what you are trying to bake, but there’s a wide variety of options out there. Let’s review.
As we’ve written before, you can make your own self-rising flour by mixing in 1 ½ teaspoons of baking powder and ¼ tsp of salt to one cup of all-purpose flour. You can also make your own cake flour and bread flour from all-purpose flour.
For cake flour, measure out one cup of all purpose flour and remove two tablespoons of flour. Then, add in two tablespoons of cornstarch, and sift well.
For bread flour, you’ll want to measure out one cup of all-purpose flour, then remove 1 ½ teaspoons of flour. Add in 1 ½ teaspoons of vital wheat gluten; you’ll then whisk the two together for use in recipes that call for bread flour.
In place of milk, there are multiple shelf-stable options that might be lurking in your pantry. One possibility is you can use shelf-stable milk in the form of evaporated or powdered milk. If you find a dusty can of evaporated milk, you’ll want to dilute it with water in a 1:1 mixture. Powdered milk will require mixing up an equivalent amount of the fresh milk. your recipe calls for. You can also use canned coconut milk as a 1:1 substitution for cow’s milk.
Other possibilities include using water to stretch out your milk if you don’t have enough. Use a 1:1 ratio of milk to water and add in a tablespoon of butter or oil to help with the fat content.
In baking, there are a number of butter substitutes you can use, the choice of which will depend on what you are baking. These substitutes, which can generally be substituted for butter at a 1:1 ratio by volume, include applesauce, avocado, mashed bananas, greek yogurt, nut butters like peanut or almond butter. You can also use pumpkin puree, though there you’ll want to substitute just 3/4 of the amount of butter you would use.
Given that these substitutes have different taste profiles, you’ll want to pick the right one for what you are trying to bake. You might need to experiment a bit with the amount of liquid you use in order to keep your baked goods from getting too dry.
In baking, the most common substitute for eggs is one tablespoon of vinegar with one teaspoon of baking soda, a strategy that has been employed in a lot of recipes, to good effect. The Kitchn also breaks down some of other common substitutions, rating them on their effectiveness. One of their top recommendations is to use two teaspoons of baking powder, one teaspoon of oil and two tablespoons of water. Their other top suggestion is to substitute ¼ cup carbonated water for one egg, which they reported produced superior results. Who would have ever guessed?
How I solved for my own chocolate craving without eggs, butter or milk
For my particular problem outlined above, the answer turned out to be depression cake, which is an eggless, milk-less chocolate cake recipe made popular during the Great Depression, when milk and eggs were scarce to come by. (Sigh.)
Normally depression cake is topped with a dusting of powdered sugar, but I was craving chocolate frosting, which usually requires butter and some milk. Instead, I substituted, at a 1:1 ratio, ghee for butter, almond milk for cream, plus a pinch of instant coffee, which intensified the flavour of the chocolate powder. If When I make the frosting again, I may try substituting peanut butter for regular butter.
The result? Rich, moist chocolate cake, topped with an intense chocolate icing. No butter, eggs or milk required.