I Can’t Believe It’s Not Buttermilk!

Dear Reader,

The first step when pursuing any recipe is selecting the ingredients. As an amateur baker, I like to always keep flour, sugar (white and brown), baking soda, baking powder, salt, and vanilla on hand. My supplies as of late, however, haven been dwindling as baking has been my go-to stay-at-home activity during the pandemic and grocery shopping is considered a last-resort option. This means that when I set out to bake something, I do not always have all necessary ingredients and am becoming increasingly reliant on similar substitutes to complete a dish.

One day, I was craving salt and wondered whether I had the right ingredients to make a Bavarian pretzel. Unfortunately, I was missing yeast—a key ingredient in many soft, doughy treats. So, I pivoted my search to some savory breads. I had recently made a flatbread that did not require yeast (more here) and was interested to see whether I could find another yeast-less recipe. I stumbled upon an Irish soda bread recipe that seemed to fit the bill, so I rolled up my sleeves and got to it, despite the fact that I knew I was missing a few ingredients.

The Irish soda bread recipe was simple enough and called for flour, wholemeal flour, buttermilk, salt, and baking soda. Unfortunately, I was missing wholemeal flour—which gives the product a nutty flavor—and buttermilk. The recipe suggested that I could use regular flour in lieu of wholemeal flour for a plainer taste. As for buttermilk, I learned that a suitable substitution is adding a tablespoon’s worth of lemon juice for every cup (minus a tablespoon) of milk. I followed the recipe instructions, kneading the dough a few times and sprinkling flax seeds and oats on top for some extra flavor. After 40 minutes of baking, the dough came out hard and light brown, however, knifing my way into the center of the dough I was pleased to find a soft, spongy, beige interior. Although I was nervous about the substitutions, I was relieved to find that the bread looked and tasted good.

Without reliable access to ingredients during the pandemic, there are some ingredient substitutions that I consider to be my regulars.

Vegetable Oil – Grocery stores in my area have either neglected to stock this product or are continually fresh out in this age of panic shopping. Although many of my recipes have stated that olive oil is not a good substitute for vegetable oil…I beg to differ. While following a ‘banana breakfast bar’ recipe (more here) that called for vegetable oil, I swapped in olive oil and added some honey in attempt to keep the olive-y taste at bay. Lucky for me, the bar tasted sweet and without a trace of olive!

Fancy Flours – All-purpose flour is called “all-purpose” for a reason. A few of my recent recipes have called for wheat or almond flour, however, unless you have a specific dietary restriction, all-purpose flour will always do fine in a pinch.

Buttermilk – As mentioned above, dairy milk plus lemon juice works as a viable buttermilk substitute. Specifically, the proportions should be 1 tablespoon of lemon juice plus 15 tablespoons (i.e. one tablespoon shy of a cup) of milk.

Butter – To save on butter for practical things like toast, I have been using dairy-free butter in many of my recipes with very nice results!

The above is just a few examples of my more successful ingredient substitutions. Whether it’s baking, making, or just living, I encourage you always, Dear Reader, to stay curious and creative in your endeavors.



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