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Substitutions in a Pinch

by Megan Baker 24 days ago in list

Quick Substitutions for Hectic Holiday Feasts!

Substitutions in a Pinch
Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

We’ve all been there: it’s the day of one of the biggest family feasts of the year, stores are closed, and damn it, we’re out of a staple ingredient!

I used to work at a gas station convenience store (and also a big chain grocery store), and I worked on both Thanksgiving and Christmas for three years; I’ve seen some shit.

Like the folks who would drive up to the Walmart in the same parking lot on Thanksgiving, only to find it closed, who would then come into this gas station off of a busy highway and get angry that we didn’t carry butter. Milk, sure. Other dairy products? Not so much.

“How do you not carry that around the holidays!?!” they’d shriek. I’d stare, dumbfounded; oh yeah, we’re going to carry so many store items when we are in the same parking lot as a Walmart off of a highway. I mean, I get it - it’s frustrating when you find you need something at the last minute and can’t find it. Maybe they had it in their mind that we’d be stocking items we normally didn’t for the holidays. But we didn’t. Sorry, not our fault you didn’t have it together or that someone didn’t think before they used the last of the foil on leftovers the night before and now you can’t find any anywhere or an open store.

By Marjan Blan | @marjanblan on Unsplash

Bread, foil, milk, eggs, and lottery tickets; all of these things sold like crazy on both Thanksgiving and Christmas and good luck finding any of them past noon. And that’s not including the folks who asked for stuffing mix, potatoes, canned goods like cranberries, and dairy products like heavy whipping cream. Some stuff was reasonable from any gas station, but as I said, we were one off a busy highway and shared a parking lot with a big chain grocery store: our main customers were truckers and travelers looking for snacks, not folks who would need to restock their pantries. Location, location, location! You want pantry items? Find a gas station that is in a local neighborhood - you’ll have much better odds. Except for actual potatoes; instant potatoes, maybe.

Any case, my point is that I know how it is when you don’t have what you need, and I also know what folks tend to be looking for at the last minute on these holidays. While there’s no substituting cranberries, there is some luck with baking staples like butter and eggs - if you’ve got the right items. Below, I mention some substitutions if you find yourself in a pinch when preparing the holiday meal!

By DEAR on Unsplash

To Substitute for Eggs in Baking:

To make a substitute for eggs in baking, chia seed or flax meal is a simple enough fix. All you do is measure out your chia seed or flax meal and water, mix them, and let the mixture sit for about 10 minutes. These both absorb the water in that time, and they create a gel-like substance similar to that of eggs. I frequently use this myself when baking or making pancakes in order to save on eggs so that I can eat the eggs themselves alongside breakfast, rather than using most of the dozen in the batter.

First, how many eggs does the recipe call for? You’ll need one Tablespoon of either chia seed or flax meal for each egg you are replacing. Two eggs? Two Tablespoons. Three? Three.

For water, you’ll need three Tablespoons of water for each egg you are replacing. Two eggs? You’ll need six Tablespoons. Three eggs? You’ll need nine Tablespoons of water.

Egg Substitution Chia/Flax Meal Recipe:

1 Tablespoon chia seed or flax meal/egg being replaced

3 Tablespoons water/egg being replaced

Combine and let sit for 10 minutes, then add mixture to desired batter.

By Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

I will say, the caveat to substitutions like this is that, at least for high altitude baking (ah, Colorado baking, are you ever not a pain?), these mixtures can make the end product overly moist if you don’t recall to add an extra two Tablespoons of flour/substitute. If you’re out of flour or serving gluten-free, I would say you could try adding a teaspoon more of chia seed or flax to counter this issue, or even instant oats/oat flour (included later).

Other Substitutions for Eggs in Baking:

Alternatively, I know banana, applesauce, plain yogurt, or sour cream can also be used to substitute eggs in baking, but as I rarely use any of those, I’m not sure on the measurements off-hand. Personally, I like using chia seed best - it also adds fiber and protein!

By Rachel Loughman on Unsplash

To Make Butter:

16 Ounces Heavy Whipping Cream = 8 ounces butter.

I ran into the very issue of, “I’m out of butter” on the day of one of my nephew’s birthdays a few years ago. My boyfriend was recovering from having wisdom teeth removed and sleeping before we were going over to the birthday party, and I’m one of those weird folks that don’t drive (cause reasons). Even if I did, my boyfriend’s swanky car handles much differently than the old clunkers I grew up around. Thankfully, I still had heavy whipping cream after I had also made a no-bake cheesecake for this same birthday party (so flipping good!).

Now, one important thing to remember when making butter from heavy whipping cream is that however much heavy whipping cream you use, you will wind up with half of that amount in butter. Need 16 ounces of butter? You’ll need 32 ounces of heavy whipping cream. I only needed 8 ounces of butter for the butter cookies I was making, so the remaining 16 ounces of heavy whipping cream after the cheesecake was perfect.

The other important thing to remember about making homemade butter is that butter is mostly made from the fat content. This is why the heavy whipping cream is best, though I’ve seen some recipes for making butter with less fatty dairy products; heavy whipping cream is your best option. Whether or not you have it on hand is another matter.

I wound up using my food processor to make my butter. The colder the equipment, the better, but mine was made with room temperature equipment and it turned out fine. Simply measure out your cream, add to the processor, and turn it on at medium speed.

By Daniela Chavez on Unsplash

First, it will turn into whipped cream. As it continues being churned, the fats will clump together and separate from the liquid - the liquid is buttermilk! Save the buttermilk for use in mashed potatoes, rolls, or pancakes!

After you remove the buttermilk, you rinse the butter. I opted to keep mine in the food processor and ran cold water over it, swished it around, dumped it and repeated until the water was clear. Afterwards, the butter needs to be strained of the rest of the liquid. Cheesecloth or another clean towel, works: simply place your butter in the towel, wrap it, and squeeze out the remaining liquids. You can now use it as is.

By Sorin Gheorghita on Unsplash

Substitutions for Milk:

These days, there's plenty of substitutes for dairy milk: oat milk, coconut milk, almond/cashew/soy milk, plant milk...etc.

Of these, oat milk is the easiest to make - especially if you're going to make oatmeal cookies anyway! Plus, oat milk is the least likely to cause unwanted allergic reactions - something I need to be mindful of in my family! I'll include information on how to make it below.

How to Make Oat Milk:

1 Cup oats (rolled is recommended, but use what you gotta use).

4 Cups cold water

Add both ingredients to blender and blend about 20-30 seconds (too much agitation can cause more "slime" from the oats). Cold water also helps keep "slime" down.

Strain, catching liquid. May need to strain twice. Can mix in maple syrup for sweetening and a teaspoon or two of vanilla extract for flavoring in baked goods.

Refrigerate unused portions.

By Łukasz Rawa on Unsplash

Besides that, there's also powdered milk and shelf-stable milk to consider. Or, if you just made some of that homemade butter, that leftover buttermilk would go great in the mashed potatoes! Or, if you need something for mashed potatoes and have no milk/substitution, either extra butter or (chicken) stock can be used!

Substitutions for Flour:

Flour is another item that is fairly easy to substitute for in a pinch. Allergies - or lack thereof - should be taken into consideration. In my family, chickpea flour, almond flour, coconut flour, and regular flour can't be used for the largest family gatherings; from Celiac Disease to nut allergies, it's a task to accommodate everyone. I still recall a Thanksgiving when my eldest nephew with nut allergies tried some watergate salad - which had pistachios. So while I can use pretty much whatever for me, I do need to bear in mind what the rest can have.

Again, we'll turn to oats. I make oat flour when I make homemade dog biscuits, just to be safe; I have no idea what dietary issues the rest of the family's pups have and avoid using regular flour for that reason.

How to Make Oat Flour:

*2 Cups dry oats, any style = 1 Cup oat flour

The simplest thing ever; however much flour you need, measure twice that in oats and put it in a food processor/blender. Blend until desired/flour consistency. May need to stop and rearrange the mixture to get it all evened out a few times.

By Nature Zen on Unsplash

This isn't the most detailed or comprehensive list of substitutions, obviously, but I do help that these suggestions help someone out! It's a stressful time of year! And if none of these work for you, further web browsing will likely find you something that can work with what you've got. You know, unless you're real friendly with your neighbors and feel you can ask them to spare ingredients - you might not even need a substitution then!

Happy Holidays!


Megan Baker

A Colorado native and secondary caregiver to her younger brother with special needs, Megan enjoys her adventures in World of Warcraft, various types of documentaries, and making homemade items for the critters and people in her life!

Read next: Thoughts of an Unsophisticated Baker

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