No Flour, No Butter, No Baking Powder!

Recipes for quarantine cooking

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Baking is a balm in these pandemic times. If you have a yen to bake (okay, and eat sweet treats), you’re hardly alone. Kids are busting out their first batches of cookies without help from grownups; lifelong cooks with baking aversions are venturing into banana bread and layer cakes.

But shelter-in-place orders mean no impromptu runs to the store to pick up missing ingredients…and staples like flour, eggs, and sugar can be hard to come by anywhere.

Don’t let a patchy pantry keep you from baking your feelings. There’s a whole universe of desserts without butter, eggs, sugar, vanilla, all-purpose flour, or whatever else you may be missing.

In many cases, you can swap or omit ingredients and get a wonderful result, albeit different from what you’re used to. We’re all learning to flex our standards in every avenue of daily life…and in baking, that can lead to exciting discoveries.

Baking substitutions

The key is ingredient savvy. Each element in baking performs a specific function, and uninformed substitutions can lead to dense breads, bland cookies, and imploded cakes. In general, the more of an ingredient there is in a recipe, the more important its function.
Look to our guide below for ingredients you can — and can’t — substitute.


All-purpose flour: The cornerstone of baking! Perhaps that’s why it’s vanished from many shelves. This helps you dip into lesser-used flours you may have sitting around, but you’ll want to choose wisely. Read on!

Self-rising flour: A favorite of Southern biscuit-bakers, this is all-purpose flour with baking powder and salt already mixed in. Rather than subbing for all-purpose flour, seek recipes specifically for self-rising flour desserts. You can also mix up your own self-rising flour.

Cake flour: Milled from wheat that’s lower in protein to help cakes bake tender and light. You can substitute all-purpose flour for cake flour. If you only have cake flour, you can use it in cookie, cake, and quick bread recipes, but it’s not recommended for yeast breads.

Bread flour: To give bread structure and chew, bread flour has more protein. You can use it like all-purpose flour, but cakes and cookies will have a burlier texture.

Gluten-free flours: Each gluten-free flour (like almond, coconut, rice, and tapioca) has its own properties, so we don’t recommend replacing all-purpose flour with them across the board. They work best in recipes that have eggs. Bagged gluten-free baking blends are far more user-friendly in flourless desserts, if you are want to swap them for all-purpose flour.

Baking mix: Ready-to-use mixes like Bisquick have fat, salt, and baking powder mixed in. You’re best using recipes designed for that product rather than use baking mix as a flour substitute.


White sugar: Substitute packed brown sugar cup for cup. Your finished recipe will be darker. If the recipe calls for just a few tablespoons of sugar, you can substitute honey or maple syrup.

Brown sugar: Light and dark brown sugar are interchangeable. Substitute white sugar, if needed, or make your own brown sugar.

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Honey, maple syrup, and agave nectar: You can swap these for each other cup for cup.

Sugar replacers: Zero-calorie sweeteners like stevia or Splenda are best used in recipes specifically formulated for them.

Powdered sugar: You can make your own in a pinch, though in frostings it can be on the grainy side. Otherwise, look for another recipe that doesn’t call for powdered sugar, such as Ermine Frosting.

Other ingredients

Unsweetened Cocoa Powder: Use unsweetened baking chocolate instead, but it’s tricky; you’re best off finding a recipe that calls for it instead of switching outright. Cocoa mix has tons of sugar in it, so save it for making hot cocoa.

Chocolate Chips: If you have a bar of sweetened chocolate (semisweet chocolate, dark chocolate, even milk chocolate) around, just chop that up. Not all chocolates have the same amount of sugar — chocolate chips are usually semisweet. If you’re just looking for chips to add to a batter or dough, though, it shouldn’t matter.

Butter: You can swap shortening for butter cup for cup. (No, it won’t be as buttery.) In most cases, you can substitute margarine, though some margarine has more water than butter — so in batters and doughs it may lead to less-than-ideal results. If the package says “for baking,” it’s a good bet it’ll work.

Nuts: This one’s easy. If the nuts are just tasty tidbits in a dough or batter, they are optional. You can omit them or swap any other nut, e.g. pecans for pistachios.

Yeast: There’s no substitute for commercial yeast. Get a sourdough starter going for wild yeast (or cultivate one with yogurt), but that’s its own beast. If you’re out of packaged yeast, make a quick bread — which is leavened with baking soda or baking powder — instead. Instant yeast, rapid-rise yeast, and active dry yeast can all be used interchangeably.

Baking powder: Not interchangeable with baking soda. Baking powder has baking soda, plus an acid (cream of tartar). Baking soda is more powerful, so you can’t swap them measure for measure. If you’re out of both baking soda and baking powder, there’s nothing you can do but seek out recipes that call for neither.

Eggs: In simple cookie doughs and cake batters, you can use either a flax egg substitute or aquafaba. If you’re scratching your head, no worries — aquafaba is just the liquid from a can of beans, and it works like a charm.

Vanilla: You can make any dessert without vanilla extract. Few American recipes prior to the mid-1800s called for vanilla, because it was still a rare ingredient. Try adding finely grated citrus zest for a different vibe, or a tablespoon or two of brandy, rum, or your favorite liqueur (cut back on other added liquid accordingly).

We collected a bunch of fun and occasionally offbeat make-do recipes that will possibly remain favorites even after getting flour, eggs, butter, and sugar once again entails a simple trip to the store.

1-Cornflake Cookies

Cornflake Cookies Recipe

Cornflake Cookies by RecipesPlus

Raid your cereal shelf to make self-rising flour cookies with an irresistible crunch. Rice Krispies would work in this cookie recipe, too. The chocolate chips and raisins are optional.

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