As the holidays are coming up on us, like a semi on the highway, my thoughts have turned to holiday baking.

I was thinking about making some crazy cookies, like chocolate chip cookies with some lentil in it, using different types of flours or expanding my no-bake cookie portfolio.

While doing this, I thought about all the crazy or necessary substitutions I had made with my baking over the years. Those late night decisions that you needed to make because the store was closed or you just didn’t want to go back out to the store.

Some of these substitutions were far from successful while many more worked out. Most of the time, when I was backed into the wall, it seemed to work.

The top substitution needed was for butter — I was either short or someone was looking for a healthy alternative. I have used oil in place of butter in baking. You will probably only want to use ¾ cup oil to each cup of butter. If you have a recipe that calls for creaming butter, add a little more baking soda/powder and be prepared for a flatter, crispier cookie. Coconut oil is a good substitute and can be used on an equal scale. Sour cream can be a substitute if you are a little short on butter, but you will need to go at least ½ butter when using it.

It is hard to make a cookie without fat, so you really don’t want to entirely eliminate the fat of butter when using non-fat substitutions. Fruit and vegetable purees, apple sauce, mashed bananas, or processed dates, fig and prunes are great nutritious, healthy substitutes. So, in order to keep the integrity of the cookie, only replace half of the butter with the fruit substitute. Keep in mind when using fruit as a butter substitute, your baked goods will cook faster. Disclaimer: none of these substitutes can replace the buttery flavor of butter.

Butter substitutes also include margarine, which you can use equal parts. Vegetable shortening works just as well at equal measurements, too. And if you so happen to use lard, you will want to only use 7/8 of a cup to a cup of butter. These substitutions will give your baked goods the best mouth feel and ‘butteryness.’ Try to avoid butter substitutes and vegetable oil spreads as they will not hold up in the cooking process.

How many times have you done it, you reach for the eggs in the fridge and you have none. Your kid decided to make a late night omelet and of course left the empty egg carton in the fridge. Eggs are the binder for your baked goods. It helps hold the shape and helps create crumb. In cookies, eggs add moistness and help to bind the other ingredients together. So while replacing the egg(s) in the cookie recipe, you need to substitute it with an ingredient that will add moistness to the cookies without compromising their taste or texture.

Once again, fruit such as ripe banana and applesauce can be used to replace the egg. One half of a banana smashed or ¼ cup of applesauce can replace one egg. Other egg substitutes are 2 tablespoons water with 1 tablespoon oil or 2 tablespoons water and 1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed well together. You can also substitute one egg with 3 tablespoons of mayonnaise, ¼ cup pureed tofu or 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed mixed with 3 tablespoons of water. To help with the lift that egg provides, you will want to add ¼ teaspoon to ½ teaspoon baking powder to all of the above.

If you have a recipe where egg whites are beaten, Make that trip to the store.

You may come across recipes that call for cake flour or self-rising flour. To make cake flour, sift together ¾ cup all-purpose flour and 2 tablespoons of cornstarch. Self-rising flour is cup of flour with 1½ teaspoons of baking powder with ½ teaspoon salt. If you are out of cornstarch for a recipe, replace it with 2 times the amount of flour.

Of course the dreaded ingredient is buttermilk. It is never in your fridge, and sometimes not in the store. Just add a tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice to a cup of milk and let sit a few minutes. Voila, you got buttermilk. Equal parts of yogurt will also take the place of buttermilk.

You can easily replace baking soda with baking powder; if the recipe calls for 1 teaspoon baking soda, replace it with 2 teaspoons baking powder. However, replacing powder with soda is not so easy. You need to replace 1 teaspoon baking powder with ¼ teaspoon baking soda, ¼ teaspoon cornstarch and ½ teaspoon cream of tartar.

Other things you may be short on in the pantry:

Unsweetened chocolate: ¼ cup = 3 tablespoons cocoa powder and 1 tablespoon vegetable shortening

Corn Syrup/Honey: 1 cup = ¼ cup water and 1 cup granulated sugar

Cream: 1 cup = 7/8 cup milk and 2 tablespoons melted butter

Molasses: 1 cup = 1 cup honey

Vegetable shortening: 1 cup = 1 cup butter or margarine

Vegetable oil: 1 cup = 1 cup fruit puree or one cup sour cream

1 vanilla bean = 2½ teaspoons vanilla extract

By the way, the lentil cookies worked. I replaced ½ of the butter in my chocolate cookie recipe with lentil puree. I added it after the eggs to the batter. Had a little less buttery taste, but not much. Good luck in your holiday baking and make a list for the store so you don’t forget anything.

Chef Joe Carei has been an award-winning chef in Fayette County nearly half of his life. The former PA Restaurateur of the Year now operates Ellie Mae’s Catering and Food Clubs. He can be reached at joe@elliemaescatering.com.

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