Why I Hate Baking Substitutions
I have never written a post like this before and to be honest… I’m a little scared. I’m about to say a few things that most bloggers never would.
I’ve been blogging for over 10 years (!) and in that time I’ve been asked thousands of questions and have received a lot of comments about baking and recipes.
The most frustrating question I get is definitely about baking substitutions: swapping out ingredients, techniques, or equipment.
It’s even more frustrating when the comment isn’t posed as a question but instead goes a little something like this:
“I made this recipe and followed it to a T except [insert substitution here] and it didn’t turn out. Disappointed.”
Granted, this is more rare. Luckily the amount of positive comments I receive far outweighs these ones.
But I’ve refrained from speaking my true feelings on this subject for fear of offending someone. Or fear of bringing even a hint of negativity to my usually joyful corner of the internet.
But as my audience grows (which I’m eternally grateful for) this theme has become increasingly common.
So I want to say once and for all…
I HATE BAKING SUBSTITUTIONS.
They drive me crazy.
They simply won’t achieve the same taste and texture as the original ingredient, equipment, or technique called for in the recipe 90% of the time. They basically just waste YOUR time, money, and food!
DISCLAIMER: I realize some of you are working with serious food allergies and I understand that substitutions can’t be avoided in those cases. For those of you dealing with that, you probably know what will work, what won’t, and how the results will be different than the original. You don’t expect identical results without using identical ingredients unless you undergo rigorous testing with trial & error.
I feel the need to underscore something because it’s a question I get asked often: I don’t publish allergen-free recipes. I don’t publish diet recipes.
Because right now at this time in my career I don’t want to. I only publish recipes and content I’m actually passionate about and excited to share.
I don’t have much experience with these other topics. There are PLENTY of bloggers and publishers online who do and have far more expertise and their advice would be much better for you than my educated guesses.
But I also simply can’t accommodate every recipe for every allergen or diet.
One – because I simply don’t have the resources.
Two – because I know baking is a science. And swapping out even one ingredient can completely alter the chemistry of the recipe, often with less than stellar results. Just check out my infamous Guide to Chocolate Chip Cookies.
This is something I address specifically and in depth in my Magic of Baking online class. Take a peek at a few baking substitutions side by side below:
(Learn more about Cake Flour here, and why the DIY sub doesn’t really work.)
(From my Ultimate Muffin Guide.)
Once you understand how baking ingredients work you’ll understand that something as simple as reducing the sugar in a recipe, for example, doesn’t just reduce the sweetness or calories.
Sugar can also contribute moisture, tenderness, lightness, and is involved in complex chemical reactions that give us flavors and textures that are essential to some sweets.
Occasionally you can reduce the sugar (typically by no more than 20%), but sometimes even a small reduction will completely compromise the integrity of the recipe.
Often someone comes along and reduces the sugar then complains the cake turned out dry and doesn’t understand the connection. Which of course is frustrating for both of us! This is just one example.
I’ll say it again: Baking is a science. The more you understand that the more you can customize recipes and tweak them with success.
But when you come to me asking about subtitutions, it’s disheartening.
I work tirelessly on developing my recipes. I have a whole process that involves a lot of time and effort to make sure I’m creating recipes that will be successful for my readers.
When you want to change something to a creation that I’ve worked so hard on, and when I know the result likely won’t be as good, it’s hard not to get disappointed.
Especially since it’s a challenge to keep up with the amount of comments and questions I get on ALL the platforms at all hours every day.
That’s why I’m enacting a NO SUBSTITUTION POLICY.
Moving forward, if I know a substitution will work because I have personal experience with it, I will include that information in the recipe post.
However, if I haven’t personally tested that substitution then I can’t in good conscience give an answer to your question because I can’t guarantee it will be accurate.
It would simply be my educated guess and would likely require you to trial and error your way through it which takes time and ingredients.
So when I say “no subs” I simply mean I won’t be making it a habit of attempting to answer questions on this topic.
You, of course, are free to bake my recipes any way you want and use Google as your tool to get possible answers to your specific questions!
It would be impossible for me to test every recipe to see if it would work without eggs, gluten, or dairy, or to try out a vegan, keto, or other dietary version.
Luckily I have a few seasoned readers in my community who like to share the results of their allergen-free or special dietary baking. Join my Facebook group if you’d like to see their tips and posts.
However, as I mentioned, I can’t guarantee any substitution will work as well as the original ingredient.
Little details are what makes the difference between average desserts and stellar desserts. That’s what the experts know. So when you don’t want to go back to the store to get an ingredient in the recipe and try to make something else work instead, just keep that in mind.
You can also search the comments of a recipe to see if anyone has reported success using a substitution.
TIP: use Control+F, or Command+F on a Mac to bring up the Find feature so you can pinpoint any mention of “gluten free” or whatever you’re looking for on the page.
If that’s a problem for you, I’m sorry. There are PLENTY of bloggers focused on creating content that might be a better fit for you.
My hope is that enacting this policy will allow us to continue to cultivate a positive and joyful community of people who love traditional baking.
First image by Constance Mariena. Portraits by Lauren Hansen.
I share trusted baking recipes your friends will LOVE alongside insights into the science of sweets. I'm a professionally trained chef, cookbook author, and cookie queen. I love to write about all things sweet, carb-y, and homemade. I live in Phoenix, Arizona (hence the blog name!)
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