This one is totally me. I love baking but I’m not an exceptional baker. I always need a recipe at hand and avoid improvisations. However, I love baking and it is usually my go-to activity on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, I don’t plan for those events and then I want lemon pound cake so bad but have no eggs! I need a baking guide that doesn’t fail.
Or, as in Morocco, I long for cheesecake but can’t find Quark that we use in German Käsekuchen while cream cheese is too expensive. Also, I didn’t find fancy stuff like hazelnuts or maple syrup anywhere.
Sometimes when I use a recipe I found online it contains stuff I never heard of or that is not available in Germany, like cream of tartar, allspice, self-rising flour or corn syrup.
What now? Don’t bake? No way! Out comes the Baker’s ingredients substitutions cheat sheet. You find substitutions for many ingredients on it. Or I use a recipe for vegan baking goods. Because it’s always the eggs that are missing on a lazy Sunday afternoon when food stores in Germany are closed. Anyway, I don’t want to run to a store first, because baking to me is fun, no stress.
Since I’m not the MacGyver of baking (yet) I can’t come up with fancy cakes made of 2 ingredients. So I put some things in place and came up with strategies that a less than excellent baker like me can use to bake anything anytime. At least almost!
A word of caution to this baking guide: Do not improvise too much. Keep to the recipe as closely as you can and keep to baking instructions exactly. Otherwise, the cake may turn out crappy and your effort is in vain.
My baking anytime survival guide comprises five measures. Let’s go into them separately.
The five core Ninja Baking Guide Strategies:
- Ingredient substitutions
- Clever baking stock
- Freeze doughs and batter
- Freeze and defrost pastries
- Recipe substitutions and simplest recipes
The first strategy uses a cheat sheet to substitute what is not there. See what you’ve got. And what not…
Ninja Baking Guide Strategy# 1: Ingredient substitutions
You want to bake, so bake! For me, it is relaxing and I don’t want to be dependent on eggs in my spare time.
The missing egg
Regarding the missing eggs on Sunday, you can substitute them with bananas or unsweetened apple sauce. Those are almost always in my home. Use one banana for substituting two eggs. Bananas will also make the cake moist and tasteful. Or use 1/4 cup apple sauce instead of one egg.
I love butter and in Germany, I always have some in my fridge. It freezes well, too. However, in Morocco, I would only use butter from the Netherlands because I didn’t like the taste of Moroccan butter. Unfortunately, imported butter was not always in the store and expensive, too. I used vegetable oil like sunflower oil to replace butter in muffins or other similar batters. Just make sure to use a little less oil. It should be 80% of your butter amount, e.g. 90 ml or 6 Tbsp oil for one stick (115 g) butter.
You can also use margarine as a replacement for butter IF you like the taste of margarine. I don’t but in Germany, we have some brands that do not have a strong taste. I sometimes replace half of the amount of butter with it. Some kinds of margarine even work in cookie dough or pie crust, while others are too soft.
And the mysterious allspice? I use a mixture of cinnamon, clove and a little bit of ginger instead.
Get my list of the ingredient substitutions I commonly use if necessary. Open and download this list in pdf format: Ingredient Substitution List or by clicking the image. I’m sorry for the poop quality of image. Please, open the pdf to read list.
Ninja Baking Guide Strategy # 2: Clever baking supplies
You will always need the same basic ingredients to start a baking endeavor. Make sure that all-purpose flour and plain sugar are in your home and you have laid the foundation of clever baking stocks. I bake very irregularly and most often I feel like baking and want to start right away. I don’t plan it and I don’t want to stick to Shortbread all the time.
Eggs are mandatory for many recipes. I discussed before how to replace them. Also, in recipes with lots of eggs, you can just leave out some. If you don’t want to go without eggs, freeze some. You can freeze whole eggs, egg whites or yolk. They all freeze well if you know how. Beat up eggs or yolks slightly and add a pinch of salt. Beat egg whites up without salt. You can add some sugar instead of salt to egg yolks if you know you gonna use them for sweet recipes. Defrost overnight in the fridge if possible. The slower the better. Egg yolks can be defrosted at room temperature if you need them faster.
Fat for baking
So, another basic ingredient you will need is some kind of fat. Oil is in my house anyway and you can use it for most batters. Use a versatile oil like sunflower oil that suits just about everything. In addition, I always have olive oil in my storage which can be used for pizza dough and other hearty recipes. I also store some margarine because it keeps fresh longer than butter. This is also true for shortening which has actually no taste. If stored longer check oils for being rancid before using! Butter, however, freezes well! When living in Morocco I had butter in my freezer all the time because I use it on a daily basis and it would not always be in store. Put some in your freezer but remember it needs some time to unfreeze.
Sugar and sweet stuff
Plain sugar keeps fresh almost forever. Keep it dry, though. If you need confectioners sugar you can process normal sugar in a kitchen machine. However, it will probably turn out not as fine as store bought ones. Honey tends to crystallize over time. It is still good. You can put the package into a bowl of warm water and the crystals will melt. If you have no honey just take some sugar and melt it. See my post on making caramel syrup to know how to melt sugar to syrup.
Most rising agents are clever stables, too, because they stay fresh and active a long time. However, once opened baking powder loses its power gradually. Test it by putting it into warm water. It should bubble up vividly. Dry yeast can replace fresh yeast without problems and is great to store. To test the strength of dry yeast put a sample of it into a small amount of water with a pinch of sugar in it. After 5 minutes it should become foamy. Yey, yeast is still alive! These tests are recommended by no other than Julia Child.
They are essential for many recipes, especially in winter. Unfortunately, many spices lose their aroma quickly. Light and air wear them out so keep them in dark airtight containers or in the cupboards. If you can store whole spices such as cinnamon sticks and grind them just before using. Another alternative are baking aromas that come in small portions in zipped bags or as liquid essentials. They keep fresh and tasty longer. For example, I love using single sachets of lemon zest.
Nuts contain much fat which makes them vulnerable to becoming rancid, especially when stored in a warm place. Once rancid you have to throw them out. They will taste bitter and are unhealthy to eat. You don’t need hundreds of nut species in your stables because you can easily replace one nut with the same amount of some other. Buy rather small amounts. Keep some whole almonds in your stables. You can chop them, skin them, or use them as decor. Keep them in the freezer where they will stay fresh a long time.
Ah, dairy products. One thing I learned in Morocco where the choice is very limited is that I love and miss them. Thank God for UHT milk and whipping cream. Both are always in my pantry. Aldi (in Germany) even has UHT cream cheese and UHT Sourcream that are great stables if you have the munchies for NY style cheesecake or cream cheese frosting. In addition, you can keep wrapped cheese slices at home for a spontaneous pizza night. (I know it’s actually no cheese … still better than no cheese at all.) Dairy with a lot of fat freezes well. In my experience, creme fraiche, cream, and ”
Dairy with a lot of fat freezes well. In my experience, creme fraiche, cream, and “Schmand” (Smetana) freeze and defrost well while cream cheese gets clumpy upon defrosting. So I guess products should have 25% fat or more.
Alternatively, you can replace milk in batter recipes with mineral water or coconut milk. The latter will leave a taste of coconut, thought. But a can of coconut milk makes a good long-term staple.
Sometimes it’s got to be something juicy and fruity. No problem! You can easily freeze fresh fruits or lemon juice and use them for cake. This goes for frozen fruit from the store, too, of course. You can also make pie filling and freeze or preserve it. In addition, you find a lot of canned fruit, apple sauce ( aka egg substituent!) or jam in the store. They are perfect baking stables because they keep fresh for years. I once used cherry jam to fill a Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cake) and it was just fine!
Keep a can of peeled tomatoes for easy homemade pizza!
Dry fruits must be kept in a cool, dark and dry place. Otherwise, they can mold.
Candied fruits, however, rarely get spoiled because the high sugar content preserves them.
Chocolate and Cocoa
Chocolate should be a nutrient group of its own if you ask me. Seriously, there got to be chocolate somewhere in the house. Keep it in a cool and dark place and it keeps fresh for years, no matter what the expiration date says. When chocolate gets warm a whitish covering may appear. That is cacao fat. It doesn’t look nice but it’s not an issue. You can still use this chocolate. The worst thing that can happen is that chocolate loses aroma or takes on aroma from the environment. So keep it in airtight containers or Ziploc bags. I asked a chocolatier about that. He says he even freezes chocolate in airtight Ziploc bags. That way chocolate is also safe from pest infestation. (Maggots!..eew!)
Make chocolate chunks, sauce, or chocolate icing from your stored chocolate.
Cocoa powder for baking keeps fresh for years if you use deoiled ones.
Ok, you do not need to decorate baking goods. But maybe you want to. Easy, because sprinkles can practically be kept forever. Also, you can always make sugar icing. Use some ingredients like chopped nuts, candied fruits or chocolate for sprinkles.
Get some more of them because you can freeze a batter in them and have it ready to bake anytime. Or you get some paper baking pans (for one-time use) to freeze with some batter. Make twice as much the next time and freeze one portion ready to use in a disposable baking dish. This works great with muffins, too. Line your muffin pan with muffin paper cups, put the pan into the freezer and put muffins in a bag. Bake them a few minutes longer than you would bake fresh muffin batter.
So, that was a lot, wasn’t it? I could use some hot coffee right now. And a sweet treat after all that talking about baking. What about you? Grab something delicious and then join me for The Ninja Guide to Baking Anything Anytime – Part II , would you?