I have written literally thousands of recipes over the course of my dignified cooking career, and with any given recipe, the majority of follow-up questions are about ingredient substitutions. When you’re cooking a savory dish, it’s usually easy enough to go off-recipe to accommodate the items you have on hand, or ingredients you happen to like more. But baking is different. You can’t play fast and loose with those recipes and expect structurally sound results.
If you want to make any major ingredient substitutions in a recipe while baking, Google it first, because I guarantee you someone out there has already tried it, and you can learn from their mistakes. By “major” ingredient substitutions, I mean anything that pertains to the base structure of the recipe, like flours, sugars, eggs, fats, and leavening agents. All of these elements can be tweaked, but they should only be tweaked once you’ve done your research.
That being said, here’s a baking secret I wish everyone knew about, so spread the word of this far and wide, and let it be your guiding star in everything you bake: spices and extracts can always be tweaked as much as you please. These ingredients are used solely for flavor and have nothing to do with the structure of baked goods. This means you’re free to mess around with them without courting much risk of disaster.
When I write a recipe, any measurement I give for spices, extracts, citrus zests, or any other flavorings has been calibrated for flavor, nothing more. This means that if you want to play around with a recipe, adjusting these flavors is an easy place to start. I recommend starting small, and adjusting to taste. Remember, you can always add more flavoring, but once it’s in the mix you can’t take it away.
If this life-changing news hasn’t kicked your imagination into overdrive yet, I understand; it’s hard for by-the-book bakers to trust their intuition, and you might not feel ready to wield this sort of power. Here are some ideas to play around with:
- Try adding some orange zest to these chocolatey breakfast stout muffins.
- A little five-spice powder in some cinnamon rolls never hurt anybody.
- Swap the whiskey for rum (or any other booze you like) in this apple
- Add a tiny drop of mint extract to these chocolate ganache cookies. (It’s easy to go overboard with mint, so try a little before you try a lot.)
- Jazz up a basic pound cake with a spoonful of instant espresso powder, or a splash of almond extract.
- Put a few slices of ginger into this oven-roasted apple butter.
- Mix some lemon zest and poppyseeds into the batter of these air-fried bomboloni doughnuts.
- Add a few spoonfuls of garam masala to the biscuit dough of this buttermilk biscuit tarte tatin.
Now go and raid your pantry to see what sorts of creations await you.