No Flour, No Butter, No Baking Powder?

No Flour, No Butter, No Baking Powder?

Baking substitutions and 21 make-do dessert recipes you can bake with what's on hand

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.

Flours

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. 

Sugars

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.

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. (Hot tip: you can make your own baking powder!) 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. See some desserts without eggs that use aquafaba here.

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. 

Cornflake Cookies

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.

Trashy Cakelets

If you’re out of flour, don’t forget that trusty box of baking mix — it’s not just for pancakes! This quick and sassy little snack cake hits the spot.

2 Ingredient Banana Oatmeal Cookies

Add chocolate chips and these have three ingredients (that's right, three-ingredient chocolate chip cookies!); otherwise, bananas and quick oats are all it takes. If you only have old-fashioned oats, pulse them in a food processor to break them into smaller pieces, which will absorb moisture faster. And if you don't have a silicone baking mat to line the baking sheet, you can use parchment paper or a generous smear of butter or oil. This easy recipe takes only 30 minutes total time.

Chickpea Blondies

Tired of hummus? Turn that can of chickpeas into soft and chewy gluten-free and dairy-free blondies. No eggs in these, either — they’re vegan! A little nut butter and some almond flour add richness and structure. 

Easiest-Ever Peanut Butter Cookies

Peanut butter is high in protein and starch, and that virtue makes it possible to make these butterless cookies without flour. If you adore peanut butter, you’ll love how absolutely peanutty these are. No peanut butter? Try almond butter.

Creamy Chai-Spiced Vegan Rice Pudding

For years, rice pudding has been a reliable dessert in times of scant larders. A can of coconut milk, some jasmine rice, and warming spices make this no-bake recipe far more alluring than the standard-bearer.  

Mayonnaise Cake

Oil and eggs are the main ingredients in mayonnaise, so this sandwich condiment can moonlight as a baking shortcut if you’re out of eggs, oil, or butter. This is a humble little sheet cake with just a tad of cocoa powder, and no need for icing.  

Whole-Grain Vegan Carrot Cake Loaf with Lemon Glaze

A tangy glaze lets you savor carrot cake without cream cheese frosting. Not only can you skip the frosting — there are no eggs! This cake recipe calls for spelt flour, but a 50-50 mix of whole wheat flour and AP flour will work just as well. 

Ermine Frosting

In the 1950s, this vanilla frosting without powdered sugar was a go-to — you’ll see it in a lot of old cookbooks. Cook flour, milk, and granulated sugar on the stove to make a smooth paste, and then beat it into softened butter. It’s silky and pipes like a dream. This old-school gem might even displace your go-to buttercream! 

Flourless Chocolate Quinoa Cake with Chocolate Ganache Glaze

Dessert made with a supergrain? Why not! This dense chocolate cake without cocoa powder or flour gets its intensity from unsweetened chocolate. Skip the glaze, if you like, as this torte-like concoction is plenty rich on its own. Though if you happen to have ice cream...

3-Ingredient Banana Pancakes

Sadly, you can’t make banana bread with no baking soda or baking powder. Instead, try these minimalist pancakes. Eggs, bananas, and nut butter are all it takes, but you can add a dash of cinnamon, if you like. Griddle these in small circles for the best results.

Healthy Banana Muffins with Coconut

If you have self-rising flour but no butter or eggs, you can make vegan banana muffins using coconut oil and aquafaba. Maple syrup and dried coconut make these treat-worthy.

Tomato Soup Cake

A cake with canned soup might sound bonkers, but the sweet/acid character of tomatoes works a little like buttermilk. You wind up with incredibly moist spice cake with no milk, no eggs, no icing...and it’s all wonderful. If you don’t have shortening, use oil or melted butter.

1950’s Simple Rich Refrigerator Fudge

For simple fudge without condensed milk, use evaporated milk. Unlike other classic fudge recipes, you don’t need a candy thermometer. Anyone can pull  off this yummy treat!

Matt Preston's Chocolate Self-saucing Pudding

I grew up knowing this as chocolate pudding cake, but whatever you call it, it’s addictive. It creates its own sauce on the bottom as it bakes. You just need self-rising flour for this cake with eggs, granulated sugar, butter, and a little cocoa powder.

Indian Pudding

No flour in this one! Similar to pumpkin pie flavor-wise, this early American dessert is baked with cornmeal and eggs. While it won’t win any beauty contests, it’s comforting and deserves a comeback. 

Plain Scones

To make scones without baking powder, get out your self-rising flour. These scones are indeed very basic; have butter and jam handy for slathering. 

How to Make Seven Minute Frosting

If you have egg whites, you can make a quick vanilla frosting with no butter. (This also goes by the name marshmallow frosting.) You’ll need a handheld electric mixer to beat the eggs and sugar over simmering water…and eventually it transforms to a voluminous sweet cloud. If you don’t have cream of tartar, you can omit it or substitute a few drops of lemon juice or white vinegar.

Best Cheese Biscuits

Homemade biscuits without butter or shortening are indeed possible. These are made with oil (you can use vegetable oil or olive oil), and there’s a no-cheese variation, too.

Chocolate Avocado Pudding

Out of milk but dying for something creamy and dreamy requiring minimal prep time? Now that I’ve tried this stuff, I’m a convert. Don’t sweat the raw cacao powder — whatever unsweetened cocoa powder you have around will work just fine.

"Oatmeal Cookie" Baked Oatmeal

This makes it totally legit to eat a hunk of dessert for breakfast. A cross between everyone’s favorite cozy repast and a crispy-at-the-edges casserole, baked oatmeal is tasty for all-day snacking. The oats make added flour unnecessary.  

Recipes for quarantine cooking

We're with you at Yummly during the coronavirus to make home cooking as easy and flexible as possible. You'll find lots more ideas in our quarantine cooking collection.

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