How to substitute dairy products in your baking


Have you ever started a baking project only to be stymied when you realize that the recipe calls for sour cream and you don’t have any? You do have buttermilk or yogurt, and you wonder if you can substitute either of those or if your cake will be a disaster without the specified ingredient. Wonder no more, thanks to Rochelle Billow at indexed magazine Bon Appétit, who has assembled a comprehensive dairy substitution guide.

Whole milk and cream, according to Billow, can be used almost interchangeably, with one caveat: if you substitute cream for milk, you baked goods will be richer and fattier. And you can’t make whipped cream with whole milk. But otherwise, you can swap the two at your discretion.

It seems like more and more recipes call for crème fraiche, a “cultured cream that’s dense, with a slight tang (although it is less tart than sour cream).” It can be difficult to find in the United States, but luckily you can use mascarpone, sour cream, or yogurt in its place.

One of the most versatile dairy products is plain yogurt. It’s “acidic-tasting enough to add tang to baked goods, and creamy enough to beef up a pan sauce,” and you can also use it in place of sour cream in dressings and dips. It’s often used in marinades because it is high in acid. Which brings us to a crucial point: if you are substituting a non-acidic dairy for one that is higher in acid, you should add an acidic element, like lemon juice, to replicate the tangy flavor. 

Photo of How to make your own buttermilk (a.k.a. liquid gold) from Bon Appétit

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