A lot of recipes ask for specific ingredients. Sometimes, the only time you actually USE the ingredients is in that recipe! When you don’t want to spend the money on something fancy-schmancy you can always just make your own!
Luckily, I use a lot of buttermilk already, because a lot of recipes I use has it incorporated. BUT, sometimes I’ll forget to get a new container, or I just don’t want to buy the quart when the store is out of the cute little half-pints! Here’s a recipe for ‘Buttermilk’.
1 Cup of 2% milk
1 tablespoon of FRESH lemon juice. Not the bottle kind here! Or you can use white vinegar, but I feel like lemon is ultimately better-tasting.
Combine the two ingredients and allow them to sit at room temperature for ten minutes. When you come back, it should look slightly lumpy. Don’t be alarmed, this is how the acid works. When we are combining these two ingredients, we are upping the acid content in the milk, or affecting the pH. I’m not going into a chemistry discussion here, but I will tell you this; baking powder LOVES acid and it helps the product to rise. It also helps with a nice caramelization. This works well, but it doesn’t brown quite as nicely as when you use actual buttermilk. There is no difference in taste.
Dangit, are we out of baking powder when some is called for in a recipe? Hopefully with the containers so large these days we won’t have this problem TOO often, but if it does happen, then its an easy fix. Baking powder is actually a combination of baking soda, cream of tartar, and corn starch (to prevent clumping). How can we make this you ask? Simple!
For every 1 teaspoon of baking powder required:
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
You don’t need the cornstarch here! The only problem with making your own baking powder is that there is a lot of math when it comes to half-teaspoons of baking powder and the like. You can easily have 1/8s of a teaspoon coming into the picture. Just be ready for that.
SOUR CREAM OR YOGURT?
Luckily, these two things are interchangeable. What’s important, however, is that you use PLAIN yogurt. They are basically the same thing. Yogurt has the same natural active cultures that sour cream has. The MAIN difference is is that Yogurt is made from the fermentation of milk, and Sour Cream is made from the fermentation of cream. There will be a slight twang in recipes when you use sour cream, its pleasant!
If you want to lighten up a recipe, just use yogurt! Heck, you can even use yogurt in place of mayonnaise in other recipes!
SUBSTITUTES FOR SUGAR?
I’m a purist. When I see Splenda (don’t sue me, please! I LIKE IT IN OATMEAL, SPLENDA YOU’RE WONDERFUL.) being advertised that it can be used cup for cup instead of sugar in recipes, I get to be a skeptic. How can a product that’s supposedly 500x (or is that sweet n’ low?) sweeter than sugar be used in a recipe like that? Sure, conserve calories, but I feel like it can mess with the texture. I’d have to try it in the future, but until then, I can’t tell you much when it comes to a sugar substitute.
Sugar is hydroscopic, which means that it LOVES moisture and will take as much as it can get. That’s why a lot of recipes can use a lot of sugar and brown sugar (sugar with hydroscopic molasses added). So, when you substitute sugar, you have to consider moisture. Not only this, but when you cream butter and sugar, little tiny holes are put into the butter, which assists in leavening the final product. So, substituting sugar can ultimately effect the volume, moisture, and caramelization. Let’s look into it. I simply research, I haven’t done these personally, but it’s accurate.
->Sacchrum (Sweet N’ Low) – Very pale (not a lot of caramelization), rubbery, bumpy, dense, and with a strong aftertaste. Not a great riser either.
->Aspertame (Equal) – Two words, dense pancake. With big bubbles and pale look, this won’t yield a nice looking, fluffy, or even cake-tasting cake.
->Sucralose (Splenda) – Even paler than the sacchrum! Dense, but rises slightly better than the previous two. There is a strong metallic aftertaste.
->Honey – Honey is a natural sugar. You can substitute half if not all of the sugar in the recipe with honey, use around 1/2 to 3/4 cup of honey for sugar in recipes because its sweeter. Also, since sugar helps with holding air and creaming, you can use half sugar and half honey in the recipe. Add 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda per 1 cup honey used and reduce the temperature of the oven 25 degrees if you’re afraid of browning too early. Or, do what I do, and create a foil tent over the mix and check on it every once in a while.
->Applesauce – If you want soup: do. Other than that: don’t. Unless the recipe specifically calls for it.
Out of brown sugar but have plenty of white sugar? Well, if you have a food processor and/or a stand mixer and molasses on hand, then today is your lucky day! Why buy brown sugar when you can make your own and know EXACTLY what’s going into it! It’s pretty fun too! What you need:
1 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon molasses (2 tablespoons if you want dark brown sugar)
Put these two ingredients into your food processor or mixer.
If you are using your food processor: Turn it on until all the molasses is incorporated; don’t pulse, it takes too long. Occasionally scrape down the sides of the bowl and bring up the sugar that hasn’t been touched on the bottom (of course, make sure the processor is OFF) and process until all pebbles of molasses are in the sugar and the sugar is a uniform golden color.
If you are using a stand mixer (my preferance): Combine all ingredients and mix on medium until all molasses is in the sugar. This will take a few minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle; molasses is sticky!
Both methods will take around two or three minutes. I actually think that homemade brown sugar is fresher-tasting and works better than the processed kind. I save money this way too, by making all my own brown sugar.
TIP: Spray the measuring spoon (or bowl) with nonstick cooking spray before measuring molasses! It gets all of the stuff out! Awesome.
Okay, maybe this isn’t ‘easier’ but it tastes better and lends to the home-baked appeal. I like to make my own pumpkin puree when the season is right and there are sugar pumpkins to be bought. Its really very simple, and you get free pumpkin seeds to roast out of it! What you need is a sugar pumpkin (or a baking pumpkin, whatever it is, its small and not for carving) – or two, I like to double the recipe – halved and scooped. Don’t throw out the seeds! I’ll tell you how to clean them and roast them! Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and place the cleaned pumpkins cut side down on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for forty five minutes, or until the flesh is easily pierced with a paring knife. Let the pumpkins get cool enough to handle and put the flesh into the food processor, making sure that you get off all of the skin. Process until completely smooth. Line a sieve with two layers of cheese cloth (or paper towels) and put on a bowl that is deep! You can’t let the water from the pumpkins to come into any contact with the wire sieve. Put the puree onto the cheese cloth, fold over the top, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 2-4 hours, stirring every hour or so. You can use your drained puree cup-for-cup in any pumpkin recipe! It has a nice, fresh, light yellow-orange color, and it is all natural. All thats in it is pumpkin!
Now that you have your homemade pumpkin puree, you have all of these seeds to roast! Keeping the oven at 400 degrees, move a rack to the highest part of the oven, and set a pot of water to boil. Put the pumpkin seeds and guts into a large metal bowl and fill with water and swish around, separating the pumpkin guts with the seeds. The seeds will float and everything else will sink. This will take a few refills to clean them thoroughly. Boil the seeds (with two tablespoons of salt) for no longer and no shorter than ten minutes. Drain, and let dry for about 5-10 minutes. Lightly grease a foil-lined baking sheet with pure olive oil and put the seeds onto the sheet, stirring them around to get them coated. Bake on the top rack for 20-25 minutes, or until they achieve a lightly-toasted color. Remove and allow to cool completely. Store in an air-tight container.
(I’ll add to this often! Check back!)