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8 Rules for Altering Baking Recipes

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Every week, baking expert Alice Medrich will be going rogue on Food52 -- with shortcuts, hacks, and game-changing recipes.

Today: Go rogue the right way with Alice's tips for changing up baking recipes.

Altering recipes is a fantastic way to invent whole new dishes, but tinkering with cakes and cookies is not as straightforward as playing with soups and stews! Here are my tips to help you experiment and create more successfully.

Start smart! Don’t try to turn a cake recipe into a cookie or vice versa: start with a recipe that you already know and like, then have your way with it.

Focus on flavors and inclusions rather than messing with structural ingredients: Extracts, liqueurs, herbs, spices, grated citrus zests, and such can be exchanged for one another, as can inclusions like chopped nuts or dried fruit or chocolate pieces -- all without changing the ingredients that provide the structure and texture of the recipe. Inclusions can be added to most cookies, scones, biscuits, etc., but they may sink to the bottom of cakes. For a sure thing, start with a cake recipe that already has inclusions and substitute some new ones. Otherwise, you may be inventing a new upside-down cake. (Psst, pretend it was intentional.)

Rhubarb Scones on Food52

To make significant changes in a recipe that may affect structure and texture (such as those that follow) -- make just one change at a time and take it slow: If the recipe does not turn out well, you want to know which change caused the problem. And, if the change is gradual, you will learn how much change you can get away with before the recipe is destroyed.

To reduce sugar or fat: Start by cutting by just 10 or 15 percent of the sugar or fat. If you like the results, you can try cutting a little more the next time.

Rhubarb Scones on Food52

To add whole grain flours: Start by replacing just 10 or 15 percent of the flour in the recipe with an equal amount of a whole grain flour. If you like the results, you can replace a little more the next time.

To replace butter with a non-dairy fat: Substitute another fat that is plastic (not liquid) at room temperature, such as coconut oil, or a non-dairy spread such as margarine -- the latter should be labeled "suitable for baking", otherwise it may contain too much water.

To replace dairy milk: Substitute unsweetened non-dairy milk such as soy, almond, rice, hemp, oat, or coconut. Lite or lowfat coconut milk is a better substitute for an equal amount of whole milk than is regular coconut milk; it also has more coconutty flavor. Often you can replace dairy milk with water!

Chocolate Potato Cake on Food52

The following substitutions are more complicated, likely to change or ruin the structure or texture of baked goods, affect browning, or react with leavings. Don't try them without further research.
- Substituting liquid fats for butter
- Substituting liquid sweeteners for sugar
- Substituting (or adding) acidic ingredients such as buttermilk or lemon juice for milk or water (or vice versa)
- Substituting (other than in small amounts as above) gluten-free flours for wheat flour

More: Get more tips on converting recipes to gluten-free from Shauna Ahern.

Alice's new book Seriously Bitter Sweet is a complete revision of her IACP award-winning Bittersweet, updated for the 54%, 61%, and 72% (and beyond) bars available today. It's packed with tricks, techniques, and answers to every chocolate question, plus 150 seriously delicious recipes -- both savory and sweet. 



Photos by James Ransom

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Tags: Cookie, Bake, Gluten-Free, DIY Food, How-To & Diy