’Tis the season to stock up on all things sweet, including ingredients for holiday baking. However, supply chain issues and other shortages mean some baking ingredients are either missing from grocery store shelves or much more expensive this year.
While American households aren’t facing the widespread shortages of pandemic days, the high cost of baking supplies can still be frustrating during the holidays. Fortunately, there are low-cost substitutions for most in-demand ingredients that can make your holiday recipes healthier and, in some cases, less expensive.
In August, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that grocery prices had risen 13.5% over the last year. Of particular note were two categories of dairy products feeling the pinch: butter and eggs.
Dairy farmers face higher operating costs due to labor shortages and struggle to increase production to meet seasonal demand. U.S. storage facilities reported cold butter stores were down 22% this summer.
Due to the conflict in Ukraine, flour and oil supplies were also affected, spelling the potential for a perfect storm as the holiday season approaches. However, bakers attempting to make family recipes to bring centuries of tradition to the table can still find thrifty substitutions for common ingredients.
The following ingredients promise to be in short supply this season for various reasons, from climate change to labor shortages. Fortunately, plenty of inexpensive substitutes work well in baked goods.
Note: In the substitution tables below, a 1-to-1 ratio means you can keep the measurements in the recipe exactly the same — i.e., 1 cup butter to 1 cup coconut oil — and count on a similar texture or rise. Flavor profiles may vary.
At $4.72 per pound, butter prices are higher than they’ve been since 2018. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a tub of butter costs up to 26% more than it did last year. Trendy butter boards and the high holiday baking demand could also cause short-term butter shortages.
Fortunately, lactose-intolerant folks have proven that plenty of ingredients provide the richness of butter called for in recipes without dairy. In addition to obvious butter substitutions like coconut oil and shortening, bakers can get creative with yogurt, banana, and even applesauce in place of unsalted butter.
Butter baking substitutes
A word of warning that applesauce results in denser baked goods and doesn’t contain as much fat as other butter substitutes. If you opt for applesauce as a substitute for recipes with melted butter, consider adding a tablespoon or two of oil to improve flavor and texture.
Substituting eggs is a tricky endeavor for bakers. However, it may be necessary this season as shortfalls and record prices have come home to roost. Eggs have seen steep increases, with prices going from $1.45 a dozen last year to over $4 per dozen in many areas of the country.
Some ingredients provide the same lift to baked goods as eggs, notably baking powder and baking soda. But getting the ratio correct is complicated. Surprisingly, foodies concur that carbonated water is the best egg substitute for baked goods like cakes and muffins.
Egg baking substitutes
If you don’t have baking powder, you can use a third of the same amount of baking soda.
Keep in mind that using bananas creates a different flavor profile as well as a gummier texture. But for some baked goods, the additional moisture in bananas can be a boon for your tastebuds.
Don’t panic just yet, but there have been reported shortages of granulated sugar. Most are localized due to shipping delays combined with high demand. But it makes sense to stock up where you find a sale this season as sugar is currently running close to its historic high of 70 cents per pound.
While you can substitute brown sugar for granulated sugar in a 1-to-1 ratio, you should use 1 and 3/4 cups of powdered sugar for every cup of regular sugar.
Many health-conscious bakers are old hat at finding the best ingredients to add a little sweetness without the sugar high. Some unconventional sugars and syrups fit the bill, like honey, agave and even maple syrup but cost significantly more per pound.
Sugar baking substitutes
It is recommended when using thinner syrups such as agave and maple to reduce the other liquids in the recipe by 3 to 4 tablespoons to achieve the same consistency. You may also want to reduce the oven temperature by up to 25 degrees to prevent premature browning.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, flour prices are up 44.8% compared to last year, averaging about 55 cents per pound. Inflation combined with shortages from the Ukraine crisis means the flour cost won’t see relief anytime soon.
Although all-purpose flour is the cheapest way to make baked goods, many alternative flours exist. Knowing that cake flour is simply flour combined with cornstarch might save you a bundle at the grocery store. And if you’ve got a bag in the back of your cupboard you need to use, chickpea, rice and almond flour all make acceptable flour substitutes in baked goods.
All-purpose flour baking substitutes
If you decide to use rice flour, add a binding agent such as cornstarch and xanthan gum to hold baked goods together. Almond flour can be used interchangeably with all-purpose flour but may require an extra egg for binding and rising.
Chocolate shortages aren’t new, but climate change means they’re here to stay. Chocolate hovers between $3 to $10 per pound depending on cocoa content, but lack of fertilizer and severe storms may mean you’ll pay more at the register this year.
Fortunately, substitutes for chocolate in recipes abound. Certainly, cocoa powder is less expensive (add some butter or oil with it), but that will only work well in recipes that use chocolate chips. Carob chips, chopped nuts or even raisins may do the trick and add a little something extra to your favorite holiday treats.
Chocolate baking substitutes
Pandemic breadmaking caused a serious run on yeast a few years back. This year, yeast supplies are expected to be disrupted by the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Currently, buying yeast in bulk is the best money saver and allows bakers to spend about 69 cents per ounce.
If you cultivated a sourdough starter months ago, pat yourself on the back because you’re all set. For the rest of us, however, there are a few yeast substitutes that’ll do in a pinch and act as low-cost leavening agents.
Yeast baking substitutes
When using yeast substitutes that involve buttermilk or lemon juice, you’ll need to slightly reduce the liquid in your recipe by a teaspoon or two to account for the additional moisture.
The same transportation and labor issues affecting butter supply are also slowing milk production. While widespread milk shortages are not anticipated, there may be some lag between demand and supply during the holiday season.
The USDA indicates whole milk prices are averaging $4.41 per gallon or about 28 cents per cup. Fortunately, several milk substitutes are relatively inexpensive and have a longer shelf life.
Milk Baking Substitutes
If you’re desperate, you can use water as a 1-to-1 replacement for milk in baking recipes. Water as a milk substitute has the bonus of being free, but be sure to put in a little extra fat for flavor.
If you have a can of sweetened condensed milk handy, you can use it as a milk substitute the same way you would evaporated milk but be sure to cut back on the sugar in the recipe.
Sunflower oil shortages in Ukraine pressure the rest of the world’s oil supplies. So you may discover that many of the oils you might commonly use for baking, such as canola or vegetable oil, are more expensive this year. Current consumer prices for canola oil are about 7 cents per ounce or 60 cents per cup.
If you find oil in short supply on the grocery shelves during your next shopping trip, consider one of these baking oil replacements that substitute half of the oil with fruit purees. The fact that your holiday baking will be healthier is just a Christmas bonus.
Oil baking substitutes
Professionals recommend cutting baking time by a fourth when you use fruit purees for part of the oil in baking recipes.
The world’s vanilla supplies track closely to the success of crops and harvests in Madagascar. Weak flowering earlier this year promises a lackluster vanilla season. While the mass shortages of vanilla extract several years ago are unlikely, vanilla bean problems are here to stay. Current prices for vanilla extract are more than $2 per ounce.
Vanilla is a pervasive holiday flavor, but there are several other ways to add some zing to baked goods. You could use something like pumpkin pie spice but many spices have distinct tastes that might not jive with your recipe. Consider instead maple syrup, citrus zest or a splash of bourbon, rum or even coffee to perk up the flavor profile of your favorite seasonal treats.
Vanilla baking substitutes
As supply chains shift and climate change creates different challenges, you may find ingredients that were once plentiful in short supply at your grocery store. Learning how to adapt recipes to accommodate what’s in season and in-store can be a money-saving skill that keeps your budget trim for years to come.
Kaz Weida is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.
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