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How to Substitute for Awkwardly Small Amounts of Baking Ingredients

By the editors of Cook's Illustrated

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If you only need a couple tablespoons of something, you can approximate it with a smart combination of common pantry staples.

One of the most common, yet annoying, things to happen to a home cook: Getting excited to make a recipe only to realize that the pantry is out of light brown sugar, or cake flour, or bittersweet chocolate… the list of potential missing ingredients goes on.

We ran some cooking experiments to figure out what works in a pinch—when there’s no pinch of baking powder to be found—as substitutions for common baking ingredients.


  • 1 cup of cake flour = 7/8 cup all-purpose flour + 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 cup of bread flour = 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • Note: Bread and pizza crusts may bake up with slightly less chew.

  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder = 1/4 teaspoon baking soda + 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • Note: Be sure to use this mixture right away or it won’t be effective.

  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar = 1/2 cup granulated sugar + 1 1/2 teaspoons molasses
  • Pulse the molasses in a food processor along with the sugar or simply add it along with the other wet ingredients.

  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar = 1/2 cup granulated sugar + 1 tablespoon molasses
  • Use the same pulsing or stirring method described above.

  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar = 1/2 cup granulated sugar + 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
  • Grind together in a blender (not a food processor). This blend works well for dusting over cakes, but is less effective in frostings and glazes.

  • 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate = 3 tablespoons cocoa powder + 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • You can also substitute 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate by using 1 1/2 ounces of bittersweet or semisweet chocolate and removing 1 tablespoon of sugar from the recipe.

  • 1 ounce bittersweet or semisweet chocolate = 2/3 ounce unsweetened chocolate + 2 teaspoons sugar

This substitution works well in fudgy brownies, but we don’t recommend it for a custard or cake.

  Chewy Brownies


Ever since box-mix brownies appeared on the scene, these industrially engineered treats have held the key to chewy texture. It was high time to break the monopoly. And now, with our handy substitutions guide, you can make these perfectly chewy, fudgy brownies even if you only have unsweetened chocolate on hand.

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