Food

6 flavour-changing ingredient swaps to try with your favourite baking recipes

Tasty tweaks to try, like nut flour instead of all-purpose — and olives instead of chocolate!

Tasty tweaks to try, like nut flour instead of all-purpose — and olives instead of chocolate!

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

Our tried-and-true recipes are go-tos for a reason: we've done them so many times they're a cinch to make, and we obviously love how they turn out. But when your faves become a little too familiar, rather than set them aside, why not breathe some life into them?

Simple ingredient swaps can put a new twist on your favourite recipes — without changing them too much (so no one complains).

Just make your old standbys, but experiment with any of the substitutions below, keeping notes to help you tweak the next time. And have fun unleashing your best and most creative baker self!

Use rosewater instead of vanilla extract 

Rosewater, made by distilling rose petals, is already a popular ingredient in baking, but you might not have thought of using it to replace vanilla. Similar to vanilla, rosewater adds a delicate flavour to food, but it can easily overpower a dish, so it's used sparingly. 

Its floral flavour and aroma accentuates the sweetness in fresh fruits and berries and pairs perfectly with cream. While you can swap vanilla for rosewater at a 1-to-1 ratio in some recipes, you might want to start by using half the amount of rosewater and seeing how you like the results. Try it in cakes, cookies, pancakes and muffins. It's lovely in syrups drizzled on loaves and custards, and in whipped cream or cream-based dishes like panna cotta.

If rosewater is a new ingredient to you, keep in mind it should be food-grade and have a bright, floral smell.

Use nut flour in place of some all-purpose flour 

There are many reasons to swap in nut flour for some all-purpose. Nut flour helps make baked goods tender and adds depth of flavour — and toasting it will boost the flavour even more. You may find you don't have to use much of it to taste a difference.

Almond flour is probably the most common nut flour you'll find in stores, but you can also make your own by grinding hazelnuts or pecans.

Tips for swapping it in: 

This substitution works well in most baking, but not for thick-crusted bread, for example, which is meant to be chewy. And the ratio to use depends on what you're making. 

Start with these measurements as a general guideline:

Replace one-third of the wheat flour with nut flour in yeasted breads like pizza, pretzels and rolls. 

Replace one-quarter of the wheat flour with nut flour in muffins, pancakes, cookies, scones, cakes and crackers. 

Note: Sometimes nut meals are sold beside nut flours, but they're not the same. Meals are generally made from nuts ground with their skins on, so they'll add a little more texture to recipes. If you want to keep it subtle, opt for the flour or finely grind your own blanched and skinned nuts with a powerful blender.

Change up your citrus 

An easy way to alter the flavour of baked treats is to change the type or citrus you use — like tangerine zest for orange in a chiffon cake, or grapefruit juice for lemon in squares. Citrus fruits vary in sweetness and acidity, so you can change the flavour profile with one simple swap.

Citrus suggestions: 

You can substitute in equal parts, but swap juice for juice and zest for zest. Introducing juice when it's not already in a recipe can throw off the ratios, create a reaction from the acidity in the juice, and cause other ingredients to behave differently, which can affect the texture as well as the taste. 

Citrus you might not normally bake with — like grapefruits, Meyer lemons and blood oranges — can add a new flavour profile to your recipe. Here's how to swap each one.

Reach for red grapefruit (sweeter than white and distinguishable by its salmon-coloured skin and pink flesh) for an intriguing substitute for orange in cakes and cookies. White grapefruit, with its pale yellow skin, is more acidic — which can be a good thing when you want to balance out the sugar in a recipe. Reach for it in place of lemons or limes. 

Meyer lemons are more aromatic and sweet than regular lemons — try them when you can get them, usually from December to May. They'd be great in lemon curd, especially one that calls for olive oil instead of butter, since their slightly spicy flavour compliments the grassiness of olive oil well. 

Blood oranges offer an interesting alternative to naval oranges. With a sweet-tart flavour and juicy, crimson flesh, look for them in winter and early spring. 

Switch out chocolate for olives

You might be skeptical of this idea, until you consider that this is basically about changing a recipe from sweet to savoury.

Consider also that it's easy to make one dough, cut it in half, then fold the olives into one half and chocolate into the other. Two treats for the work of one!

Tips for replacing chocolate with olives: 

This works well in recipes that contain less sugar to begin with, so the saltiness of the olives isn't out of place. Try it in breakfast loaves or in cookies and breads that contain sour cream or cream cheese, which tend to mute sweetness anyway. 

To make the switch, roughly chop the olives about the same size as chocolate chips and fold them in at the end. 

Use toasted sugar instead of regular sugar

This tasty tip comes from pastry chef Stella Parks: toast your sugar. You'll be rewarded with a well-rounded, caramelly flavour profile that isn't sickly sweet. 

Toasted sugar can also tame the sweetness of baked goods and elements made with a lot of sugar, like meringues and angel food cakes. 

Tips for toasting: 

Granulated sugar retains its texture during toasting (although Parks points out that organic and raw sugar are more prone to melting), so it behaves like regular sugar in recipes.

There are two ways you can do it: slowly roast a large quantity of sugar for as long as five hours and get a deeper caramel flavour or make a 30-minute version at higher heat. You have to be more attentive with the latter because there's a smaller window for you to catch the sugar before it melts.

For the quick version: Add a quarter-inch layer of sugar to a thick, oven-safe skillet and roast at 350 F, stirring a few times if you know your oven has pesky hot spots. Stop when it starts to smell like caramel, about 30 minutes — the colour won't have changed much. 

For the longer version: Fill a glass or ceramic baking dish with two pounds of sugar and bake at 300 F until the sugar smells like caramel and takes on a golden tone, about three to five hours (the longer the time, the more intense the caramel flavour). Stir every 30 minutes.

Let the toasted sugar cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Heritage grain flours in place of white flour 

Heritage grains (generally speaking, grains that modern farming hasn't tampered with) can add earthy, malty flavours to baking and more colour too. Some people find them easier to digest, and they're more flavourful since they still contain the germ.

Tips for adding heritage grains: 

Start small: use one part heritage grain flour for every two parts white flour. Heritage grains behave differently and can alter the structure of your baking. Some also absorb liquid differently than white flour, so you may need to adjust the recipe. 

Here are a few types to try.

Kamut (khorasan wheat) flour: buttery, earthy, mild and sweet. Use it in recipes where butter plays a key role, like sugar cookies and brioche.

Spelt flour: sweet and mild, this is a good starter flour because it's easy to work with. Try it in carrot cake, upside-down pineapple cake or other baked goods with a lot of moisture. 

Teff flour: an ancient grain native to Ethiopia and Eritrea, it has a malty aroma and is very fine. It works well in pancakes, crackers and other crisp baked goods. Pair it with brown butter and hazelnuts. 

Buckwheat flour: with a slightly minerally, wine-like taste, buckwheat pairs well with fruits like plums and pears. 

The oils in the germ of the heritage grain cause it to go rancid quickly, so be sure to buy the freshest flour possible and store it in the fridge or freezer. 


Jessica Brooks is a digital producer and pro-trained cook and baker. Follow her food stories on Instagram @brooks_cooks

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