101 in Baking: Understanding Sugar, Butter, Eggs, Baking Soda & their Allergy Free Replacements.

May 24, 2011

101 in Baking: Understanding Sugar, Butter, Eggs, Baking Soda & their Allergy Free Replacements.

Lets go back to oh say 2001. Sophomore year of high school.

Science was my worst enemy.

Life can be funny.. never did I think I would find myself years later with my eyed glued to the pages of books trying to understand the science of food. My research and interest has gone into over drive as of late as I develop almost daily new recipes for the book I'm co-authoring with Iris Higgins.

I find this science fascinating. But beyond this- knowing and understanding these things helps when developing the recipes themselves. This research has answered many of my questions- and I hope it does the same for you! This post is a culmination of what I have learned from experience, combined with information from books and the internet.

Today I'm talking Sugar, Butter, Milk, Buttermilk, Baking Soda & Baking Powder & Eggs.


In January I posted The In's and Out's of Natural Sugars. I covered the pro's and con's nutritionally of the natural sugars. This post recieved many wonderful comments- its a great overview for anyone trying to figure it all out! Since then I have baked primarily with unrefined sugar variations and have learned the following:

  • Sugar adds not only sweetness to baked goods- but also tenderness. It also creates the browning that happens when most anything is baked.
  • All Granulated Sugar's can be used interchangebly in a recipe in place of white granulated sugar. Examples of these sugars- palm sugar/coconut sugar /Cane Sugar/ Turbinado /Sucanat/Xylitol etc. In the case of the darker unrefined sugars such as Palm Sugar and Sucanat the only difference I have found is that their darker color naturally will make your baked good darker in color. Xylitol like white sugar will not. I prefer using xylitol in recipes like white cake in which I want to preserve that "clean looking" white color.

Liquid sugars (such as Honey, Maple Syrup, Agave) add moisture to recipes- using them in the place of granulated sugar will change the texture of a baked good. I would only recommend making this change in a recipe that you are familiar with (and only IF you think it can stand more moisture)- Or lower the liquid (such as the milk) in the recipe to adjust (for example if you are using Agave instead of white sugar- replace 1 cup of agave for 1 cup of sugar and then use 1 cup less of milk) .Liquid sugars are more or less sweet that granulated sugar. I like to adjust them in the following way:
7/8 cup of Honey = 1 Cup of granulated sugar ,
1 1/2 Cup Maple Syrup = 1 Cup Sugar.
Agave Nectar I use cup for cup.

Stevia- is a natural sugar that I have not spent much time testing. I use it daily in my tea and beverages but not yet in baking. I did a little research and learned the following:

  • Stevia is especially effective when used in conjunction with small amounts of honey or other natural sugars. It increases their sweetness exponentially so that less sugar may be used in a recipe.
  • A little bit goes a long way. Using too much will create an unappealing after taste.
  • About 1/3- 1/2 Tsp of Powdered Stevia (depending on the brand) = 1 cup of sugar.
  • 1/2 Tsp Liquid Stevia = 1 cup of Sugar.
  • Stevia plants can be grown in your own home- I did this last summer- but found that the sweetness of the plant was far less than store purchased Stevia.

BUTTER (and Dairy Free Alternatives)

All of my recipes are dairy free- We use Earth Balance Butter- Any of the Earth Balance Butter's can be used in place of regular butter in any recipe. (Thank you Earth Balance!!)

In baking butter serves several purposes. Like Sugar it creates tenderness. You may notice that my cake recipes are higher in fat- I do this deliberately as it creates the moist and tender texture that I find to be crucial to an incredible cake.

Have you ever wondered why a recipe asks you to "Cream" the butter and sugar? To cream means to whip- and this process creates air. This air then becomes a natural leavening agent. So when a recipe asks you to "cream" the sugar and Butter (Or shortening) Make sure not to skip that step!

a few more facts:

  • Butter , Margarine and Shortening can often be used interchangebly. The main difference is flavor. You lose much (if not all) flavor when using shortening.
  • In some applications Coconut Oil can be used in place of butter.
  • Using "liquid" oils (such as Canola, Melted Coconut Oil, Olive Oil, Grapseed Oil, Etc) in place for butter works as a substitution when the leavening agent of "creaming" is not required.
  • In Pie Crust, Puff Pastry, Crescents and the like Chilled Butter is used to create flakiness in the dough. In these recipes liquid oil's will not work as a replacement.

Milk (and Non-dairy Milks)

A quick note for those that can eat Dairy products without issues- when baking with Dairy keep the following rule in mind. As I mentioned above Fat Creates Tenderness and Moisture. The higher the fat content- usually the better the baked good. If a recipe calls for whole milk- using fat free will affect the recipe (Less moisture and less tenderness will result)

The same rule applies with Non-Dairy Milks. My all time favorite milk to bake with is coconut milk. When I want to create something especially decedent I'll use a can of full fat coconut milk. We always have unsweetened Almond Milk in the fridge which is my other go to non-dairy milk. I opt to use Almond Milk in recipes like Pancakes and Waffles . Really.. Any Non-Dairy Milk can be used in replacement of milk. Soy Milk and Rice Milk are great substitutes. I have heard that Hemp Milk can cause "gumminess" when used for baking- BUT I have never experienced this myself.

Buttermilk - What is it? In short its a bakers best friend. Buttermilk is a cultured Dairy product. Bacteria is added to the milk and when heated it converts a portion of the milks sugar into acid. Acid IS the ingredient for success. Acid will make your Baking Powder and Baking Soda THRIVE.

If you must or choose to avoid dairy- Its simple to make your own non-dairy buttermilk! Just stir 1 TBS of Lemon Juice or any type of vinegar into 1 cup of any type of milk. Let it sit and "develop" for 5 minutes before adding to your recipe.

Baking Soda and Baking Powder

I'll be totally honest- until just recently I didn't know the difference between the two. Its pretty interesting..

Baking Soda and Powder Powder are BOTH made from.. Baking Soda. SO what is Baking Soda?? It is a chemical leavener that was first manufactured in 1846 by two New York Bakers. For many many years.. it was believed that it alone might be able to completely replace yeast. We now know this is a bit of a stretch( just a fun little fact I had to share.) Back to the science- This awesome chemical leavener produces carbon dioxide when it comes into contact with acid. (Remember what I said about buttermilk.. :)) This Bubbly Carbon Dioxide in turn creates the lovely rise we expect of our baked goods. In order for Baking Soda to have a reaction it needs to come into contact with Acid. Not all recipes contain Buttermilk, Lemon Juice or Vinegar. Which leads us to the use of Baking Powder . Baking powder is Baking Soda combined with a little bit of acid and some cornstarch. The cornstarch keeps the two ingredients dry and non-reactive until they are introduced to moisture.

So then why do some recipes call for both?? Using both gurantee's that your baked good WILL rise. And SOMETIMES recipes call for Baking Soda, Baking Powder AND an acid. My recent quick bread recipe did this. why? When the Baking Soda and Vinegar come into contact a reaction happens quickly. This will give your baked goods a nice boost early in the cooking process. Eventually the Baking Soda will neautrolize the acids in the recipe- and at this point the Baking Powder takes over and provides the rest of the "lift". Think of those volcano's you made as a child- after the initial burst of foam that the Vinegar and Baking Soda created- it fizzled down to nothing right? Same concept happens in the oven. Due to this- whenever you are combining Baking Soda and an Acid get it into the oven as quick as possible after mixing.

Want to make your own Baking Powder? Combine 1/4 Tsp of Baking Soda, 1 Tsp Cornstarch (or Arrowroot or Tapioca) and 1/2 Tsp Cream of Tarter (the Acid component) . This mixture can replace 1 Tsp of Baking Powder in a recipe. Use this baking powder right away- it will not preserve itself as store bought Baking Powder does.

Eggs ( & Egg Substitutes)

Eggs are incredible. For a period last year before I had my gallbladder removed I was unable to tolerate them. Once again I am able to enjoy them- and I am thankful. Today I would like to explain why eggs are used in baking.. some of their special features- and then I'll also go into egg replacements for those that either are unable to use them or simply choose not to. (many of my recipes are still "vegan" these days just because I love the challenge of figuring out alternative ways to bake- and on some occasions I prefer the result that egg substitutions provide).

Eggs perform over 20 different functions within baking. (No.. I'm not going to go into every single one today) But In short- they create Leavening, Coagulate, Emulsify, Add Texture, Bind.. they even add a beautiful golden brown color to many baked goods.

What do I mean when I say coagulate ? When eggs are heated or beaten, they turn mixtures from a liquid into a semi-solid or solid state. This binds ingredients together, preventing crumbing, and forms the building block structures for baked goods. What else? Eggs provide a soft texture due to the ingredient's emulsification properties. Eggs coat liquids and fats to give baked goods a smooth, creamy texture. Lecithin, found in egg yolks, also enhances texture. Lecithin reduces moisture loss, which ensures a soft, tender crumb texture. In simpler terms- Eggs are high in protein. Uncooked Protein is made up of small tightly coiled strands. Heating these strands allows them to unravel and then link together. This "linking" created a solid mass and becomes to structure that helps to hold baked goods together.

And my Favorite Feature of the Egg.. Egg Whites. Magical and Miraculous. Whipping eggs fascinates me to no end. Egg Whites are the fat free portion of an egg. They like the yolk are comprised of protein. When whipped they uncoil and link up forming a Fluffy Structure that traps air. This provides lift- and is the secret to Angel Food Cake, Souffles and Meringues. These different baked goods require different whipping times (Soft Peaks Vs. Hard Peaks). As you whip egg whites you are incorporating more and more air which in turn makes the protein more and more rigid. If you whip too long the protein will become too rigid and unable to expand at all when baked. Two important things to keep in mind- in order for egg whites to whip to their full volume they must not come into contact with ANY fat. Therefore a clean bowl and beater is absolutely required. Room temperature eggs will expand far better than chilled eggs.

What about the combination of Sugar and Egg Whites? Sugar whipped with egg whites will create a glossy thick foam that will be more stable that egg whites whipped without. Why? Sugar Coats and dissolves some of the Protein in the egg whites- preventing the Egg Whites to dry out and harden.

Egg Substitutions- While there is no substitute for Whipped Egg Whites. There are many wonderful replacements to create out of this world baked goods without using eggs otherwise. When making my egg replacement selection I think about the "function" in which I am trying to re-create without the egg. Do I need the leavening properties? Am I looking for Binding properties or for the Moisture that eggs create? A combination of all of these properties? Understanding what you need will give you the very best results. For example. In a cake recipe an egg primarily creates leavening and moisture. In cookies eggs play more of a binding role.

As a general rule its best only replace 2 eggs (or less) in recipes.

Here are some Egg substitution suggestions:

When you need Leavening use: 1 Tsp baking powder + 1 TBS water + 1 TBS vinegar


Use Ener-G Egg Replacer (follow box instructions)

For Leavening & Moisture use : 2 TBS Applesauce + 1 Tsp Baking Powder


1/2 banana, mashed (medium size) + 1/4 tsp baking powder

For a Recipe that needs Binding use: 1 TBS tapioca starch + 1/4 cup warm water
(mix well & allow to gel a bit before using)


1 TBS flax seed (ground) mixed with 3 TBS hot water
(make into a gel)

I would love to keep going and talk endlessly about how all the wonderful different gluten free flours work.. and on.. and on. But.. All of that is going into the book 🙂

If you have ANYTHING you would like to add please feel free to share with a comment. (This could be additional facts, your experiences and on).

(Ps. Apologies for any typos- having internet issues this evening - my changes are not saving properly.)

Happy Baking!!



(Pictured at the top is one of my favorite Almond Flour Recipes going into the Book! Using Honeyville Almond Flour!)

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Hey Everyone!

Please bear with me, I'm almost ready to unveil the new Club Angell, so in the mean time, if you have any trouble, just hang tight, I'll have it up and running by Monday!

Thank you!