Results tagged muscovado from David Lebovitz

Baking Ingredients and Substitutions

salt & vanilla

Because the question comes up from time to time, I thought I’d answer some questions about making substitutions in my recipes, and swapping out or deleting ingredients.

The short answer is: Ingredients are added to recipes for a specific purpose and there is a reason that they are there. When you substitute or swap out ingredients, results will vary and won’t be the same as mine.

Some may work, and others won’t. And I can’t comment on results unless I’ve tried it myself. The most common request is folks who want to reduce the sugar or fat in a recipe, but in most instances, people are not happy with the final results. So unless you have health issues such as allergies and intolerances, it’s best to stick with the recipe.

One recent change that’s occurred in home baking is the proliferation of “premium” products, such as “European-style” butter, stronger flour (with more protein and gluten), high percentage chocolate, and instant yeast. Using products such as these can alter results and it’s simply not possible to write a recipe that includes variations for each kind of product that might be available in the diverse geographical regions of the world. So it’s up to you to use your best judgement and alter a recipe as necessary, to compensate for the variation in products. (You may wish to consult the manufacturer directly to get further directions on using their product.)

Realizing that people have various dislikes and dietary needs, here are some guidelines you might find useful when using my recipes on the site or in my Books. If you’re looking for more comprehensive information about baking ingredient substitutions, I’ve provided links at the end where you can find answers. Do remember that these are general guidelines and are not applicable to each and every recipe that exists. Home bakers are encouraged to experiment—especially those on restricted or special diets, because they’re often best educated on how to modify recipes to meet their particular dietary needs.


Spices are interchangeable in recipes. When I come up with spice amounts, they are to my personal taste and that which I think others will like. Reducing 2 teaspoons of cinnamon to 1 teaspoon won’t alter the way a cake or cookie turns out, but it won’t have the same oomph as the ones I did. However not everyone likes, say, cloves or other spices. So if you see a spice in a recipe you don’t like, you can omit it and perhaps dial up one of the other spices or flavors to compensate.

Gluten and Flours

In recipes that call for flour, I mean all-purpose flour. If I mean cake or bread flour, that will be noted. I’m not an expert on gluten-free baking and there are others who are so can’t advise about substitutions with specialty flours. King Arthur carries a gluten-free baking flour that they advise is a good swap for wheat flour. I haven’t used it so can’t confirm, but people who bake gluten-free likely have their own techniques for substituting wheat flour if you don’t wish to use a gluten-free flour mix, such as:

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French Sugar


Many people who tackle French recipes get stumped by the sugars, which don’t necessarily correspond to the sugars available elsewhere. All supermarkets in France carry white granulated sugar and there’s often unrefined sugars, such as cassonade, which grocers stock and are widely-available. In America and elsewhere, bakers often have to do a bit of hunting around to find the corresponding sugar.

French brown sugars are quite varied and don’t always neatly fit into substitutions. In general, if you have a recipe that calls for brown sugar, you can use moist cassonade, vergeoise, or any unrefined amber-colored sugar that’s not granulated. For the sake of these descriptions, moist brown sugar is sugar that clumps together easily if you pinch it. Crystallized sugar is granulated, or free-flowing, and pours easily.

For caramelization, you need to use refined white sugar; impurities in unrefined sugars will cause crystallization. There’s some controversy in the pastry community that sugar refined from beets, which the majority of the sugar in France is, will give you difficulty if you try to caramelize it. But I haven’t experienced any problems.

I’ve listed a few places outside of France where these sugars, and others, are available at the end of the post. Depending on where you live, your best bet is to search online or find a store that specializes in baking ingredients for professionals or dedicated home bakers. There are also links to various sugar companies and websites where you can learn more about these sugars.

Sucre cristallisé or sucre cristal

This is plain white sugar, whose crystals are a bit larger than what’s considered granulated sugar in the United States. You can use this sugar for almost all baking and cooking applications.

Sucre semoule and Sucre en poudre

This is sugar whose crystals are very fine. In America, this would be similar to what is called superfine or baker’s sugar. In other countries it’s called castor or caster sugar. Its fine texture means it melts quickly and will give a finer crumb to many cakes, meringues and cookies.

You can make your own by pulsing granulated sugar in a food processor or blender a few times until it’s in smaller crystals.

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