Make It Work

I’m the Queen of substitution when it comes to baking.

Seriously. It’s like I decided that I never want to attempt to create anything exactly as the recipe is.

This past Friday was the new roommate’s birthday – also known as, a fabulous excuse to make a cake from scratch.

Since moving to New York City in September, I haven’t truly made any baked goods from scratch. (Except for those Christmas truffles – those were from scratch.) Until now, I’ve used or manipulated box cakes. Baking from scratch is one of my favorite things to do. There’s something about having flour and sugar all over me (I’m not a very neat baker) that just makes me feel like I’m really living.

But, I have this whole ‘I’m allergic to dairy’ thing going on. I know – it’s wicked depressing.

So, with butter, milk and cream being integral parts of cake and frosting recipes, I’m often forced to decide between following the recipe and dealing with being horrifically ill for hours, or finding substitutions.

Beyond that, I also have this problem where I don’t always have everything I need in house. I’ll go to the store armed with a list of everything I could possibly need and then when I get home I find that one item in the top part of the list before ‘oranges’ and after ‘whole wheat pita’ – damn.

I found this fabulous Yellow Cake recipe on Allrecipes (which is where I seem to find a lot of my recipes). Note to those that use this site – read the comments of each recipe. Often the reviewers have come up with  substitutions or variations of the recipes that can be incredibly useful.

So I went to the store and filled my cart with every baking need I could think of. Flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder. Cream of tartar? Sure. Eggs, definitely need eggs.

Unfortunately I was at Target and easily side-tracked. I came home with, well. I don’t really remember. I know I got stuff. I think frames were involved, maybe some shelves.

So when I got home, and looked at the actual recipe, I just groaned. Gaaaaahd I’m dumb.

I had eggs. I had flour. I had sugar.

I didn’t have Cake flour. I didn’t have cornstarch so that I could make cake flour. I didn’t have butter.

Brilliant Bell.

So, with a Google here and a Google there, I decided I would be like Tum Gunn and Make It Work.

Substitution 1. Cake flour? No problem. We’re going to stick with our usual All-Purpose flour. No, it isn’t better, but hey, it’s what I’ve got.

Substitution 2. Butter. Checked the fridge, luckily the boys I live with use stick butter when they cook. Problem is, there is only a 1/2 cup. I need a full cup. Ok…but I have a banana. Bananas are twice as sweet though – so I mashed one banana and 1/4 a cup as substitution.

Substitution 3. Milk. Well, I’m allergic to dairy. Then again it’s not my cake. But, it’s also not my milk in the fridge. The only milk I have is almond milk. So, almond milk it is.

That means that the ingredients are as follows:

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup mashed/pureed banana
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup almond milk (unsweetened)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

The reviewers made it clear that this recipe needed to be followed precisely. Not too hard, there were only a few steps to the directions anyways.

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour 2 – 8 inch round pans. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, banana and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the almond milk, mixing just until incorporated. Pour batter into prepared pans, you make have to scoop it out if it’s too thick. *A reviewer recommended tapping the pan on the counter a few times so that the batter will spread evenly and the cake will rise evenly.
  3. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until tops spring back when lightly tapped, use fork or toothpick to check if it’s done. Cool 15 minutes before turning out onto cooling racks.

Piece of cake. Shwing.

Ok, now I need frosting. I check the cupboards. No powdered sugar. Oh, and I forgot. I have no more butter. I don’t have fluff either.



There’s a half container of chocolate, half container of vanilla and a half container of cream cheese frosting.

Ok. Ok, we can make this work.

Cream cheese frosting. That’ll be the filling. Done.

Chocolate and Vanilla, if I mix them that makes one full container. Chocolate will over power the vanilla. Perfect. But, I’m not sure it’ll cover the whole cake.

Lightbulb moment. Microwave the frosting. 17 seconds. Well…that did nothing. 17 more seconds. Better. Another 17 seconds.  Okay that’ll work. Stirred it up then poured it on top.

Ok. Looks like a ganache almost. You know how I loooove Ganache. But it still doesn’t quite look, done.

What else…what else can I add?

Fridge. God, I love the fridge. There’s some cranberry juice.

Poured myself a glass.


What’s that? 1/4 a white chocolate candy bar? C’est parfait !!

I think Tim Gunn would be proud. You know, if he designed cake on a dime or something. Maybe.

*Update: We celebrated together and just ate the cake. Delicious! The flavors of almond and banana were so subtle you could barely tell they were there. Moist (I know, I hate that word too), but very sugary, I think next time I’ll try something with a little less sugar. Who knows, maybe I’ll just modify this recipe a little more.


3 thoughts on “Make It Work

  1. i think the food network needs a show like this… where they show you how to substitute so you can made dairy or gluten or nut or whatever free stuff!!

    1. I’d love that. In fact, I could probably write it or host it. When I went home for Christmas I had to figure out how to make dairy free gluten free desserts for my little cousin. Ended up with some Snickerdoodles. There really is a lot you can do if you figure out how all the elements work together.

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