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Substitutions and Risk


Take a close look at this photo of sugar cookies that I baked recently. Can you see the greenish hue? Yep. I made sugar cookies that turned out green.


When gathering the ingredients, I realized I didn't have vegetable oil. I decided I would substitute with avocado oil. Not only was it avocado oil, but it was pressed avocado oil, making it all-the-more intense. Occasionally, I have used avocado oil, in a chocolate based recipe, where the color doesn't shine through, so I didn't even think that my dough might turn green.


Typically, I would call myself a "substituter with hesitation". Ideally, I will bake a recipe as it is written, at least one time through, and then note possible changes for future efforts. Some people who will use the recipe as more of a guideline than a rule book. Are you one of them? Or are you more like me and after reviewing the comments looked at comments wondered if the writer has made the same recipe as the author, because there have been so many substitutions?


Truth be told, unless I'm baking with yeast, I often leave out the salt. The chefs on the Food Network would yell at me for under-salting. They are always telling people to add more salt. I find myself sensitive to the taste of salt and it often tastes overpowering to me in a baked good. Rather than try to use a tiny amount of salt, I tend to leave it out altogether. Other than salt, I try to be true to the recipe.


Back to my sugar cookies, as soon as I poured the oil into the dough, I knew there was going to be a problem. The oil wouldn't mix in properly, and I could smell the muskiness of the oil. I was leading a baking class at the time. Immediately, I told the kids that I wanted to throw the dough away. One of my young bakers told me, "you should take a risk. If you don't, you won't know if it works. Sometimes a risk is a good thing."


Words of wisdom from a 10-year-old.


My cookies came out green. I frosted them in the hopes that the sweetness of the frosting would overtake the avocado. It didn't. The cookies were awful. I tossed the whole batch.


I made a mental note that avocado oil wasn't a good substitution in this recipe, maybe coconut oil would have worked? Even better, maybe I should stick with the recipe as it was written.


And yet, if I hadn't gone ahead and baked them, or taken a risk, I would have never known. Risk taking in baking is a pretty safe way to engage in trying something different. The worst that can happen is that the baking project doesn't come together in the way you might have anticipated.


I'm open to my 10-year-old's advice, and am willing to take more risks, at least in a safe place like the kitchen. For me, that might mean completing a baking project, even if I think it isn't going to work. I often find myself encouraging my young bakers by saying, "it's more about the process than the outcome." I guess it's time to listen.

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