Applesauce can be an excellent substitute for certain wet ingredients in baking, particularly oil and eggs, but it is never foolproof. Consistency can be a problem when certain ingredients are simply swapped for others. Though applesauce lends moisture, it tends to absorb into batter differently than other substances. Most cooks have to spend a bit of time experimenting with proportions before they are satisfied with the end result.
Reasons to Substitute Applesauce
Baked goods like cookies, cakes and muffins are well loved by most people, but not usually for their healthy qualities. Substituting applesauce for ingredients like eggs or oil, which contain cholesterol and fat, can help make the result more nutritious. It can also reduce the overall calorie count, a must for people who are trying to diet without giving up all of their favorite treats. Cooks with certain food allergies or dietary restrictions, including people who do not eat animal products, may also choose to substitute applesauce for problematic ingredients such as milk or butter.
Adding applesauce can also improve the flavor or texture of certain baked goods. Cooks looking for these attributes may look to replace half of the oil in a recipe, or one of several eggs. Many believe that the apples make a great addition to baked goods for taste alone, even if they not taking the place of anything in particular.
Substitutions That Do Not Usually Work
Cooking experts do not recommend using applesauce to replace any dry ingredients. People hoping to avoid substances like flour or sugar are better served looking for comparable dry alternatives. In most cases, applesauce is only an acceptable substitute for ingredients that have a similar wet consistency.
As a Milk or Water Substitute
Replacing liquids like milk or water with applesauce is usually the most straightforward, since these ingredients are usually only included to add moisture. In most cases, a “straight” replacement — essentially measuring the same amount of applesauce that the recipe wanted for water or milk — works the best, though slightly more may be required depending on how wet the batter needs to be. Cooks usually develop a certain degree of expertise over time, and can often tell just by looking at mixed ingredients whether more or less moisture is needed.
As an Oil or Butter Substitute
Oil, butter, and other fats tend to inhibit the separation of gluten in baked goods that contain flour, which keeps them tender and moist when exposed to heat. Applesauce, which is high in pectin, has a similar effect. There are a number of important differences between apples and oil, however, which makes substitution a bit more complicated than simply swapping one for the other.
Oils and fats act as binding agents, which means that they help the dough stick together during baking. Applesauce, on the other hand, is made largely of water, which has no such binding effect. Pectin can help promote cohesion, but does not usually appear in high enough quantities to affect overall dough consistency. Most experts recommend reducing the amount of butter or oil to start, and filling in the gaps with applesauce. In some recipes, straight substitutions may work, but it is usually best to start slow and watch how things progress.
As an Egg Substitute
General kitchen wisdom teaches that one egg can usually be substituted with 0.25 cup (about 60 mL) of applesauce. Recipes that call for just one egg usually turn out quite well with this substitution, though things can be harder to predict with more eggs involved. In small quantities, an egg may not be missed; the more eggs that are required, however, the more likely it is that applesauce versions will taste — and often look — much different.
Baked goods made with applesauce are usually quite dense. Eggs tend to fluff and lighten a batter, but fruit sauces can weight things down.
Tips and Tricks
One of the best ways to help applesauce integrate into a batter is to keep it separated until the very end. Many cooks will mix their dry ingredients separately, only adding the wet components just before baking. The longer applesauce sits in a batter, the more likely it is to grow soupy or cause separation.
Substitutions tend to work best in baked goods that are made in sturdy pans, such as muffin tins or bread loaves. Trying to substitute applesauce in more free-form foods like cookies or scones may end poorly. The sides of a pan will hold muffins and loaves up until the heat of the oven sets them, whereas items placed on sheets may run and spread.
Consistency is also something to watch. If an applesauce cake or cookie seems overly dense, it may be worth adding a few splashes of juice or milk to the batter in the future. When sweetened applesauce is used, it may also be a good idea to reduce the amount of sugar added. Inexperienced bakers may grow frustrated when they try to substitute applesauce in baking because it so often changes the way a recipe behaves. Experimentation and proportion tweaking is usually the best path to success.