Cream of Tartar is an ingredient found in a number of recipes, more so for baked goods. It is considered magical because of the softening effect it can have on items like cookies, giving them a whole new texture. So what is it about this particular ingredient that makes it so appealing, and what can you substitute for cream of tartar? Read on to find out.
What Is Cream of Tartar?
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Technically, the cream of tartar is acid as it is derived from tartaric acid, a byproduct of the wine-making process. Although you can divine tartaric acid from most plants since it’s an organic acid. The residue left on the barrels is turned into a powdered form that can be used as either a stabilizer or a leavener in baked goods.
The cream of tartar is also known as potassium bitartrate and can be found in the spice section of your local supermarket. It is more commonly used as a leavener, because when combined with baking soda, it reacts to form carbon dioxide gas.
What Is Cream of Tartar Used For?
Cream of tartar has a range of uses.
1. Meringue Pies / Cookies
First, unlike the name implies, cream of tartar isn’t actually a cream. It is basically the powdered form of tartaric acid. It’s mostly just baking recipes involving egg whites that tend to call for cream of tartar.
This is because when you combine cream of tartar with egg whites as you’re beating them, it will speed up the creation of foam and stabilize the egg whites by protecting the bubbles in the foam. This allows you to create foods with a melt-in-your-mouth texture such as meringue pies or meringue cookies.
2. Baked Goods – Cookies
When you combine cream of tartar with baking soda, it serves as a leavening agent instead. What does leavening mean? Well basically, it’s what makes the baked goods light and puffy. The carbon dioxide formed during the reaction fills up the insides of the cake or cookies, making them rise.
3. Candy and Other
If you’re making candy, adding cream of tartar will help prevent sugar from crystallizing. That’s why several icing, syrup, and candy recipes include cream of tartar. It smoothens the unfinished product so that the end-product doesn’t have large sugar capsules.
A pinch of tartar cream can also prevent whipped cream from deflating.
Substitutes for Cream of Tartar
Cream of tartar serves a specific and essential function in baked goods. So even if you don’t have cream of tartar, you still need to use a replacement for it in your recipes. Here are some excellent alternatives to cream of tartar.
#1. Lemon Juice
The number 1 contender for replacing cream of tartar is lemon juice. It is just as acidic and helps form stiff peaks when you’re whipping eggs.
Lemon juice also helps prevent large sugar crystallization in syrups and frostings.
The best way to substitute is in equal parts. Add as much lemon juice as you would’ve cream of tartar.
#2. White Vinegar
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Possibly the only other mildly acidic condiment in your pantry, white vinegar is just as effective as lemon juice and can give you the same results.
Again, if the recipe calls for ½ tablespoon of cream of tartar, substitute that with ½ tablespoon of white vinegar. Be careful with how much you add though because vinegar has a strong taste — too much could ruin the flavor or texture of the product.
This substitute works best for stabilizing eggs in a souffle or a meringue recipe, but it may change the flavor of cakes.
#3. Baking Powder
For recipes that call for both baking soda and cream of tartar, baking powder is probably the best substitute.
This is because baking powder is composed of 2 parts cream of tartar for 1 part baking soda. You won’t get any difference in taste for substituting baking powder but make sure you keep the proportions in mind.
For instance, if a recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of cream of tartar and 1 teaspoon of baking soda, 3 teaspoons of baking powder should suffice.
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Buttermilk is the liquid that’s left behind when you churn butter from cream.
Buttermilk may not be the ideal substitute, but due to its acidity, it can be used in some recipes as a substitute for cream of tartar.
Buttermilk is liquid, so if you’re using it as a substitute, you need to remove some liquid from the recipe to account for the liquid buttermilk brings in. This means, if your recipe calls for half a cup of both milk and cream of tartar, all you need to do is add buttermilk instead.
Or to be more precise, for each ¼ teaspoon of cream of tartar a recipe calls for, remove ½ cup (120ml) of water/liquid and add ½ cup (120ml) buttermilk instead.
Yogurt is another decent substitution for cream of tartar that works almost the same as buttermilk. Although due to the difference in consistency (yogurt is thicker), you might need to water down yogurt a little before you substitute it the same way as you would with buttermilk.
Substitute for Cream of Tartar in Different Recipes
Here’s a more detailed explanation for how to substitute the options listed earlier for cream of tartar in different recipes.
1. Meringue Recipes (Pies, Souffles, Cookies)
If you’re using vinegar or lemon, the substitution should equal the quantity of cream of tartar specified in the original recipe.
If you’re using baking powder, you should substitute 1.5 teaspoons of it in place of every 1 teaspoon of cream of tartar. This will ensure that the final taste remains unchanged.
For meringue cookies, however, it’s probably best to avoid lemon or vinegar as that can unpleasantly sour the cookie. Try baking powder or yogurt instead. If you’re going with yogurt, add 120ml of thinned yogurt for every ¼ teaspoon of tartar cream required.
2. Candy, Syrups, And Frostings
If you’re making syrups or frostings, you will need to add something in place of cream of tartar to prevent large crystal formations. The best option would be lemon juice, added in equal quantity to the amount of cream of tartar the original recipe calls for.
3. Baked Cookies
Baked cookies need a stabilizer to achieve that perfect crunch. Alternatives like lemon, vinegar, or yogurt are probably a bad idea as they tend to react with the baking soda and make the cookie fluffier.
If you don’t have cream of tartar, the best alternative for cookie recipes would be baking powder. A lot of original recipes call for baking powder.
Skip the Cream of Tartar
There are some recipes for which there is no suitable replacement aside from cream of tartar. But if you don’t have any in your pantry and are unwilling to make the trip to the grocery store, you can just omit the cream of tartar altogether.
Better to omit than use a substitute that may not work, but only if the cream of tartar isn’t integral. For instance, meringues are supposed to be fluffy and protrude out the dish, so leaving out cream of tartar is not an option here.
However, if you’re using it as a stabilizing agent or to prevent sugar crystallization, substitution isn’t actually necessary. It’s really just more of a precaution. Any simple syrup when stored for a long time can start to crystallize, in which case all you have to do is warm it up in the microwave or a stove.
In short, if you’re using it as a leavening agent, keep the cream of tartar (or its substitutes), but for any other use, you can omit it. The dish may not come out perfect and you probably won’t win any awards for it, but it’ll still taste great.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Cream of Tartar Go Bad?
Cream of tartar can stay good for about 4 years as long as you store it in an air-tight container, away from sunlight, and in a cool, dry environment.
Why Do You Add Cream of Tartar to Meringue?
The mark of a perfect meringue dish is its elevation and softness in your mouth. Cream of tartar acts as both a stabilizing and leavening agent, in that it keeps the consistency of the egg when beaten and reacts with baking soda to raise the dish, making it fluffier.
Is Cream of Tartar Necessary in Souffles?
No. You can make a perfectly good soufflé without cream of tartar as long as you beat the egg white properly. You don’t even need to use a substitute.
A Few Parting Words
To summarize, cream of tartar or a substitute for cream of tartar is necessary for most baking recipes to get that perfect final product. And now that we’ve unpacked this seemingly mystery ingredient, you can use the cream of tartar or a substitute to whip up some amazing dishes!