What are the Best Substitutes for Brandy in Baking and Cooking?

Brandy is an alcoholic beverage that is enjoyed by many but it is also added to a range of cooking and baking recipes as it improves the taste of food by enhancing the flavor. It does this by binding to the fat molecules and liquids that carry the aromas.

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Often it is used as a marinade to season meats but it can also be added to cooking sauces and cake recipes.

Regardless of the type of alcohol that you use, you will notice a distinct difference in the smell of your dish. Brandy is one of the most popular alcohol varieties that is used in cooking.

Of course, many of us recognize it as an after-dinner drink or an ingredient in cocktails, but it also adds a distinct taste to desserts. If this wasn’t impressive enough, it is also used to deglaze pans.

If you aren’t stocked up on brandy, you may be on the lookout for some great alternatives. Although brandy typically has a unique flavor, there are many substitutes available, some of which include alcohol and others that do not.

The substitute that you use will depend on what you are attempting to make, however, you will likely find at least one of the items listed below effective in rescuing your recipe.

Before reading through the following list of substitutes you will need to decide whether you want to use an alcohol alternative. Also, you needn’t worry about these substitutes drastically changing the flavor of your dish as they share a similar taste to brandy.

Alcohol-Free Alternatives

Apple Juice

Apple juice is an excellent substitute for brandy and it works particularly well in recipes that originally call for the use of apple brandy. It doesn’t need to be diluted beforehand and it can be added to your dish in the same quantity as you would use brandy.

Depending on the size of the dish that you are making, you may need to combine it with water. This non-alcoholic alternative should work well in the majority of recipes. Whilst it may not share the same taste as brandy, the flavor isn’t hugely different.

Brandy Extract

Brandy extract adds a brandy flavor to your recipe by using alcohol. It is worth noting that some types of this extract may contain alcohol so you will need to check this beforehand. The sweetness of this flavoring means that it works especially well in deserts. Aside from this, it can also be added to marinades or cooking sauces.

Because brandy extract has a more concentrated flavor, 1 tablespoon is the equivalent to 5 tablespoons of brandy. Another option is to combine four parts of water with one part of extract before adding it to your cooking or baking recipe.

White Grape Juice

Fruit juices are known to be great substitutes for brandy because their fruitiness mimics its flavor. White grape juice is a versatile replacement that can be used in a variety of dishes, however, it is often used in dishes that contain pork or poultry.

Ideally, you should try to use 100% natural fruit juices because they won’t have such a high sugar content. Opting for any sugary juices is likely to change the taste of the dish a little too much.

Before mixing the white grape juice into your recipe you should dilute it with water. In regards to the measurements, you should use ½ to 1 tablespoon of white grape juice in replacement of the brandy.

Alcoholic Substitutes

Rum

Rum is certainly sweeter than brandy, however, it is still a suitable substitute. Whether you're planning on making cocktails or a delicious dessert you can add rum to your recipe.

As rum is a sweet alcohol it may slightly change the flavor of your recipe, however, the difference will not be hugely noticeable. This is because the sweetness of rum will balance out the taste of your recipe. If desired, you can add water to it as it will make it less sweet. The rum can also be added in equal amounts.

Whisky

Whisky shares many similarities to brandy. It does have quite a prominent alcoholic taste that differs slightly from the taste of brandy, however, once it has been used as a replacement in your recipe it will blend in pretty well.

Of course, some may find the alcoholic taste more noticeable, but for most, there will only be a slight difference. You can replace the brandy with the same amount of whisky.

Wine

Brandy is a liquor that has been made from wine and distilled. Because of this, it is possible to use wine in a recipe that originally calls for brandy. The richness of the wine will add more depth to your dish and will also improve the overall flavor.

There are many different varieties of wine available, some of which are sweeter than others. Despite this, regardless of the one that you choose, you will likely find that it mixes in well with the other ingredients in your dish.

Whilst red wine is packed with more flavor, it may slightly change the color of your dish. White wine on the other hand is more neutral and will retain the color of brandy.

If necessary, you can add lemon or vinegar to the wine to neutralize and balance out the taste.

Bourbon

As bourbon is a type of whiskey, it is a great substitute. Similar to rum, it has a slightly sweet taste that can intensify the flavor of your dish. Unlike scotch, it will not add any hints of smokiness to your recipe.

A great thing about bourbon is that it can be added to dishes containing meat and eggs but it is also a suitable substitute for dairy foods.

Alternatively, some people may wish to use bourbon as a marinade. Depending on the recipe, you may notice a slight change in the flavor although this will not be a substantial difference. You can replace the brandy with an equal amount of bourbon.

Gin

Gin is a clear alcohol beverage that is made from distilled malt or grain. Due to the crisp herbaceous taste of this beverage, it will not be a suitable substitute for all recipes that originally call for gin. It works particularly well with meat, fish, and pasta. Aside from this, it also works well with baked recipes and desserts.

If you are unsure whether gin will work well with your recipe, you may wish to opt for another substitute that has more of a subtle taste.

Vodka

Unlike many other types of alcohol, vodka does not have a distinct taste or odor. Just like gin, it is also colorless so there isn’t a risk of it hugely altering the taste of your dish. It works particularly well when added to baking recipes because it is likely to improve the texture.

What should you use as a substitute for brandy in cake and fruitcake?

As mentioned, you will often find that recipes call for the use of brandy. If you are attempting to bake a cake but do not have any brandy in your possession you can use around 2 tablespoons of brandy extract instead. You can also use wine or fruit juice in the same quantities that we have mentioned above.

If you are in the process of making a fruit cake, you can use fruit juice as a replacement. Though we have listed white grape juice and apple juice in our guide above, it is also possible to use orange juice.

Another option is to immerse the fruits that you are going to be using to create your cake in a ball overnight. During this time, they will release their natural juices that you can then use in your cake recipe the following day.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does brandy do in cooking?

When added to meat dishes, brandy can help to moisten the surface but it will also make it more flavorsome. Not only is it great for meats but it will season and strengthen the taste of many other dishes.

Final Thoughts

Whether you are looking for an alcoholic or non-alcoholic substitute for brandy, there are many to choose from and you are more than likely to find one that works well with your recipe. Some will taste slightly different from brandy but when added to your dish, this difference will not be hugely noticeable. 

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community.
She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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