As someone who cooks by smell, taste, and feel it wasn’t easy for me to learn how to cook low carb high fat. I was especially challenged when it came to using alternative flours and oils in baking. While using traditional flours was somewhat intuitive, using nut flours or coconut flour was not. For the first six to nine months on keto, I followed each recipe to the letter—something I had rarely done before!
Slowly I gained some confidence and took a few risks and learned some hard lessons! If you’ve ever wondered what ingredients to use in low carb baked goods or why an ingredient is used or what ingredients combine well with others then this post is for you. Also, if you’ve ever found a recipe that looks and sounds fantastic, but you’re missing an obscure ingredient and you’ve wondered if you could make a substitution so that you don’t have to buy more strange ingredients that seem available only online, then this post may help you out.
Alternate flours. What helps texture and what adds bulk or substance?
- Almond flour–although it can be pricey, it’s a good standard nut flour. It burns easily, so if you’re baking with it, keep temps at 350 or lower (I tend to use 325 degrees when baking with almond flour. It’s dense and heavy and needs to be paired with other flours or agents that provide some volume or rise. Almond flour doesn’t absorb moisture like other more “thirsty” options. It’s versatile and a good staple to keep on hand for a keto kitchen. You can use it in cookies, brownies, cakes, biscuits, breads, muffins, pie crusts, etc. It’s generally available at Wal-Mart, Costco, Trader Joe’s, Aldi’s, Big Lots, and local grocers. Please know that almond meal is thicker and more coarse and will give you a more dense baked good than a finer almond flour (which I prefer). You can also buy almond flour online at Honeyville (my favorite), Netrition, or Amazon. There are likely other sites as that list is not exhaustive.
- Coconut flour–another great staple to keep on hand. It plays well with almond flour, but it isn’t as easygoing. It’s qualities can vary somewhat by brand and can be impacted by humidity in storage and when baking with it. Coconut flour is “thirsty” and it needs more eggs and liquid to give it structure. For all it’s finickiness, it gives a great texture to LC baked goods. It gives a lighter texture and finer crumb than almond flour. Unlike almond flour, a little goes a long way. Two tablespoons of coconut flour combined with a cup or cup and a half of almond flour is a common base you’ll see in a lot of baked goods. Coconut flour retains it’s grit–it cannot be used as a creamy thickener for soups, casseroles, or LC gravies. It’s wonderful in cookies, brownies, cakes, muffins, pie crusts, etc., but is usually paired with almond flour or another nut flour to give it bulk. It can be found in some local grocers or national chains. It also is available at the online stores I listed above for almond flour.
- Pork rinds–you thought those were just for snacks or nachos or dipping in guacamole? Or maybe you’ve wrinkled your nose in disdain for them when you brushed by them in the gas station. Either way, if you’re not cooking with them you’re missing out! I have a video tape dedicated to my love of pork rinds and all of the useful ways you can use them for LCHF. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQqpTiVlEwg When finely crushed, pork rinds make a great flour. They can be used in sweet or savory dishes, and are surprisingly flavor neutral for the most part as long as you buy unflavored and stick to the fluffier skins rather than the crunchier craklin’ versions. I have used pork rind dust in pancakes, casseroles, and as breading for chicken, fish, and country style steak Pork rinds provide a gelatinous texture and are slightly thirsty. They are good for texture. Most grocery stores have them, but my favorite place to buy them is convenience stores in rural areas. I’ve discovered my favorite brands by stopping at independently owned service stations in the middle of nowhere. No, I’m not obsessed. Why do you ask?
- Hazelnut, walnut, pecan flour–these behave much like almond flour in terms of baked goods, providing volume, but are also dense and heavy and not “thirsty”. They can generally be easily interchanged with almond flour in recipes. They have a stronger flavor profile especially when you pair them with their corresponding nut oil. For example, hazelnut pairs well with chocolate for a “Nutella” flavor. Using hazelnut oil in the batter enhances the subtle flavor. The same is true for walnuts. These flours are not as easy to find in local stores or national grocers, but can be ordered online from the websites I mentioned as sources for almond flour.
- Nut butters–these can be used for making cookies, brownies, fudge, or “fat bombs”. Nut butters are thick and dense and not typically used in cakes.You can make your own from grinding nuts or you can buy them. The very first LC treat I ever made was a very simple recipe that used 1 cup of peanut butter, 1 cup of granulated sweetener, 1 egg, 1 tsp vanilla, 1/4 tsp salt. You mix all of that, scoop batter into cookies and place onto a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 for 9-12 minutes. Don’t overbake and don’t burn your mouth! You can also add LC chocolate chips or a LC chocolate bar chopped up. Those cookies literally saved my life by keeping me on plan. I remember thinking, “If I can eat these and lose weight, I can do this!”
- Oat fiber–yes, I have a little bit of a crush on this obscure ingredient. It’s a fiber and does not impact blood glucose. It gives baked goods a wonderful, floury taste and texture. It makes LC treats so much more like the “real thing”. As for texture, it’s very thirsty and behaves similar to coconut flour but has a softer texture. But, and you knew there was a but, right? It is derived from a grain. While it is gluten free, it is often processed in facilities such that cross contamination can occur. I’ve only been able to find it online and some vendors do reportedly sell a gluten free version. You can buy it at Amazon, Netrition, Honeyville, or Trim Healthy Momma. Like coconut flour, you pair oat fiber with other flours and wouldn’t use it alone. If you don’t have it or can’t find it, coconut flour makes a good substitute.
- Psyllium fiber–yes, it’s just what you’re thinking, a common fiber supplement. You can find it not in the baking aisles, but nearer the pharmacy section. It’s very thirsty and can also add a gelatinous texture. I use it to make a LC flatbread that my daughter and I love! It’s the closest thing to LC pita bread that I’ve ever had. Other folks use it to make basic bread or wraps. It’s another good staple to have on hand.
Additions that add volume, rise, or texture.
- Baking powder–look for baking powder that is aluminum free. Trader Joe’s has a good brand. It’s a common ingredient in most kitchens, so I won’t say much about it other than 1 to 2 teaspoons is a pretty standard amount to use in baked goods.
- Baking soda–unlike baking powder, baking soda needs an agent to activate it. An acid like vinegar or lemon juice is perfect. Generally you add baking soda to your dry ingredients and the acid gets added at the end of mixing, typically with the wet ingredients. If you’re like me and you like to taste test the batter before baking, please know that baking soda can give batter an “odd” taste. Don’t let it discourage you as that flavor disappears in the chemical process of baking.
- Gelatin–unflavored gelatin is great for providing some of the structure that’s missing when you don’t use gluten. You can order grass fed beef or porcine gelatin online or find unflavored gelatin in any grocers. Knox is a common brand. Just be sure that it’s unflavored.
- Xanthan gum–what to say about this stuff. It can help texture in baked goods and is generally listed as “optional”. I have used it and been grateful at times and have also used it and wished I hadn’t. The line between just enough and too much is hard for me to find. It can give baked goods a gummy texture if overdone. I keep it on hand and try to err on the side of using too little. A small bag is about $10.00, but it will last for more than a year.
- Eggs–specifically egg whites help with volume and texture. Before LCHF I dutifully avoided ANY recipe that called for egg whites. For some reason I was super intimidated. Let me assure you that if you have a clean bowl and a hand mixer, you can do this! You don’t want any oily residue on the bowl or the beaters, but other than that, just beat until the egg whites are stiff. Generally, you beat them long enough that you can turn the bowl upside down and see no movement from egg whites. Also, you will typically fold them into the batter at the end. Folding means you GENTLY incorporate the egg whites into the batter. A rubber spatula works well for this and you simply keep running the spatula around the sides of the bowl and then thru the middle. If you stir egg whites in too roughly, they will deflate or lose volume.
- Butter–we all know butter makes it better, right? butter is my absolutely favorite fat to use in baking. Salted or unsalted, butter just reigns supreme in my kitchen.
- Coconut oil–another LC staple. If you’re dairy free, coconut oil is a great option. It behaves similarly to butter in baked goods and can be used interchangeably.
- MCT oil–as long as you need a liquid fat, this is another good option, but not a necessity. MCT is medium chain triglycerides. It’s a good fat.
- Ghee–clarified butter. It’s a good option for folks who are dairy free, but want the taste of butter. Since the milk solids are removed when the butter is clarified most lactose intolerant folks can enjoy ghee. I’m not sure about those with milk allergies.
- Bacon fat–for savory baked goods such as LC biscuits, breads, rolls, etc. it’s a fantastic option! I save my bacon fat from cooking bacon in the oven and pouring the drippings into a recycled pickle jar by the stove. Liquid gold!
There are so many opinions about which sweeteners are safe and which ones are evil. For the purpose of this post I’ll stick to describing their use by texture, form (liquid, powder, granulated, etc.) and intensity. You can decide what you want to use, and we’ll just stick with a don’t ask, don’t tell policy. Okay?
- Liquid sweeteners–besides taste, the form sweeteners take can be important. Most liquid sweeteners are very intense with just a few drops providing the equivalent of 1/4 to 1/2 cup of sugar. The liquid sweeteners with which I am most familiar are liquid sucralose and liquid stevia. The intensity of liquid stevia seems greater than liquid sucralose and varies widely by brand. Start with just a drop or two of either and add only a drop at a time until the batter tastes sweet enough. Liquid sweeteners can usually be interchanged without getting different results.
- Granulated sweeteners–in addition to taste, these can add bulk. Bulk or substance is often an important contribution. Erythritol, Xylitol, Splenda are examples of bulk sweeteners. Erythritol is lightly less sweet than Xylitol or Splenda. I do not use Splenda as it has been bulked with maltodextrin which behaves like sugar in our bodies. It raises my blood glucose, but some people can use it without any ill effects. Pure sucralose and powdered stevia are other non-liquid options, but they do not provide the bulk or substance that the others add. When I need bulk, I’ll often use some erythritol or xylitol and then add powdered pure sucralose or stevia (a small pinch at a time) to achieve the desired sweetness.
- Powdered sweeteners–sometimes recipes call for powdered sweeteners. This can be important when you need a smooth texture as in a ganache, “buttercream” frosting, or sauce. If a recipe calls for powdered sweetener, simply run your preferred granulated sweetener through a blender, ninja, bullet, etc. Some folks have reported that a regular blender doesn’t work well and that they have purchased a cheap coffee grinder just for that purpose.
Liquids or fats.
- Sour cream–This is a great inexpensive LC option. Be sure to buy the full-fat version and check the ingredients to make sure no food starches are added.
- Greek yogurt–when a recipe calls for Greek yogurt I generally cringe because it can be extremely difficult to find full fat yogurt with no added sugars. When I do find it, it’s expensive. Most of the time I simply use sour cream instead, and that’s okay.
- Heavy cream–if you’ve watched any of my videos, you’ve likely heard me explain that heavy cream has a higher fat content than heavy whipping cream. It’s true and I prefer heavy cream. If you can’t find heavy cream, heavy whipping cream is a fine substitute. It adds a rich and creamy texture to recipes. Like butter, it’s my preferred ingredient.
- Coconut milk–a good dairy free option. Can be substituted for cream, but if you need more thickness use coconut cream. It does add a slight coconut flavor, so keep that in mind. Also, be persnickety when choosing a brand of coconut milk or coconut cream. Companies are notorious for adding sugars, stabilizers, thickeners, and flavors. You don’t want any of that. Native Forest or Arroy-D are my preferred brands. I order both online.
- Coconut cream–another good dairy free option. It can be whipped just like heavy cream. Don’t forget to be picky about ingredients.
- Almond milk–another dairy free option, but much thinner than heavy cream. Sometimes the thinner texture is exactly what you need. Just as with coconut milk and coconut cream, take care when purchasing almond milk. Food companies love to add sugars and thickeners and flavors. You want the ingredients to be very simple–almond milk.
Obviously, those are just the basics, and I’ve likely omitted someone’s favorite ingredient, but I wanted to share just an overview of some of the tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the time that I’ve been cooking keto.
You can also watch me discuss using alterative ingredients on my YouTube channel, Cooking Keto with Kristie. In this video I give a very basic review of what ingredients I keep on hand and how I combine alternative ingredients to make low carb recipes.
Please feel free to leave any tips, comments, or questions. I covet your feedback. Happy low carb cooking!