Entering the world of low carb baking can be a little like traveling to a foreign country. It’s new and exciting, but it’s also strange and unfamiliar. And everyone around you is speaking another language, throwing around terms you’ve never heard and can’t quite understand. But the best way to learn about any new culture is to dive right in and immerse yourself, perhaps with a few good maps and reference books to guide you along the way.
Consider this your first map as you embark on your journey in low carb baking. Before you begin, you will first need to gather the tools of the trade. Some you might be familiar with, some not so much. But a well-stocked low carb pantry will go a long way to ensuring your success.
The Basics: Butter, eggs, and baking powder. Any good baker, low carb or not, should have plenty of these things on hand at all times in case the urge to bake strikes. Low carb recipes often require more eggs than conventional recipes to give the baked goods structure, so be sure to pick up an extra dozen at the store. If you’re trying to cut back on dairy or are lactose intolerant, coconut oil makes a great substitute and can give your baked goods an extra tender quality.
Flour Substitutes: This is where it gets interesting and sometimes a little complicated. The choices are myriad and can be very overwhelming when you are new to low carb baking, and we will discuss the various qualities of different flour substitutes in greater detail in a future article. But for now, get yourself some almond flour and coconut flour, as these will be the most commonly used flours. If you can’t do nuts, sunflower seed flour can make a great alternative to almond flour. Ground chia seed and flax seed meal can also be good flour alternatives.
Sugar Substitutes: Again, the choices are vast and overwhelming, but much of it will come down to personal preference and taste. Some people are perfectly comfortable with artificial sweeteners like Splenda, whereas others prefer natural options like erythritol, xylitol and stevia. For a beginner, I recommend trying a few out before settling on your favorites.
Do keep in mind that different recipes may have varying results depending on the sweeteners used. Some may require the dense properties of a bulk granulated sweetener like erythritol, whereas others will be just fine with liquid sweeteners like sucralose or stevia.
Gluten/Starch Alternatives: I like to joke that gluten has magical properties and when it comes to conventional baking, it kind of does. It gives baked goods structure and it helps bind them together. When worked into a dough, it creates protein strands that trap the gases from leavening agents so that the cake or muffins rise and stay risen. Replicating these qualities when gluten is absent isn’t easy and usually requires a couple of substitutes. Added dry protein like whey protein or powdered egg whites can help with rising. And binders like xanthan gum, glucomannan or psyllium husk can help keep the baked goods from falling apart. Extra eggs in the batter can help too, but you don’t want to end up with something that is too rubbery, which is why I usually recommend dry, powdered proteins.
Cocoa Powder & Unsweetened Chocolate: You may find it hard to believe, but chocolate is actually a wonderful low carb food. It’s just the sugar and other additives that make it unhealthful. But as long as you stick to low carb sweeteners and flours, you can indulge in some amazing chocolate desserts that will have very little impact on your blood sugars. Brownies, anyone?
Sugar-Free or Low Sugar Chocolate: What good is a cookie or muffin without a handful of chocolate chips thrown in? Thankfully, you have some healthy options on this front as there are a couple of good brands of sugar-free chocolate chips on the market. They can get a little pricy, though, so you also may want to consider purchasing some really dark chocolate (85% cacao or higher) to chop up into “chips”. If you’re up to the task, you can also turn your unsweetened chocolate into Homemade Sugar-Free Chocolate Chips – Low Carb and Gluten-Free.
Almond or Coconut Milk: No more cow’s milk for you my friends! Sorry, but at 12 g of carbs per cup, regular milk just isn’t low carb friendly. When you need to add liquid to a batter, your best choices are unsweetened almond milk or coconut milk. You can also use cream mixed with water to get the right milky consistency.
Now that you’ve got a full pantry, you’re probably eager to get started. Trust me, you can make healthy cakes and muffins and cookies that rival their high carb counterparts. But it will take some time to adjust, as many of these ingredients behave quite differently than regular flour and sugar. Take your time and pick out a few good low carb recipes you want to try. Follow them carefully and note what works and what doesn’t. Don’t be discouraged if something doesn’t turn out and don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s the only way to learn.