Baking can be stress reliever and a great way to connect with your family and friends. Baking is a skill, requiring you to know little tips and tricks that will make a tremendous difference when it comes to the taste and consistency of your baked good. Carolyn Ketchum, author of THE EVERYDAY KETOGENIC KITCHEN shares her tips for low-carb baking.
Baking is my happy place, and I know I am not alone in that sentiment. For people who love to bake, it is not simply a means to an end. As much as I love the treats that come out of the oven when the timer goes off —and I really do — it’s the process itself that is so enjoyable. Baking is burrowing into the kitchen, slowly mixing, measuring, tasting, and adjusting. Baking is the warmth of the preheated oven and the delightful smells that waft through the house. Baking is coziness and comfort and memories of being surrounded by family and friends. It’s just a lucky break that it happens to end in something delicious.
Ketogenic baking can be a little daunting, particularly if you’re used to conventional flour-and-sugar recipes. It isn’t a matter of just swapping in low-carb ingredients for high-carb ones; these ingredients don’t behave in the same manner at all. However, ketogenic baking is worth the effort, and it doesn’t take long to adjust to this new world, I promise. I’ve gathered my best tips to help you master the art of low-carb, grain-free baking from the start.
Use properly softened butter and cream cheese. For seasoned bakers, this goes without saying. It’s certainly not specific to ketogenic baking, but it can make a big difference to the end results. If these ingredients are too cold, they will clump up in your batter or dough, and they won’t get evenly distributed.
Properly softened butter and cream cheese dent easily when you press them, but they still maintain their overall shape without squishing all over the place. If your house is quite cool, you might need to help them soften a bit. Ten seconds in the microwave is often enough. I sometimes put the butter in a bowl and place it near one of my heating vents.
Let eggs and liquids come to room temperature unless otherwise specified. It’s tempting just to grab these items from the fridge and dump them in, but all that properly softened butter will be for naught if you do. Cold eggs and cream will just make it all clump up again.
Don’t pack your ingredients unless specified. When measuring almond flour or other low-carb flours, I always use the scoop-and-level method. I simply use my measuring cup to scoop the flour out of the bag, and then I level it off with a knife. Pressing the ingredients down into the measuring cup can significantly change the amount and throw off the proportions. For even greater accuracy, use a kitchen scale to measure nut flours and coconut flour. For the most part, I find that U.S. measuring cups work well for my recipes. However, I also have included measurements for low-carb flours in grams for each recipe. I’ve done this to make them more accurate and more accessible to people living in countries that don’t measure dry ingredients by volume.
Liberally grease your baking pans. Because ketogenic recipes lack gluten, they sometimes stick a little bit more. I often double-grease my pans, first with a coat of butter and then by spraying them with coconut oil spray.
Use unsalted butter. The standard for baking is unsalted butter unless the recipe states otherwise. The amount of salt in a stick of butter can vary by brand, which can affect the flavor. It’s better to simply add the amount of salt called for in the recipe. Personally, I sometimes use salted butter in my baked goods, but I have a high tolerance for salty flavors.
Use large eggs. Large eggs are the standard for baking, and I rarely, if ever, see a recipe that calls for any other size. I always specify large eggs in my recipes.
Oven and stovetop temperatures vary. The thermostat on your oven might not be entirely accurate; many ovens run a little hot or a little cold. For this reason, baking and cooking times should be considered guidelines, not hard-and-fast rules. Use the visual and tactile cues outlined in the recipes to determine when something is done cooking. I always set my oven timer for about ten minutes less than a recipe states. That way, I can start checking on it early to ensure that it doesn’t overcook. Also, medium heat on my gas stove might not be the same as medium on your electric or induction cooktop. Again, use the visual and tactile cues to know when to move on to the next step.
Low-carb batters are often thicker than conventional batters. Resist the urge to add liquid to thin them out; otherwise, you might end up with a goopy mess that won’t cook through. As long as you can spread the batter easily in the pan, it should be fine. If the batter is too thick to spread, then something went wrong! Coconut flour is a bit of a wildcard for low-carb baking because it can vary a lot from brand to brand. Because some brands are more absorbent and some are less so, your batter might end up too thick or too thin. After you’ve worked with coconut flour for a while, you’ll gain a gut instinct about whether your batter is right or not. If the batter is really thin, try adding another tablespoon or two of coconut flour. Adding a few tablespoons of liquid can help if the batter is so thick that you can hardly stir it.
A slower rise helps. Many of my recipes require an oven temperature of no more than 325°F. I noticed early on in my keto baking exploits that a slower rise helps almond flour and coconut flour recipes to cook through properly and to maintain the proper shape once finished.
Grain-free requires more leavening agents. Don’t be surprised if you see a low-carb recipe that requires a full tablespoon of baking powder. Nut flours and other keto ingredients need a little more encouragement to rise properly. No, you can’t swap almond flour for coconut flour. Well, you can, but you’d have to change the rest of the recipe, too (less coconut flour, more eggs, more oil, and more liquid). Swapping flours changes it to a completely different recipe. In my opinion, there is no good formula for substituting one for the other.
Let foods cool properly. I know, I know, it can be really hard to resist cutting into that cake or grabbing a cookie when it’s still warm from the oven. However, aside from the risk of burning your tongue, the goodies in question might fall to pieces if you dig in too soon. Low-carb and grain-free items continue to firm up or crisp up as they cool. If the instructions say to let something cool in the pan for fifteen minutes or to let it cool completely, you’re better off following those instructions to the letter.
Always melt chocolate double boiler style. I am guilty of being lazy at times and trying to melt my chocolate directly in the pan. However, I always regret it when I do. Chocolate is prone to seizing when it’s subjected to too much heat, and you can end up with a gloppy mess. Chocolate melts more easily and smoothly with gentle heat. Simply set a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water. The bottom of the bowl should not be touching the water.
You can rescue seized chocolate. Melted chocolate also can seize when you introduce a liquid, such as water, cream, or even vanilla extract. Don’t panic if your chocolate goes all grainy and clumpy, because it’s often salvageable. The funny part is that you add more liquid to fix the problem. Simply keep the chocolate over low, gentle heat and add lukewarm liquid (water, cream, coffee, whatever) a teaspoon or so at a time. Whisk continuously as you add the liquid until the chocolate becomes smooth again.
Adding more liquid doesn’t always work, but I find that it does more often than not. Because of the additional liquid, the seized chocolate might not be appropriate for the intended recipe, but at least you don’t have to toss out the whole thing! Just pour it into fun molds and refrigerate for a sweet snack.
Here’s how to save money on a low-carb diet.