On Keto Cornbread and Almond Flour Baking

My experiences with almond flour recipes has always been mixed with the negatives outweighing the positives, until I found Natasha Newton’s Southern Keto cookbook. When looking for a faux cornbread recipe, I turned to this cookbook for real cornbread flavor. As a Southerner myself, I trusted Natasha to know how to get that flavor– and this recipe is very close to the real thing, in my humble experience. And a first-time success at 2 net carbs per serving!

Some Caveats about Almond Flour Baking for Newbie Keto Bakers

Keto baking often requires “investment” in ingredients. Newbie keto-ers are often shocked at the expense, especially for almond flour, a staple in keto baking. The food industry makes its money on cheap ingredients (wheat, sugar, and grains generally) and has flooded the market with these things in one form or another, to the detriment of our health. Insulin, however, is very expensive. Moving to a keto diet means giving up junk food — including breads. This is a hard move to make in Western societies. Our childhood food memories always have significant “bread” moments. Newbie keto bakers turn to almond flour in the hopes that they will be able to recreate their present diets, just by adding keto forms of best-loved dishes.

The high praises for almond flour often leads to high expectations and terrible disappointment.

Almond flour is an ingredient lots of newbies in keto love to hate. They feel betrayed by the people who sing its praises as if it really DOES substitute “perfectly” for wheat flour. Alas, it doesn’t. Wheat is an addictive substance, as the authors of Wheat Belly (cardiologist Dr. Bill Davis) and Grain Brain (Dr. Daniel Perlmutter) have discussed at length. We’re addicted to the dopamine kick in the brain that wheat delivers — and our cravings for bread, cake and other baked goods may never be sufficiently addressed by almond flour substitutes–especially in the beginnings of anyone’s keto journey.

It’s best to either substantively lower expectations–even to the point of staying entirely away from keto substitutes for bread in the first three months or so of starting a keto diet. Let your body forget wheat, its flavor and texture. I didn’t touch wheat for many years, gradually fell off the wagon during my year and a half struggle with cancer. Like many who fall away from a low-carb way of eating, I had to come back with a new game plan that involves refining and elevating my keto baking abilities.

Flavor and Texture

This recipe isn’t real cornbread, but for me, who hasn’t had more than three pieces of cornbread in the past six years, it was nearly perfect. My son, not in keto, has an amazing palate (he can taste individual ingredients in recipes, especially spice). I asked him to give me his honest opinion. He declared the flavor to be “okay” and for the texture “okay, but a bit weird.” My first attempt is suffering from older baking powder — not past its due date but within a few months. I think this is why it didn’t rise as high as expected.

Almond flour does have a much more dense texture than wheat. Bakers often “lighten” it up by adding coconut flour. This recipe doesn’t go that route. It uses 2 cups of almond flour and 2 tablespoon of golden flax meal. Golden flax meal has some properties of a corn-like taste. I put it into my version of fathead pizza dough, to provide a more chewy texture.

I personally found the texture to be slightly dense but acceptable, given the great flavor. Now, that’s me, someone who has barely touched cornbread for six years. (In my defense, I used to have to restrain myself from eating the entire pan). My son described the flavor of this keto recipe as “like a cupcake, with a corn aftertaste that isn’t bad.” For me, I find it very close to cornbread in flavor–due, I think to the “optional”–and quite expensive– corn extract.

“Corn” or “Cornbread” Extract

This is an expensive ingredient, just slightly less expensive than liquid stevia but for a tiny, 1-oz quantity. At nearly 8 dollars a bottle online, corn extract seemed like an insane investment, especially since my early experiments with almond flour baking were — kind of horrible. Almond flour based packaged mixes–the Simple Mills brand, especially, changed my opinion that almond flour was never going to be “for me.” They were “adequate” substitutes and I ate them sometimes during the cancer year, to give myself the illusion of being low carb (and staying away from wheat).

In this recipe, you only use 1/2 teaspoon of corn or “cornbread” extract—and it worked like a charm. Any extract used in large quantities tends to make for problems of producing off-tastes. The bottle was only 30ml but the amount used is very small, so I’m fairly sure it will last me for at least half a year. I also think it will work well in cauliflower recipes, but that’s for another experiment, another day.

The Recipe

The recipe is pretty much a snap to bring together. Start by preheating the oven to 375F. You’ll need a ten-inch cast iron skillet (for best results) but other baking pans will work alright, but a seasoned cast iron skillet will produce a browner, crisper crust.

Ingredients

The dry ingredients:

  • 2 cups superfine (finely ground) almond flour
  • 2 tablespoons golden flax meal
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt

The wet ingredients:

  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 3 tablespoons of melted butter

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 375F
  • Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl.
  • In a larger, separate bowl, mix together the wet ingredients.
  • Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, a quarter cup or so at a time, whisking the dry and wet ingredients together to form a batter.
  • Now prepare the cast iron or other ovenproof skillet or baking pan. (See notes below)
  • Finally, pour the batter into the hot, prepared skillet or baking dish and put it in the oven.
  • Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the top is lightly browned.
  • After you take it out of the oven, flip the cornbread onto a plate or cooling rack. Let it cool for about ten minutes.
  • Serve with softened butter!

Preparing the Pan or Skillet

  • To prepare the pan, you will require:
  • 2 additional tablespoons of ghee, butter, coconut oil, or other “grease” (like bacon fat) for coating the skillet (or baking pan).

If you were not raised in a Southern kitchen with a cornbread-making mama (or papa!) , you might not know that cornbread batter NEEDS to hit a hot, greased skillet right before it goes into the oven, to create that nice, brown cornbread crust. My Southern mama used Crisco for everything, including this. VERY BAD IDEA, because, as we learned later, Crisco is just concentrated trans-fat. Probably the worst thing in terms of healthy grease!

Butter, Ghee, Coconut Oil or Bacon Fat: Choosing your Grease (and Your Method–and Your Pan)

Greasing the skillet (or baking dish) is a very necessary step for achieving good corn bread. The trick is to get the pan good and hot– and coated with grease all over the bottom–so that the cornbread will flip out easily after its baked.

Natasha’s Method: Natasha Newton’s recipe used butter that you put in the cold skillet. Then, you put the pan in the oven at 375 to melt the butter, while you put together your wet and dry ingredients. The problem for me was that I am SLOW and easily distracted! By the time I got my batter put together, the butter had gone from melted to “brown” — with the beginnings of burned bits of milk solids in the bottom of the pan. NOT GOOD. I had to spoon out the heavily browned milk solids.

Next time, if I use this method, I will just use ghee, which is clarified butter. It is a shelf stable product which has a very high smoke point. This means you can get ghee much hotter than butter, without burning it. You can get this at Walmart (in with the Mediterranean type of ingredients) or at Trader’s Joes, or, these days, many general supermarkets.

The Down-Home Texas Method. My Southern mama taught me to put a DRY cast iron skillet in the oven to heat it up while I put the wet and dry ingredients together. THEN, I was to take the hot, dry skillet out of the oven, put it on a low burner, then add the grease and get it nice and hot.
THEN, when the skillet is well coated with hot grease, you pour the cornbread batter into the hot, greasy skillet. And get the pot holders to pop the skillet right back into the hot oven right away!

The Bacon Fat Option

Bacon fat is also a very good option for greasing the baking dish or skillet. Fry two or three pieces of bacon directly in the cast-iron or ovenproof skillet. Or, if you use a baking pan that is NOT safe for the stovetop, drain the bacon grease into the oven dish before you pour in the batter. It will give your cornbread a rich, bacony down-home flavor.

This is why a cast iron skillet or other oven-safe skillet is preferred. Skillets have a good handle that enables you to move them from the stove top to the oven and back using a good pot-holder.

If you use a regular baking dish that is NOT suitable for the stovetop, grease the dish well with ghee or coconut oil and put it into the oven to preheat for about five minutes or so. Or use hot bacon fat that you swirl around the cold dish before you put it into the oven to heat up. THEN, take it out (carefully with potholders) and pour in the cornbread batter.

Flipping the Bread Out

This step requires a bit of practice. If you’ve never done this before, its similar to flipping out cakes, however the skillet is MUCH heavier — and hotter–than cake pans. If you’re not an experienced baker, you should wait about 30 minutes to an hour for the skillet to cool down. Or you can use an offset spatula to gently lift the cake out.

How to Flip: Using oven mitts, put a large plate or a wire cooling rack (which is a bit better) on top of the skillet or pan.

Turn the pan upside with the plate or wire rack underneath it. The bread SHOULD immediately release onto the plate or rack. If it doesn’t release, just leave it there until the pan is cool enough to take it away. Greasing the bottom of the pan well is the critical step in getting the cornbread to just fall right out.

The Carby Facts

Natasha Newton suggests that this recipe serves 6, for 2 net carbs per serving:

  • Calories: 233
  • Fat: 20.6g
  • Protein 7g
  • Carbohydrates 4.6g
  • Fiber 2.6g

Bon Appetit! More soon. ~ Lola

Author: Lola

Recovering academic, real-life, honest to cornflakes anthropologist (Ph.D. and fieldwork and everything), tech-head and social media researcher.

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