Getting starting with low-carb baking seems simple. The basic ingredients (almond flour, baking powder, and eggs) are easy to obtain. The “mug cake” just needs a few ingredients and a microwave. You will read rave reviews about Fat Head pizza, almond flour muffins and similar recipes. Like me, you may not be fully pleased with your results. But it’s an art–a complicated, fiddly art — because at the end of the day, it’s baking. If you are already an experienced baker, getting great results isn’t difficult. If you’re new to baking? Oh, my, the learning curve!
Gaining Confidence as a Keto Baker
Low-carb baking is an applied science. Like all sciences, there is theory and there is the application–which can vary greatly. The absolute best way to learn keto baking is through keto baking classes. I can’t find any in my area. (When I retire, this might be an entrepreneurial idea!) The next best thing is learning through videos.
Youtube has been my teacher. Like all Internet learning, it’s not necessarily the best teacher. Blogs are a great resource, too, but with Youtube demonstrations, I get a better understanding of what things should LOOK like. Even though I can’t actually touch, smell and taste the dough, I can at least SEE the steps and the product as it goes from a set of raw ingredients to something edible.
Baking shows have also been a resource for me. I had reached a stage in my life where I can watch other people eat things I should never touch without experiencing cravings or pangs and instead consider: how can I adapt that for keto and LCHF? This is a big leap for me. My early forays into keto baking were less than satisfying. Now, I’m looking at keto baking with new eyes. There are gluten-free bakers like Elizabeth Pruiett out there, revolutionizing the recipes. Her book on gluten-free baking, Tartine All-Day, is on my Christmas list. From baking shows, I’ve learned that cooking with almond flour does not HAVE to be basic. But we have to start somewhere–but rest assured, there is a lot more to keto baking than just the basics!
The Basic Recipes
I’ve been cooking and eating in the LCHF (Low-carb, high fat) way of eating for going on seven years now. There are three basic recipes that you will see making the rounds in LCHF, paleo and keto communities: cloud bread type recipes, Fat Head pizza dough recipes, and the almond flour recipes.
“Cloud” bread. This is a a kind of very soft, baked merengue which has a bread-like quality. It consist of whipped egg whites, sometimes lightly flavored, baked in the oven. It’s one of the easiest recipes –and at the same time, it can be a challenge for a new baker. There are some secrets to getting egg whites to whip into those “stiff peaks” — and I really struggled with it.
If you’re not getting “stiff peaks,” here are some tips from my research and practice in making these things.
- Start with room temperature egg whites.
- Use 1/4 tsp (or a pinch) of cream of tartar
- A copper mixing bowl (pricey!) or a stainless steel mixing bowl (easier! and cheaper) works best for getting those peaks.
- Use a hand-held electric mixer. Seriously, my $300 stand mixer did not do near as good a job as my nine-dollar mixer from Kmart.
Here’s a link to one of the many versions of cloud bread out there on the Internet. I like this Youtube recipe as it is simple and easy. Here’s the four minute Youtube video on how to make it. Other recipes will have you adding garlic or other ingredients because frankly, cloud bread doesn’t have much flavor at all by itself. It’s more or less a “blank canvas” for lots of other flavors. I like a little rosemary and parmesan myself for a sandwich. I also add a little Swerve to make a sweet roll-type bread for a danish! Other good additions: turmeric, garlic and finely chopped sweet onions make for a substitute for naan for Indian dishes or as a nearly no-carb substitute for low-carb sandwich wraps for Trader Joe’s chicken shawarma (see my recipe here.)
Fat Head Pizza. There is a long, complicated story about the Fat Head movie by Tom Naughton, the Fat Head Facebook community, and the invention of this now famous dough for “Fathead Pizza.” Here’s a link to the original recipe.
Fat Head pizza is a riff on “rugelach” dough, a type of cream cheese pastry that swaps wheat flour for almond flour, and adds mozarella to create a pizza-like dough that is much more similar to actual pizza dough than any other “faux dough” out there. Fat Head is reasonably easy to put together but there are tricks to getting it right. If you’re not an experienced baker who has a good “feel” for kneading dough, like me you may struggle. Your dough may not be as crisp and as pizza-like as a more experienced baker’s product would be.
“Fat Heads” are fans of Naughton’s movie, “Fat Head,” a personal documentary (Naughton is a professional film producer) on obesity and the low fat diets that have made so many of us obese. I discovered the Fat Heads shortly after reading “Wheat Belly”by Dr. Bill Davis in 2012.
My experiences with fat head pizza were somewhat mixed. My doughs were not as crisp as others were reporting–and I didn’t know why. At best, I was getting a kind of soft calzone dough. I also didn’t know what I could do. In 2012, low-carb baking was just getting started. There were discussions about using xantham gum and psyllium husks to improve texture–but I had already lost some of my baking confidence.
Almond Flour Cake, Muffin, Bread, etc. and its variations. Almond flour products tend to have a dense texture and a bland taste that is not like that of wheat. Anyone who says it tastes “just like bread!” or “just like cake!” has clearly forgotten the taste of bread and cake. 🙂 Either that, or they have palates so clouded by junk food that they are poor judges of the world of flavor.
Early Experiments with Almond Flour
When I first started low-carb baking, with the usual, super easy “mug cake” formula, I was very underwhelmed. Sure, it was something that could be described as “cake-like” and sweet. It could also be described as “heavy” and bland. On more research, I discovered that many people were beginning to substitute coconut flour for at least SOME Of the almond flour to achieve a lighter texture. I have to agree that I found these to be somewhat better but the results were not enough for me to want to pursue this line of experimentation. Headbanger Kitchen has a video that gives a quick demonstration on how to make the basic almond flour “bread” recipe.
Almond butter bread dough was a craze, briefly, back in 2012. Almond butter is expensive at about 10 bucks a jar, so that made for ridiculously expensive bread. This did produce a sliceable loaf of bread but still, pretty dense. After a bit, people began to substitute peanut butter, much cheaper. Here’s a video from Head Banger’s kitchen that shows a realistic bake and review of the results that I really like.
I love the Headbanger videos because they are realistic. He’s not trying to be a domestic goddess with perfect food. He’s a keto cook who creates interesting videos that you can follow along. Little hint though, one cup is equivalent to 100 grams.
These are the very plain basic, very basic recipes. You can see from the Headbanger videos that he is trying to give an honest presentation. He’s not overselling the product. These results are not “luscious.” They are plain, simple food that HAS to be elevated to give us what we deserve: super-tasty, wonderful food (that isn’t going to kill us).
Getting More Advanced
I would’ve entirely given up on low-carb baking as “not worth the trouble.” Then I got into “baking shows.” Baking shows with baking tips, including lots of tips suitable for low-carb baking. I learned that there is a whole bunch of almond-flour based fine pastry recipes. The almond based recipes of keto are just basic beginning points. They are definitely NOT the last word in keto baking.
In this blog, I’m going to pursuing excellence in keto baking. I am, probably like you, FAR FROM an experienced baker–but I AM an experienced researcher. The baking shows have shown me that baking is a science. In science, we experiment. We collect data. We publish our results.
In the coming weeks, I’m going to be doing some posts on going from basic to more advanced keto baking.
I’m going to be chasing down new recipes and conducting some experiments to help us become better keto bakers. I’m going to have some fails and I’m going to fearlessly discuss them. If I can do it, you can do it.
Diet Doctor has a good site on beginning low-carb/keto baking with recipes suitable for beginners. Diet Doctor is one of my go-to sites for information and recipes for the keto way of eating. I’ll be using this and other sites to create my next posts– but if you’re anxious to get started, it’s a good place to begin learning.
Happy Holidays! Hope your baking dreams come true. ~ Lola