It’s entirely possible to have your cake and eat it—without piling on the carbs

Shannon Hennig
Jun 17 · 13 min read
Low-carb, high-fat vanilla cupcakes with chocolate buttercream frosting. Photo copyright Shannon Hennig.

There is nothing like a beautifully decorated cake — thick with rich, creamy buttercream icing covering on its top and sides — that gets me quite as excited. Things are even better when you cut a slice of this perfectly moist cake with a delicate crumb, and enjoy it with a cup of french press coffee. The taste, the texture, the smell — the entire experience is a feast for the senses.

We use special foods to mark special occasions and celebrate events. The beautiful cake that I just described is no different, and whether it’s a birthday, wedding, or another life event, baked goods are often ways to mark the occasion.

But what do you do when you’ve changed your diet for health reasons, allergies, intolerances or other reasons, and can no longer enjoy the decadence of a slice of cake?

You can choose to go without — but I’ve found this isn’t sustainable over the long term. Instead, I choose to get creative, to ditch the old way of baking, and to discover an entirely new way to indulge.

By the end of this article, you’ll have a better understanding of how to bake for a low-carb, high-fat diet, including the ingredients you can use to create cakes, cupcakes, loaves, and muffins.

Low-carb, high-fat diets like the Keto diet continue to gain popularity because of the rapid weight loss that followers can experience and the host of other health benefits that can come along with it. If you’re brand new to low-carb, high-fat diets and are interested in learning more about the Keto diet specifically, I highly recommend this article by Keenan Ericksson.


I made the decision to go low-carb/high-fat myself over two years ago in an effort to lose weight, but the most remarkable outcome was the reduction in pain and dramatic improvement in my fatigue levels —symptoms associated with fibromyalgia, a chronic condition I was diagnosed with. Fibromyalgia gave me widespread pain with no discernible cause all over my body, bone-crushing fatigue, brain fog, weight gain and digestion problems.

Low-carb, high-fat eating turned these symptoms around. Within a week of changing my diet, I noticed, in particular, a dramatic reduction in my pain levels.

Saying Goodbye To SugarSugar Alternatives and Replacements
Stevia
Erythritol
Monk fruit extract
Flour Alternatives and Replacements
Coconut flour
Almond flour
Let Them Eat Cake
Knock ’Em Dead Low-Carb, High-Fat Vanilla Batter
Tips and Troubleshooting

Saying Goodbye To Sugar

Adopting a low-carb, high fat lifestyle isn’t for everyone, and it can be hard to stick with long-term. It typically means that you have to give up some of life’s most delicious pleasures like cake, cookies, ice cream, pie, and creamy milk chocolate.

If you have a sweet tooth or love the texture of a slice of chocolate cake like I do, saying goodbye to foods high in refined sugars can feel like a bad breakup.

Low-carb, high-fat orange cake with cream cheese frosting and decorated with fresh cranberries and cinnamon. Photo copyright Shannon Hennig.

Sugar, refined white flour, and related ingredients found in your favorite goodies are immediately converted by your body to glucose, which leads to a spike in blood sugar levels and a rush of insulin into your bloodstream.

This is precisely what you are avoiding with a low-carb diet. Indulging in traditional baked goods will reverse any of the benefits that you might be seeing from your diet.

My problem with this was that baking has long been a favorite hobby of mine. At one point, I even owned a small cake-decorating business. Among friends and family I was known for my light and airy chocolate cupcakes and delicate sugar cookies I would hand decorate with royal icing and fondant.

Knowing that I couldn’t eat or even try my latest creation was depressing — heartbreaking, even. So I decided that instead of crying over cupcakes, I would get creative and find versions of my favorite treats that I could make and eat.

I dove headfirst into the world of low-carb, high-fat baking and through two years of trial and error have been able to replace my favorite treats without compromising my health.

If you’re a person who is able to eat sweets moderately, but now must give them up because you’re going low carb, these techniques can help you, too.


Sugar Alternatives and Replacements

Sugar and the sweetness it provides to all baked goodies is difficult to replicate, but there are a variety of natural alternatives and replacements on the market. Now these don’t taste exactly like sugar and some have a strange aftertaste if you use too much, but they provide the sweetness necessary to feel like you’re eating a favorite treat.

Not all sweeteners touted as sugar replacements are low-carb friendly: honey, maple syrup, agave, nectar, and dates are all examples of sweeteners that you should just consider “sugar”.

After experimenting with many true sugar alternatives, adjusting their ratios in relation to other ingredients in a recipe, and playing with their textures, I’ve come to rely on three main products that consistently give me the best results.

Stevia

Stevia is a natural extract from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant found in South America. It’s much sweeter than sugar—as a result, you don’t need as much in your baked goods. It doesn’t impact blood sugar levels as it is carbohydrate free.

It can be found in most major grocery stores or online retailers and typically comes in a granulated/powdered form or as a concentrated liquid. The typical conversion ratio is 1 teaspoon liquid concentrate or 1/4 to 2 teaspoons extract powder to replace 1 cup of sugar. Check the packaging for specific recommendations.

Some brands suggest on their packaging they can be measured and used cup-for-cup, like sugar, I wouldn’t recommend this. Using too much stevia can lead to a very bitter aftertaste that will ruin your baked goods faster than you can blink. If a Stevia sugar replacement recommends this ratio, it is probably being mixed with something else.

Obviously, there is much less bulk to pure Stevia than sugar. But it has another impact on your recipes: the moisture levels, in conjunction with your other ingredients, won’t be the same as for white sugar. Typically if I use stevia in baking, I know that I’m going to need to increase both the amount of liquids and fats in my recipe in order to get the desired result.

Stevia also doesn’t caramelize or melt, so it’s not a viable replacement if you need those qualities.

Erythritol

Erythritol is a natural sugar alcohol, originally discovered as a chemical component of blackstrap molasses that has been fermented by yeast. It has since been commercialized and is regularly used as a food additive. It is a zero carb, zero calorie sweetener that is about 70% as sweet as sugar.

There are mixed feelings in the low-carb, high-fat community about sugar alcohols—they can cause stomach upset and even intolerances in some if used in excess. But for baking, this is one of my favorites to use, as it has a similar granular texture to white sugar, and can also be found in powdered form for use in more delicate baking where texture is important.

Like stevia, erythritol doesn’t melt or caramelize, and it doesn’t it lose it’s granular texture when it’s mixed with wet ingredients the way sugar does. When using it for cakes or cupcakes, I put it into a coffee grinder that I use only for baking ingredients to turn it into a powder. You can also buy it in powdered form but this tends to be more expensive. The other thing to keep in mind is that erythritol can have a strange aftertaste when used in excess; it creates almost a cooling sensation in your mouth that’s really difficult to describe.

To reduce the chance of a strange aftertaste I like to test mix sweeteners in different ratios. Often I’ll put erythritol together with stevia (usually to taste, there is no magic ratio that works with every recipe) and together these make for a perfectly sweetened baked good without the bitterness or cooling sensations of using these sweeteners by themselves.

Monk fruit extract

The extract of monk fruit, grown in Southeast Asia, is 150–200 times sweeter than white sugar. The juice from the monk fruit is extracted, dried, then ground for use in baking, juices, sodas and other foods where you’d typically find white sugar. It can have a bit of a fruity taste to it if used in excess, but I prefer it to stevia in baked goods.

Monk fruit will dissolve when mixed with wet ingredients, so it’s often used in sugar substitutes at your local coffee shop. And once again, it doesn’t melt or caramelize like sugar—in general, don’t plan to make a creme brulee with these sugar substitutes. Monk fruit extract is a relatively new product in North America, so it tends to be quite expensive and difficult to find.

If you do come across it on the grocery store shelf, it will often be mixed with erythritol, stevia or another natural sweetener. And there are multiple products at the supermarket that run under a variety of brand names that are a blend of all three of these sweeteners.

I don’t have a personal preference on these commercial blends and suggest if you want to use one, try multiple brands to decide what you like best. Make sure that you read the ingredients to understand exactly what you’re getting, as some manufacturers will also throw in artificial sweeteners and other stuff that you don’t want.


Flour Alternatives and Replacements

Grain-based flours are the cornerstone of baking breads, cookies, cakes and pastries—and they are loaded with carbs.

Though I continue to experiment with alternative flours, the two that I consistently have the best results with are coconut and almond flours.

While neither of these are carbohydrate free, their net carb ratio (total carbs minus total fiber) makes them useful alternatives that won’t spike your blood sugar.

Don’t expect to get the same results from either of them as you would with white grain-based flour. These are entirely different substances, with unique densities and utilities. I have yet to have any success making a delicate pastry or other baked good that requires finely ground flour with either of these. Almonds and coconuts have too much fiber to be reduced to a fine powder.

With that said, though, these will both produce a cake, cookie or cupcake that you’ll be proud to call your own.

Coconut flour

Made from dried and ground coconut meat, coconut flour tends to produce a drier, denser baked good that tastes a bit like coconut. You will need to adjust your ratio of coconut flour to your wet ingredients, including fats, in order to produce a tasty treat.

Low-carb, high-fat blueberry almond muffins. Photo copyright Shannon Hennig.

Batters made strictly with coconut flour tend to be heavy and thick, so don’t plan on using this flour to make a muffin or other baked good where a light texture is part of the experience.

Almond flour

Made from finely ground raw or roasted almonds, this is typically my go-to white flour alternative. It produces the best crumb and texture for cakes, muffins, and loaves. Unlike coconut flour, it doesn’t require a significant adjustment in your ratio of wet to dry ingredients.

Almond flour also has the benefit of being relatively tasteless, so your final product isn’t overwhelmed by the taste of almonds. It can be found in some specialty supermarkets, online retailers, and last time I was at Costco I discovered it on the shelves. It’s also easy to make your own by throwing some almonds into a food processor or high-speed blender.

It’s useful to know that neither of these flours have any gluten in them and can be tolerated by many with gluten-related sensitivities. This also means that batters won’t hold together the same way as those made with grain-based flours, so you may need to add something like xanthan gum to help hold it together. This is also why you tend to see low-carb, high-fat recipes with a large number of eggs in them — the act as a binding agent and hold the batter together when baking.

When in doubt you’re best to find a low-carb, high-fat recipe and follow it to the letter until you know what you’re doing and feel comfortable with experimentation. Pinterest is an excellent source of inspiration and recipes for anything low-carb, high-fat.


Let Them Eat Cake

Now for what you’ve been waiting for — the down low on how to make a delicious low-carb, high-fat cake that will knock your socks off and leave you wanting more.

I have experimented and found that this is the beset basic vanilla batter that can be used as a base to make cake, cupcakes, muffins, and loaves. I have used it on many occasions to create things like orange carrot cake, chocolate fudge cupcakes, raspberry lemon muffins, and blueberry walnut bread.

Low-carb, high-fat orange carrot cake with cream cheese frosting and decorated with fresh orange, rosemary and cinnamon sticks. Photo copyright Shannon Hennig.

Your imagination, personal preferences, and dietary needs are all that will limit you when using this recipe.

Keep in mind that any additions to the batter will change the number of net carbs in each serving, so plan this out in advance. If you want to make a chocolate version of this batter, you can add about 1/2 cup of cocoa powder and an additional tablespoon of coconut oil—again, check the change in net carbs if you are tracking them.


Knock ’Em Dead Low-Carb, High-Fat Vanilla Batter

Yield — 12 cupcakes or muffins; or two 8" round cakes; or one 9"x5" loaf

Dry ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups finely ground almond flour
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour
  • 1/2 cup of confectioners or powdered erythritol
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely ground sea salt

Wet ingredients

  • 6 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup melted but not hot coconut oil (I also use avocado oil from time to time)
  • 1/2 cup full fat coconut milk at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup grated vegetables, low-carb fruits, nuts or other additions (optional)

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) and grease your selected baking dish. Line the bottom of your dish with parchment paper.

2. Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix until well blended.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, coconut oil, coconut milk, and vanilla. Once combined, add the dry mixture into the wet bowl and mix until just incorporated.

4. Add any optional additions like fruit, grated vegetables, nuts, seed or low-carb chocolate chips. Mix until just incorporated.

5. Pour the prepared batter into your baking dish (filling only 2/3 of the way) and bake using the following guidelines:

  • Cupcakes or muffins — 22–25 minutes
  • Cake (8" rounds) — 22–25 minutes
  • Loaves (9x5 inch) — 50–55 minutes

These guidelines are dependent on variations with your own oven and conditions. As in baking with sugar, the top of your cake should be golden and springy to the touch and a toothpick will come out clean when inserted into the middle when it is done. The edges will be firm and a dark golden brown color.

6. Allow your finished product to cool for 30 minutes before removing from the baking dish to finish cooling on a baking rack.

7. Store in an airtight container for two days, or extend its shelf life by keeping it in the refrigerator. This recipe also freezes well.

Once you’ve baked your cake, you are free to decorate if you’d like. Icing recipes that are low-carb, high-fat are easy to find online. They typically use butter, powdered erythritol and vanilla extract as a base.

Cream cheese frosting is also another excellent option that, when made with erythritol, is a delicious low-carb treat. For those with dairy intolerances, I suggest using coconut whipped cream as a frosting. Some icing recipe suggestions include:


Tips and Troubleshooting

It’s important to remember that your baked goodies are not going to be identical to those that are made with white flour and white sugar. There are differences in taste and texture because of the ingredients that you’re using, and trying to replace flours and sugars one for one in traditional recipes might result in near disaster! Some important things to keep in mind:

  • Low-carb, high-fat recipes like this one rely on eggs as the key binding agent and to provide rise when baking — which is why you see a large number of eggs in the ingredients list. This will result in your goodies being moister than you’re used to.
  • Coconut flour, when used in excess, will very quickly result in dry baked goods that resemble a rock. Don’t try to change the ratio of coconut to almond flours in this recipe and think you’ll get the same result.
  • If you’re not consuming your baked goods immediately and plan on keeping them in the refrigerator, expect the texture to change. They may also be moister due to condensation.
  • Stevia is not an effective sweetener for this recipe, so for this recipe stick the confectioners/powdered erythritol.
  • Baking times do vary, so make sure that you’re nearby your oven and check on your treats regularly. Check before the suggested time has elapsed. Ensure that the middle of your treat is springy when touched.
  • If you’re planning to freeze your items, make sure you wrap them tightly in plastic wrap, then place them in an airtight container or plastic freezer bag. Take them out of the freezer the night before you plan to eat them and let them warm to room temperature on the counter.

And just like that you’ve learned the basics of low-carb, high-fat baking and can now enjoy the pleasure of cake, cupcakes, muffins, and loaves again without sacrificing your diet or your health.

Happy baking!

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

Shannon Hennig

Written by

Writer & entrepreneur. Productivity, work, mindfulness and motherhood. Subscribe for tips & tools. bit.ly/2Lj4DoY

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade