Try These Kitchen Tricks For Low-Carb Holiday Baking

by Marlene Koch,

This article was originally published on—a website dedicated to helping people with diabetes live happier and healthier lives—as "Baking Low Carb," and is reposted with permission from the author. 

Who doesn't love the mouthwatering smell of a freshly baked cake, the perfect pie, or cookies right from the oven? Maintaining a low-carb diet or having diabetes doesn't mean you can't enjoy your favorite sweet treats.

The challenge with most desserts is that they are very dense in total carbs (not to mention calories), which can make them tough to fit into a healthy diabetic diet. The secret to "having your cake and eating it too" while managing your carb intake and blood sugar is to learn how to creatively curb the total carb count or mediate their impact on your blood glucose. All it takes is a bit of kitchen chemistry!

Try These Major Carb-Cutting Tricks

Substitute Flours to Cut Carbs

Substituting alternate flours for some of the all-purpose flour in baked goods is one way to help cut carbs and keep blood sugar in check by adding more fiber.

White whole-wheat flour

White whole-wheat flour is an easy choice, as it has all the fiber of whole wheat, with the mild flavor and lighter color of all-purpose flour. Substitute white whole wheat flour for up to half of the all-purpose flour in cakes and cookies, and 100% in muffins and hearty quickbreads.

When using regular, whole-wheat flour, start by replacing just one-fourth of the all-purpose flour. In heartier baked goods, this flour adds a nice, nutty, whole-grain taste but if you use too much it can weigh down your recipes. For pie crusts, pastries, and lighter textured baked goods, substitute whole-wheat pastry flour.

Also on Z Living: The Health Rules Of Food-Related Holidays For Diabetics

Oat flour

With a lower glycemic index and more fiber and protein than all-purpose flour, oat flour is another delicious and carb conscious addition to most baked goods. To make your own oat flour, simply grind uncooked, old-fashioned or steel-cut oats in a food processor or blender until they reach the texture of flour. You can use it to replace up to one-third of the flour in your recipe. Oat flour has the added benefit of adding extra moistness. Store oat flour in the fridge or freezer.

Soy Flour

Soy flour is also a great option, with just one-third of the carbs of all-purpose flour. Made from soybeans, it's higher in protein than wheat flours. Use it in recipes for pancakes and oven cakes, but be sure not to replace more than one-forth of the all-purpose flour, unless the recipe specifically call for it.

Also on Z Living: How To (Safely!) Drink & Manage Your Diabetes

Nut flours or "meals"

One of the tastiest ways to curb carbs is with nut flours or "meals" (almond, pecan, Brazil nut, etc.). Nut flours add texture and flavor while slashing carbs. A cup of nut flour has just one-fourth the carbs of wheat flour. Nut flours can replace up to one-fourth of the regular flour in most muffins, cookies, and cakes and up to one-half the flour in pie crusts. Nut flours are commonly found in the baking section or can be made by grinding nuts in a food processor or blender until fine. Store in the fridge or freezer for freshness.

Also on Z Living: It's Totally Healthy To Be Nuts About Nuts

Try Different Sugars and Sugar Substitutes 

First, remember that not only white and brown sugar, but honey, molasses, fruit concentrates, and concentrated fruit juices are all simple sugars and will raise your blood sugar similarly.

Perhaps the easiest way to reduce the effect of baked goods on blood glucose levels is to use less sugar without ruining your recipe.

In most recipes, one-fourth of the sugar can usually be omitted with no ill effects. Full-flavored sugars like honey and molasses lend themselves easily to being "curbed."

Also on Z Living: Simple Swaps For Your Favorite Holiday Comfort Foods​

A second option is to replace all or a portion of the sugar in a recipe with a sugar substitute made specifically for cooking and baking.

Before you make the substitution however, it is important you know what baking functions the sugar is contributing. For example, natural sugars can carmelize, melt, and provide "crackle" in addition to thickening and helping baked goods rise and brown. Sugar substitutes only sweeten.

To counter the loss of real sugar's baking properties, sugar substitute baking "blends," such as Splenda Sugar Blend for Baking, contain 50 percent real sugar. They make it easy to slash sugar with predictable results but are not carb- or calorie- free.

A last option is to use a no-calorie sweetener, such as Splenda granulated or Truvia Spoonable (made from stevia). They do not contain any sugar, so there are no calories nor do they affect blood sugar.

Here are a few kitchen chemistry tips when going this route.

  1. In recipes where sugar thickens, as in a sauce or fruit pie, add an extra touch of cornstarch. (Ounce for ounce, cornstarch and sugar have about the same amount of carbs, but you should be able to thicken with just a teaspoonful or less).
  2. For shaping drop cookies, where the sugar helps them "melt" into shape, flatten them with a spatula or glass before baking.
  3. In cakes, where sugar helps them rise, simply add an extra 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of baking soda, and use a slightly smaller pan to compensate for less batter.
  4. To aid in browning, texture, and flavor, just a few tablespoons of a natural sugar (such as brown sugar or molasses) can do the trick too, without affecting the overall carb count much.
  5. Last, cookies, cakes, and muffins cook faster without sugar (three to five minutes faster for cookies, five to seven minutes for muffins, and seven to ten minutes for cakes). So set your timer accordingly.

Also on Z Living: 4 Natural Sweeteners & Their Health Benefits

More Carb Curbing Tips

  • Dried fruit is higher in sugar than fresh (two tablespoons of raisins have as many carbs as a cup of fresh raspberries). Chop dried fruit into small pieces and use half as much or substitute chopped nuts or fresh fruit for some of the dried.
  • Substituting mini-morsels for regular size chocolate chips spreads them out better, allowing you to use less.
  • Cut carbs in fruit pies by using only a bottom, or top crust (like on a deep dish pie).
  • Be generous with sweet spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and vanilla. They enhance sweetness—without calories or carbs.

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