Vegan Keto Baking 101 (With Recipe Troubleshooting Tips!)
Hi, friends! If you’ve browsed this site for any amount of time, you might notice that I really enjoy baking. Whether it’s vegan keto breads and muffins, or some protein-rich brownies, if you can mix it in a bowl and stick it in the oven, I’m there. For most of my life, I made baked goods with wheat flour, sugar and even eggs and butter, but since going vegan and keto, I’ve had to make quite a few adjustments to the baking routine. In this post, I go over some tips and tricks I’ve come across to make vegan keto baking just a bit easier.
I’ve also got some troubleshooting tips at the end for the most common questions I receive (or even just some things I got tripped up on while. I hope you find this post helpful! I’m going to keep expanding it as I get more questions, so feel free to drop them in the comments!
Volumetric vs. Weight Measurements
Okay, we’re heading out of the gate strong here with a pretty important topic: measurements. Typically, here in North America, we use volumetric measurements for dry ingredients. Things like “1/4 cup of flour.” If you’re in any country that uses weights to measure out dry ingredients, feel free to skip to the next part. 😉
For those of us who are used to seeing these measurements, let me present an argument for using a scale to weigh things out: it’s more accurate and will yield better results. Why is it more accurate? Well, depending on how an ingredient has settled, the moisture in the air or how you measure vs. how the recipe writer measures, 1/4 cup of coconut flour can mean a bunch of different things. The larger the measurement, the more likely you are to be off and to create little issues. Even 1tbsp of coconut flour in either direction in a recipe makes a huge difference, and the same can be said for protein powders. On the other hand, 50g of coconut flour is always 50g.
This difference in the quantity not only impacts how the recipe turns out, but also the macros. Depending on how careful you are about tracking, a scale might already be in your kitchen, so making the leap shouldn’t be too hard. For the past year or so, I’ve been adding weights to all dry ingredients that require a larger measure than a tablespoon, and I’m working on bringing the back catalog up to date.
Just a note: baking in itself often an exercise is following directions. This is amplified by the constraints of a vegan keto approach. So, these types of recipes often need to be followed exactly. This means ingredient varieties, time, temperature and even order of operations. It’s annoying, but baking without flour, sugar, eggs or butter is finicky and requires patience and precision. Over time, though, it becomes much easier!
Breaking Down A Low Carb Vegan Recipe Into Its Parts
I’ve watched a ton of Good Eats with Alton Brown over the years and own all of his cookbooks. I even went to see his live show (which was awesome). Alton’s big thing is understanding food and cooking/baking through science and the reactions that take place to create something tasty. One of his first books talks extensively about the components in a recipe, and each of their functions. Re-framing a recipe in terms of the roles ingredients play is a key component to success with vegan keto baking. Once you understand just why an ingredient is included, it can be easier to substitute it out, and also to alter the recipe to suit your needs. Typically, baked goods contain the following ingredient “parts:”
I didn’t really know what else to call this, but it’s basically what forms the structure of your baked good. Usually, this is some sort of flour, but it can also be something like a nut butter, cocoa powder, protein powder or even beans. When trying to substitute out different flours, I like to look at the macronutrient content, as this is key to helping the baked good retain its integrity. For instance, if a recipe calls for soy flour and I want to sub it out, I look for another bean flour (lupin, fava, chickpea) or something like an that will have a similar protein content. Nut flours like almond flour can also work, though the texture may be slightly different.
This is what holds your baked good together. In conventional baking, binders are usually eggs. Conventional baking also has the benefit of wheat flour containing the protein gluten (yes, that gluten). Gluten creates a protein matrix, which works to hold foods together and makes creating air pockets in breads and muffins possible. Vegan keto baking attempts to replicate this in a few ways:
- flax/chia seeds
- psyllium husk powder
- guar gum/xanthan gum/other gums
- starches (arrowroot, cassava, tapioca, etc.)
Flax and chia seeds work really well in items where a little crumbling is okay. Think muffins and cookies. These items don’t need to undergo slicing or the spreading of toppings, so they don’t need as secure a hold. It is important to note that baked goods made with chia and flax seeds need time to cool after baking, so as not to crumble completely when handled.
Psyllium, gums and starches work better for breads. You’ll notice I really don’t use gums a lot. They can irritate the gut lining, and don’t really provide any other benefit. I also really just don’t like the texture of gums in baked goods. A lot of GF flour blends use them and they always just make things too…gummy for my taste. I do use psyllium (and starches, to a lesser degree), as they also provide pre-biotic fiber for your gut bacteria to digest.
The thing about using psyllium is that it needs time to set up. So, like with the chia and flax seeds, it’s important to let these recipes cool completely before attempting to slice them.
You probably figured this, but leaveners are what give baked goods their lift. Typically, baking powder, baking soda or yeast are used for this purpose. Because low-carb and keto baking doesn’t usually involve any sort of sugar for the yeast to consume, keto bakers choose one of the powders mentioned.
This thing to remember about leaveners, is that they can actually expire. Most of the time, when someone messages me to ask why their bread didn’t rise, it turns out that they were using an old or expired baking powder. Scroll a bit further down for more troubleshooting of leaveners.
There are three main types of sweetener I use in recipes: stevia (liquid or powder), granulated sweeteners and syrups. The granulated sweeteners I tend to use are made from erythritol (often with another ingredient like monkfruit). Erythritol is a sugar alcohol that doesn’t significantly impact blood sugar levels. It also acts similar to sugar and can help to bind ingredients together, and provide that softness and chew that a lot of low carb treats lack.
Fiber syrups can do the same thing in that they also act as a binder and sweetener. Syrups made with erythritol (like Lakanto) will bind things as well, but those made with sucralose often will not. Just something to keep in mind.
Vegan Keto Baking Troubleshooting Q&A
These are the questions I’ve received most often over the past 7ish years! If you don’t see your question up here, leave it in the comments, and I’ll add it to the list! 🙂
Q: Can I substitute almond flour for coconut flour?
Switching coconut flour and nut flours can be done, but often requires adjusting other ingredients, like the oils, binders and liquids in play. Nut flours are far higher in fat than coconut flour and they don’t absorb liquid or fats in the same way. So, using almond flour in a cookie recipe that calls for coconut flour could yield some oily cookies. Similarly, the same recipe made with coconut flour tends to be a lot less dense than one made with almond flour.
There are general guidelines, but it really does depend on the recipe and the other ingredients in play.
Conventional wisdom suggests using using 1 cup of almond flour for every 4 cups of coconut flour (so, basically quadruple the amount of flour if using almond) and then reducing the liquid and fats by up to half. As noted before, this isn’t a hard rule, and often other adjustments will need to be made.
Q: Why did my bread turn purple/green?
So, this is a thing that actually happens, and it can be kind of alarming, but it’s just the product of a science experiment. Sunflower seeds and butter can turn green in the presence of basic (in terms of pH) ingredients like baking soda or powder. This doesn’t impact the taste, texture or the nutritional profile of the food, but it is kind of visually jarring. If you’re fine with green food, then don’t worry about this, but if you’d rather your baked goods remain a more understated color, I’ve noticed this happens a lot less with roasted sunflower seeds and sunflower seed butter.
The purple breads are a product of psyllium reacting with other ingredients. I’ve only noticed it with tahini so far. Again, this doesn’t impact the taste, texture or nutritional profile, but it’s not the most appetizing look. It doesn’t always happen, but I do notice that it happens more with psyllium powder, whereas using the husks seems to keep things their normal color.
Q: Why didn’t my vegan keto bread/muffin rise?
This could be for a few reasons, but they all pretty much come down to the leavener:
- Baking powder deactivates over time, so if your baking powder is old or expired, it won’t provide the same lift. This is exacerbated by humidity and heat. So, check the date of your baking powder!
- Baking soda requires acid to react, so if you replace the baking powder with soda in a recipe, and don’t compensate for the acidity, then it won’t rise correctly.
- Double acting baking powder reacts once with water, and then again with heat. When recipes require warm water, it means warm (just above room temperature), not hot. Hot water will cause a reaction before the baked goods have gone into the oven, and they won’t rise as a result.
- Yeast can expire! Usually, you have around 4-6 months after you open the yeast to use the jar. Storing it in the fridge or freezer can extend this, but be sure to test to see if your yeast is active by blooming it in water with a little sugar before using it in a recipe.
- Yeast needs warmth to rise. If your kitchen is 60° F and drafty, you probably need to warm your oven slightly to make sure the yeast gets a chance to do its thing. 80° F–90° F (27° C–32° C) is the optimal temperature for yeast to rise.
- For more information on yeast and temperature, check out this site.
Q: Why did my low carb vegan baked goods fall apart?
Most of the vegan keto baked good recipes on this site use the following ingredients as binders: ground flax/chia, psyllium husk and granulated sweeter (usually erythritol-based, unless otherwise noted). All of these ingredients work to replace things like eggs and sugar, which help to bind ingredients together and create the matrix that gives baked goods their “crumb.” Eggs and sugar set up a lot quicker than any of the vegan keto options mentioned above, so when you bake with these conventional ingredients, the treat is pretty much ready to go right out of the oven (give or take a few minutes).
Because flax/chia, psyllium and erythritol-based sweeteners all need to cool down to set and hold together, it’s important to let the baked goods cool completely (unless otherwise noted) before removing them from the pan or attempting to slice them. This is a bit different from conventional baking, and can take some getting used to for sure, but it’s an important step.
Q: Why was my egg-free keto baked good gummy on the inside?
This can happen for a few reasons, but here are the main ones:
Not letting the bread cool completely: Slicing any vegan keto bread made with psyllium or chia seed before it has cooled sufficiently will basically smush everything down, destroying the air pockets made by the leavener, and leaving you with a gooey mess. Like I mentioned above, letting the baked goods cool is super important!
Inactive leavener: If there isn’t enough oomph in your baking soda or powder, then the baked goods won’t rise and create those air pockets. Instead, you get another gooey mess.
Too much leavener: If you play a little fast and loose with measurements, or just wanted to give the baked goods a little extra height, it might actually be counter-productive. Adding too much leavener to your baked goods can create too much of a reaction, which can cause the air to create one giant air bubble on top, but then the rest of the dough will sink to the bottom and form…you guessed it… a gooey mess. The measurements in the recipes are the ones that have worked time and time again, and are listed for a reason. 🙂
Q: Do I have to use psyllium in this recipe?
We don’t always have all the ingredients for a recipe in our pantry at any given time. Sometimes, an allergy or intolerance forces us to work around certain ingredients. With many things, you can easily find substitutions, but there are a few ingredients that really don’t sub out well. Psyllium is one of them, unfortunately. While flax and chia also form a gel that binds things together, they react totally differently than psyllium when baked. Whenever the substitution is possible, I have noted it in the recipe notes, but for certain things (primarily breads), they just have to be made as written.
Q: My dough is too dry! What do I do?
Often times this is a result of having too much of the “structure” ingredient, like coconut flour or protein powder, and can be solved by using a scale to weigh ingredients, instead of relying on volumetric measurements.
Of course, there can be other contributing factors – I’ve noticed that some brands of coconut flour and protein powder in particular are more absorbent than others. Additionally, sometimes air humidity can make a difference.
If you notice any crumbs when making a recipe (unless the recipe specifically calls for the dough to be very dry), then you can just add in additional liquid 1 tbsp at a time (mixing in thoroughly between each addition), until there are no crumbs.
Q: Why did my pancake/muffin fall apart?
Most of the time, I use this pancake recipe and this muffin recipe. The thing they both have in common is that they rely on flax seed as a binder. The ingredients note that the batter has to rest for a certain amount of time before cooking, so that the gel can set up. If the gel doesn’t form, then the baked goods won’t hold together. In the case of the muffins, they also have to cool after baking in order to set up.
Q: What can I replace [ingredient] with?
This is far and away, the most common question I get about vegan keto baking and cooking in general. Below is a handy chart from my cookbook of the most common substitutions I am asked about!