Soy-free Low Carb Baking – Part 2

by karlb on February 1, 2006

When I first delved into low carb baking in 1998, I learned how to bake low carb. My ingredients were Atkin’s Bake Mix and/or various soy flours.

My first baked goods were very heavy on eggs for structure, since soy flour didn’t hold together very well. After a few failed experiments, I decided that true raised breads were out of the question, though I made biscuits a few times. Trial and error with flavorings and other ingredients like cream cheese for moistness, led me to produce some fairly tasty muffins, cakes, and quickbreads.

At least they were tasty for a day or two, then the inevitable soy aftertaste began to manifest itself. But we could live with this minor inconvenience, as long as we had variety in our diet to stave off low-carb monotony.

And so it went for about six years, until I started reading about soy’s dark side. I shared the news with my wife (who has low carbed with me from the start) and we decided to jettison soy from our diet. We purged all soy products from our cupboards, cringing at how much money we were tossing in the trash (low-carb bake mixes are NOT cheap, and we had a packed pantry).

Now I had a new problem: What could I use for low-carb baking? Soy was out, so what was left?

As many of you know who have been cooking low carb, there are really only a few types of ingredients you can use for low-carb baking: soy flour products, nut flours, vital wheat gluten, bran, and whey protein powders. There are also a few other options, like hemp seed flour and flax meal, but they have their own problems in baking.

Well, soy flour was obviously out for us. Whey protein, by itself, wasn’t a viable flour and it had a very strong, dominating flavor. Hemp seed flour had a taste reminiscent of pond scum (to me, but my wife liked it) and it was VERY green. Flax meal was too glutinous and too much of it left my wife and me with churning, unhappy stomachs.

The only ingredients left–vital wheat gluten, nut flours (almond, in particular), bran products, and small amounts of whey protein—would have to suffice. Later, I discovered another great addition to the mix, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

At this point I realized that I needed a better education in baking if I wanted to produce low-carb baked goods that not only tasted good, but actually resembled their full-carb counterparts in appearance and texture.

So I dug out my baking books and began reading about the differences in flours—bread flour, cake flour, and all-purpose flour. The key difference between these flours is the amount of wheat gluten, which is mostly wheat protein.
Bread flour had the highest percentage of gluten, which improved dough elasticity and allowed the bread to develop larger bubbles so it could rise more before and during baking. Gluten also gives bread more chewiness. Flour for pizza dough tends to have a higher percentage of wheat gluten.

Cake flour has the lowest percentage of gluten. A cake should not be elastic and you generally want smaller air bubbles in the batter, resulting in a finer crumb.

Of course, all-purpose flour falls between bread and cake flour in its percentage of gluten.

Okay, so I knew I needed vital wheat gluten in my low-carb flour. But gluten only comprised a small fraction of wheat flour, between about 7 to 14%, depending on the type and brand of flour. What would I use for the rest of my flour?

This is where it gets interesting. I’ll get into that next.

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