I recently had the rather brilliant idea of doing a big low carb baking primer to answer the myriad questions I get on my blog, social media and by email. I thought it would be so smart to do one big post that answered all of your questions in one go. Alas, when I posted the idea on Facebook, I was flooded with a multitude of such varied and specific questions, I realized I couldn’t possibly write it all in a single post. Unless, of course, I wanted that post to be so big and so long, no one would be able to read it. So I decided to tackle one subject at a time, and do a series of posts that will be more useful for everyone. Today’s lesson: Baking With Almond Flour. Because almond flour is my go-to for most recipes, I am highly comfortable with it, and it’s perhaps one of the most versatile low carb ingredients. And I like to consider myself something of an almond flour wizard! I am not the end all, be all expert in almond flour, but I have far more success than I do failure and I want to share my experience with you.
What’s the difference between Almond Flour and Almond Meal?
Let’s clear up any misconceptions right now that all almond “flour” is created equal. I get the above question a lot, and the answer is a resounding NO! Sure, they are both made from ground almonds, but anything that calls itself almond flour *should* be so finely ground, you can make beautiful fine-textured cakes that rival their wheat-based counterparts. And it *should* be blanched almond flour, so that you get no little dark bits of skin. The only two products I’ve ever used which have the right to call themselves almond flour are Honeyville Blanched** and Oh! Nuts. I am sure there are a few others out there, but the rest definitely fall into the category of almond meal, a more coarsely ground substance.
Both have their uses, for certain. Almond meal is often good enough for baked goods where texture doesn’t matter as much. Muffins, for one thing. And since it’s often less expensive, it may be preferable to almond flour at times. It can be both blanched (Bob’s Red Mill) and unblanched (Trader Joe’s and others). And you don’t even have to buy almond meal, you can make it yourself if you have a good food processor.
So, if you’ve ever made an almond flour recipe and had issues with the final product holding together, leaching out the oils or butter, or not rising properly and holding its shape, a likely culprit is that you are using the coarser almond meal, instead of almond flour. The larger particles mean less cohesiveness for the finished product. For some things, it may not matter. But if it’s cakes and fine-textured items, it certainly does.
**Honeyville also makes a “natural” almond flour, from unblanched almonds. I haven’t tried it myself, but a reader of mine said that things made with it came out more dense and it didn’t rise as well. This could be due to a heavier weight in the almond skins and perhaps a chemical (like phytic acid) that changes the properties of the baked good.
How do you sub almond flour for wheat flour?
Oh boy, I wish I could tell you it was as simple as swapping one for the other in a 1:1 ratio. But it’s not and when you think about it, you can see why. Almond flour is ground nuts, full of fat and moisture, entirely without gluten and not nearly as powdery, fine and dry as wheat flour. So there are a whole range of factors you need to account for when adapting a wheat-based recipe to low carb and gluten-free. A cup of almond flour also differs significantly in weight from a cup of wheat flour. Out of curiosity, I just went and measure the two (literally right now, as I am writing this) and a cup of wheat flour came to 5 oz, while a cup of Honeyville blanced almond flour came to 3.98 oz. That’s a full ounce difference!
So if you are a total beginner with almond flour, I’d actually suggest you stick to some tried and true recipes to get a feel for how it behaves and the overall proportions. That’s certainly how I started, 2 and 1/2 years ago. Once you have a good sense for almond flour recipes, you will find it easier to strike out on your own and adapt some family favourites.
Let me tell you what I do, when I start making over a recipe. Take, for example, my Almond Crusted Butter Cake. The original wheat-based recipe took about 50% more butter and 50% less flour. And knowing that almond flour has a higher fat content but is less dense than wheat flour, I basically switched this ratio around. Then I doubled the baking powder and added in whey protein to make up for the lack of gluten and to give the end result more structure. Then I crossed my finger, said a little prayer, and popped it in the oven. And it has since become one of my all-time favourite recipes!
You can also increase the eggs for more protein and structure, but too many eggs can give the final result a rubbery texture or make it too “wet” and gummy in the center. I usually start with one more egg, and then add another closer to the end if the batter seems to heavy and thick.
One important thing to note when adapting wheat flour recipes is that your almond flour batter will almost always be thicker. Don’t expect it to look exactly like a wheat-based batter and resist the urge to thin it out with liquids, or you will likely end up with a soggy mess.
Can I use other nut flours in place of almond flour?
I give the answer to this question as a tentative “yes”, with several caveats. First off, I don’t know of too many other nut “flours” that are as finely ground as true blanched almond flour, so if texture and consistency of the end result is dependent on the grind, then you may have some difficulty. But some muffin, cake, scone and cookie recipes would lend themselves admirably to a simple swap of one nut flour/meal for another. Several of my biscotti recipes could be made with hazelnut meal instead of almond flour, as could some cracker and cookie recipes. And my Hazelnut Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake could easily be made with another nut meal of choice (walnut, almond, pecan…all of those would do well). Most muffin recipes would do just fine with a swap of nut meals. But finer cakes and cupcakes might become too crumbly, to coarse and possibly leach out oil during baking if you attempt it with anything but the most finely ground flours.
How about coconut flour, can I sub that in?
As a direct 1:1 substitution, no you can’t and we will tackle coconut flour more fully in another post. Coconut flour is an entirely different creature than any flour based on tree nuts. It’s fine, powdery, dense and soaks up liquids like nobody’s business. It also requires more eggs and sometimes more other “binders” like xanthan gum, to keep the final product together. And you want to use WAY less coconut flour for a recipe than you would almond flour, sometimes as little as 1/3 to 1/4. In essence, if you choose to make a recipe based on almond flour with coconut flour, you will need to restructure the whole thing.
If I were to take one of my basic almond flour recipes and rework it for coconut flour, I would start with half the amount of flour, twice the eggs, some xanthan gum, a little more leavening agent like baking powder, and then I would add my liquids like coconut or almond milk last and not all at once. I would add some liquid, work it in and see how thick the batter was, then add a bit more and a bit more until it felt right to me. Again, “right” in this case is likely be a thicker batter than anything wheat-based, so it take some experimenting to get it right.
One good thing about working with coconut flour (and almond flour) is that they don’t contain gluten so over-mixing is usually not an issue. On occasion, I’ve been making a coconut flour recipe and suddenly thought it needs another egg or two. I’ve added it at the very end and had no problems with the end result. In this sense, at least, coconut and almond flours can be very forgiving.
What about peanut flour?
The best answer I can give you here is “maybe”. Peanut flour comes in a variety of forms, including roasted (light and dark), unroasted, partially defatted and full-fat. I ordered some peanut flour once that was essentially just ground peanuts and it did well as a sub for almond flour in several recipes. But the defatted ones are a little bit like coconut flour, they are very fine and powdery and soak up a lot of liquid. So they are going to require some reworking of the basic recipe in some of the same ways as coconut flour, although to a lesser extent.
Do you pack your cups of almond flour or just scoop and level them?
I always use the scoop and level method, and never try to jam pack my cups to get more almond in there. So all of my recipes will be written assuming you simply measure an unpacked scoop. I would hope that if someone writes a recipe where the cup of almond flour needs to be tightly packed, they would specify this, as one does for brown sugar and such in conventional recipes.
Many gluten-free recipes are done by weight, not volume, because gluten-free ingredients can differ significantly by brand. I don’t do this because although I do own a kitchen scale, many home cooks do not. I want my recipes to be as accessible to as many people as possible. Weight measurements are more accurate overall, but it does me little good if my readers don’t own a kitchen scale!
How can I get my almond flour breads to be more “bready” and less “cakey”?
Looking for a firmer bread you can toast and slather with peanut butter? Yeah, me too. Almond flour is by nature moist so if using it on its own, your end result is more cakey, or muffin-y. I find that adding a little bit of a denser flour, like coconut flour or oat flour, without increasing the moisture content, can help stiffen the batter and thus firm up the bread. I used coconut flour successfully in my Low Carb Panini Bread Recipe. I do sometimes use oat fiber, such as in my almond flour bread, but I can’t seem to find any gluten-free versions (I did source some gluten-free once, from a bakery supply store that seems to have gone under). A little oat flour can help too, if you don’t mind some grain-based flour in your recipes.
Why do you use whey protein in so many of your recipes?
It isn’t, as some people think, to get more protein into my diet. I am an unabashed carnivore and consume plenty of protein! The simple truth is that gluten is itself a protein and it’s part of what gives wheat-based baked goods structure, allowing them to rise and stay risen. In gluten-free baking, adding in a protein can help make up for this. You can easily swap out the whey for your protein powder of choice (hemp, soy, even egg white powder), but the results may vary a little depending on the protein content per serving.
Are almond flour baked goods freezable?
Yes, thankfully, most of them are. I have successfully frozen cakes, muffins, cookies, scones, and even some almond flour crusts. I usually freeze after baking, although during the holidays, I froze some unbaked scones and then thawed them and baked them and they were wonderful! In general I would suggest freezing things unfrosted or unglazed, as the low carb glaze may change consistency with freezing.
How do you store almond flour?
I keep my unopened bags of almond flour in my cellar, which is quite cool year round. Once a bag is opened, I transfer half of the almond flour to an airtight container and keep it on my counter. The rest is frozen or refrigerated to keep help it keep. I don’t recommend trying to bake with the almond flour straight out of the freezer. The high moisture and fat content will make it very clumpy and hard to work with.
A few other almond flour baking tips:
Please, PLEASE let your baked goods cool completely! It can be tempting to start cutting them up soon after they are baked, but try to resist or you may wind up with a heap of crumbs. The texture and cohesiveness of almond flour baked goods ALWAYS improves upon cooling and sitting. Crackers, cookies and tart crusts will crisp up better and breads and muffins will hold together better when left to sit for an hour or two.
An extension of this is rescuing a baked good by freezing it. If you end up with an overly-moist baked good that is rather gummy in the center, it sometimes gets better after it’s been frozen. You don’t need to eat it frozen, just give it a day or two in the freezer and see if it’s any better.
Almond flour baked goods can also brown more quickly than wheat flour recipes. If I am adapting a wheat-flour recipe, I almost always lower my oven temperature by 25 degrees F, and I watch it carefully. If the top and sides are browning too quickly, I cover the pan with aluminum foil.
Ready to become an almond flour baking expert?
I hope that helped answer some of your most pressing almond flour baking questions. If you can think of anything I didn’t cover here, or you have some tips of your own you’d like to share, please leave a comment or send me an email. I’d be more than happy to update this little (long) treatise to cover more ground!