Sticky Bun Coffee Cake – Low Carb and Gluten-Free


A velvety almond flour coffee cake with a tunnel of rich caramel and pecans. All the flavours of a sticky bun in a low carb, gluten-free package!

Low Carb Sticky Bun Coffee Cake

A number of readers have asked me what I think about coconut sugar and whether it’s good for diabetics or people trying to lose weight through low carb diets. There’s no quick and easy answer for this question, in my opinion. The claim is that coconut sugar is low glycemic and has little affect on blood glucose levels, but they said that about agave too. For many diabetics, me included, agave spikes them as much as regular sugar, so I tend to take claims of glycemic levels with a grain of salt. But because there was seemingly so much interest in coconut sugar, I was willing to try it out and use my own blood glucose as a guinea pig. Don’t say I am not willing to sacrifice myself for you!

Low Carb Gluten-free Caramel Pecan Coffee Cake

I first tested it out in my Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies to make paleo version for my CrossFit class, and I was surprised to find that the cookies (I had two) didn’t seem to raise my sugar levels.  I tried it out in a few other baked goods for my kids, and every time I tested, I was within a good range of blood glucose levels. So hey, that’s good, right? But let’s not jump the gun. Coconut sugar is still, in fact, sugar. It’s not some magical substance that we can use willy nilly now that we know it doesn’t seem to affect Carolyn’s blood sugar levels. Because it’s still made up of sucrose and fructose, with some inulin in there too. The inulin, a sweet-tasting fiber, may be what keeps it from spiking me, I don’t know. But I am not quite ready to trust it and maybe I never will be. Because every diabetic and dieter is different and what doesn’t affect me might affect you. My evidence is purely anecdotal and it would be irresponsible at best for me to tell you it’s good for you. Kris Gunnars of Authority Nutrition has a good rundown on coconut sugar that’s worth a read. Coconut Sugar – Healthy Sugar Alternative or Big Fat Lie?

Here’s what I really think about coconut sugar: I think it’s healthier than the highly refined white sugar that is so prevalent in our society, but it’s not a cure-all for our collective sweet tooth. I think that it can be useful in some recipes, because it lends a brown sugar taste and appearance which is hard to get with other low carb sweeteners. But I will only use it in my recipes in small quantities, small enough that it will have little to no affect on anyone’s blood sugar. Because I am not willing to risk your health or my own.

Low Carb Caramel Pecan Coffee Cake Recipe

The dark appearance and rich caramel flavour of coconut sugar is very useful for certain recipes, though. I discovered this when I attempted to make a low(er) carb English Toffee to give away at Christmas time. I used about 2/3 Swerve and 1/3 coconut sugar and it wouldn’t harden up properly at all. I stared sadly at the pecan covered goo on the cookie sheet, thinking it was meant for the trash bin but I didn’t have the heart to throw it away. And thankfully,  I did not! With a little added heat and cream, it turned into the most amazing low carb caramel sauce I have ever tasted. I then added it to a coffee cake for Christmas morning and it was to die for. The flavour was reminiscent of the pecan sticky buns I used to love. So I recreated my “mistake” a few times and perfected it. This might be the best low carb coffee cake you’ve ever had!

Low Carb Sticky Bun Coffee Cake Recipe

Sticky Bun Coffee Cake – Low Carb and Gluten-Free

Yield: 16 servings

Sticky Bun Coffee Cake – Low Carb and Gluten-Free

A velvety low carb coffee cake with a tunnel of caramel and pecans. All the flavours of a sticky bun in a low carb, gluten-free package!


    Caramel Sauce:
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 6 tbsp Swerve Sweetener
  • 2 tbsp coconut sugar
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp water
  • Cake:
  • 3 cups almond flour
  • 1/3 cup unflavoured whey protein powder
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup Swerve Sweetener
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans


    Caramel Sauce:
  1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine butter, Swerve, and coconut sugar. Bring to a boil and cook 3 to 5 minutes (be careful not to burn it).
  2. Remove from heat and add cream. Mixture will bubble vigorously.
  3. Sprinkle with xanthan gum and whisk vigorously to combine. Add salt.
  4. Return mixture to heat and boil 1 more minute. Let cool to lukewarm and stir in water until well combined.
  5. Coffee Cake:
  6. Preheat oven to 325F and grease a bundt pan well (this could also be made in a 9-inch springform pan).
  7. In a medium bowl, whisk together almond flour, protein powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  8. In a large bowl, beat butter until smooth. Add granulated erythritol and beat until lighter and well-combined, about 2 minutes.
  9. Beat in eggs, scraping down beaters and sides of bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Beat in vanilla extract.
  10. Beat in half of the almond flour mixture, then beat in almond milk. Beat in remaining almond flour mixture until well combined.
  11. Spread half the mixture in the prepared pan and use the back of a spoon to create a channel in the center of the batter, all the way around the bundt pan (if using a springform pan, simply create slightly higher sides around the edges of the pan.
  12. Pour half of the caramel sauce into the channel (or spread half over the batter in the springform pan). Sprinkle with 1/4 cup pecans.
  13. Top with remaining batter and spread evenly with offset spatula to cover caramel and pecans.
  14. Bake 35 to 45 minutes, or until cake is golden brown and just firm to the touch. A tester inserted in the center should come out clean (except for some caramel sauce!).
  15. Remove and let cool 10 minutes then flip out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  16. Drizzle with remaining caramel and pecans.


Serves 16. Each serving has 7 g of carbs and 3 g of fiber. Total NET CARBS = 4 g.

275 Calories; 26g Fat (79.3% calories from fat); 8g Protein; 7g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 78mg Cholesterol; 273mg Sodium.

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  1. Rachel says

    If i were rich, i would pay you to come live with me in my mansion and bake low carb treats for me. But i am not rich, so i will just continue to drool over your recipes. And occasionally get my lazy butt in the kitchen and make some of them.

  2. Pat says

    REALLY!?! I am still trying to get over the chocolate chip cookies and now this? Now I have to go to the store, buy supplies, and eat it….Tough life but I think I can handle it! LOL

    • Carolyn says

      Do a full 1/2 cup of Swerve and follow one of my other recipes for caramel sauce. You will need to let it darken more so cook it until it starts to turn darker.

  3. Sandra says

    Is there an alternative to Swerve? I am new to using low carb sweetners. I have xylitol, liquid stevia and erythritol. Can a combination of these be used in place of swerve? Your recipes look amazing and I can’t wait to try my hand at “sweets”.

  4. Nadine says

    In the directions, it says to add the granulated erythritol. I’m not seeing that in the ingredients-I’m assuming it’s the swerve? Just wanted to make sure I’m not missing something.

  5. says

    I alternate between love and hate with your recipes. I love that they’re low carb and delicious but I hate the fact that I have to make them myself! Someone, please just send me some when you make anything! 😉

  6. Whitney says

    Quick question: does Swerve have an aftertaste like Stevia? I like coconut sugar, but agree that it doesn’t belong in every recipe due to its taste

  7. Kapu says

    If you could please help me understand which blade I should use. I can figure this out. When it says beat, do I the beater or paddle with the Kitchen Aid? I really would like to make this and don’t want to mess it up, since the ingredients aren’t cheap. Thank you for your help.

    • Carolyn says

      Thanks, Dorothy. Coconut sugar is actually pretty easy to find these days, in the natural aisle of some groceries and definitely at Whole Foods.

  8. amanda says

    Agave does the same to your body as high fructose corn syrup. Everyone should avoid! Some people take the “it’s natural” entirely to literal

  9. Kim says

    Hi Carolyn,

    I’m completely drooling over this recipe! I don’t keep coconut sugar in the house; though, I am able to purchase it easily. However, would this work with my homemade brown sugar substitute (molasses + swerve)?
    Also, Tropical Traditions (known for their coconut products) has a post on their site about why they don’t carry coconut sugar. It’s an interesting bit of information based upon their view. I’ll leave the link in case you are interested.

    • Carolyn says

      Hi Kim. I actually read the tropical traditions article, another reason why I use is sparingly. How much molasses do you put in your brown sugar sub? It’s the coconut sugar the helps keep this caramel sauce softer and molasses would help too, but you really need about 2 tbsp, if you’re willing to do that much.

      • Kim says

        Thanks! I thought it might need some tweaking. I’m going to try this with the coconut sugar. I mean, it’s already been tested! Hah! Not to mention, I’m too lazy to try to calculate the difference in carbohydrates, etc. Sad but true.
        I really miss cinnamon rolls and this looks like it will be a great substitute.
        Thank you for all your hard work in the kitchen. I have learned so much from you about low carb baking.

  10. Marie says

    Hi! This looks amazingly delicious. I do not like to use some of the ingredients, though. Any ideas how to make this without the swerve, xanthan gum and whey powder?

    • Carolyn says

      I’m sorry but the caramel sauce really depends on Swerve and xanthan gum to make it properly and whey powder (or any protein powder or even powdered egg whites) help low carb baked goods rise.

  11. Judy says

    Have your tried Lo Han Guo, aka Monk Fruit. It is more like stevia. To me it has a slight after taste. It has some brown sugar similarities.

  12. Sarah G says

    Um, I really want to be eating this RIGHT NOW. Oh my goodness gracious!

    Thank-you for being a guinea pig on the coconut sugar! I have some and I remain afraid of it as it sits there innocently in my pantry. I guess I will try it and test it with my monitor as well.

  13. Katie E says

    Carolyn I just finished making this recipe and it is amazing! I can’t believe how good the caramel sauce tastes! Thank you for all the hard work you put into your recipes. Your blog and recipes have truly made it so much easier to be low carb/gluten free.

  14. says

    I assumed that coconut sugar, like agave, is low glycemic because it is mostly fructose. Fructose is the stealth sugar that everyone used to think was OK because it didn’t raise blood glucose levels. Now we know that fructose is perhaps worse than other sugars because it doesn’t go into the bloodstream but directly to the liver. If the label gives the calorie count as being the same as sugar, could it mean that it is mostly fructose?

    • Carolyn says

      According to Kris Gunnars, it’s 70-80 percent fructose, I think. Not sure of that number. Which is exactly why I am keeping it to the minimum in this or any recipe. It’s “useful” to get an appearance and taste I want, but the way I made it, it only adds up to less than half a teaspoon per seving. The rest is erythritol.

    • Carolyn says

      Actually, I had that wrong. I went back and read Kris’s article. It’s 70-80% SUCROSE which of course is half glucose and half fructose, bonded together. So only half of that would be fructose.

    • Carolyn says

      Not really. YOu need something to keep the caramel soft and browned. I suppose you could use molasses, but that’s not necessarily any better. Again, I am very comfortable with the small amount used in this recipe.

  15. Carolyn says

    I was all excited about this recipe…until I went to buy coconut sugar. I just couldn’t bring myself to spend $7 to get the 2 T needed in the recipe. I have demarara sugar (unbleached evaporated cane juice) and molasses. Do you think either of those would keep the caramel sauce soft without adding carbs or spiking blood sugar? Divided out between 16 slices, it’s less than 1/2 a teaspoon. How much difference does that make? (Can you tell I’m hoping that it’s not much?)

    • Carolyn says

      Yes, I would go with either of those and when I calculated the carbs in this recipe, it included the coconut sugar. So using molasses or demarara will be about the same carbs.

  16. Moe says

    I finally made this and – wow! Fantastic. I also didn’t want to spend $7.50 to try out coconut sugar, so I used molasses, and it’s so good I don’t want to change it. The caramel sauce tastes like a Heath bar.

    Thanks for another great recipe.

  17. Cindy Maddux says

    I made this cake this morning and just finished a slice. Maybe my expectations were too high but I was expecting better. The cake texture itself was nice but I didn’t find it sweet enough. I didn’t have Swerve and had to use Pyure. The only part that was sweet were the areas of cake around the inner caramel sauce. The sauce is very good except that it was a little on the salty side when tasted by itself. Will use half the amount of salt next time I make the caramel sauce. Not excited with the cake, but definitely not tossing it out. Too expensive to do that plus it is a time consuming cake to put together. But love that it’s low carb and gluten free. Will most definitely use Swerve next time.

    • Carolyn says

      Cindy, I think the culprit is the sweetener. Although Pyure is good for a stevia-based sweetener, it’s going to change the recipe dramatically!

      • says

        Cindy, everyone is different and sweeteners don’t taste the same to all of us. Stevia tastes horrible to me because I can’t taste the sweet parts, only the bitter. Erythritol and Swerve don’t taste very sweet to me and I have to add another kind of sweetener. You might have to experiment with a combination to find one you like.

      • Cindy Maddux says

        Thanks Carolyn. I figured that it was because I used everything in the recipe exactly as given except for that one thing. As far as the caramel sauce, as I said, I did find it a tab too salty. Do you think that reducing it to 1/8 teaspoon will alter the sauce in any way (such as consistency) other than making it less salty? Or better yet, using unsalted butter but leave the salt at 1/4 teaspoon.

        • Carolyn says

          I think, like Judy said about sweeteners, we have different palates for salty too. I love salted caramel, but yes if you don’t like it that way, use unsalted butter and/or cut back on the added salt.

  18. Marv says


    Made this as posted and it’s perfect! I view the tiny bit of sugar as an indulgence to be enjoyed occasionally.

    You are a master of your craft, and I confess to feeling a bit guilty benefitting so much while contributing nothing but praise. I do click your shopping links. Thank you so much for making gluten and sugar free so amazing! I owe you.


    • Carolyn says

      Praise is sufficient! I am lucky to be able to do what I do and garner an income from it. Took me a long while to get here but it’s a win win, since readers get free recipes and yet I can be paid for it. Thanks so much!

  19. Laura says

    Followed the directions to the letter, came out FANTASTIC! My husband, who’s been eating my low carb concoctions for the past three and a half years (and I bake at least one item every weekend) said that hands down, this is the best I’ve ever made.

    Please keep coming up with these recipes! I feel as if I’m missing nothing at all when I can have such delicious, elegant food and maintain my weight loss.

    Thank you so much for making this low carb, sugar free way of life so much easier than I ever imagined it could be.

  20. Crystal says

    We have severe tree nut allergies. So you know what would be a good substitute for the almond flour? I am thinking maybe sun flour……

    • Carolyn says

      Yes, sunflower seed flour works really well as an almond flour replacement. But add a few tbsp of lemon juice to keep it from turning green (a reaction of the chlorophyll in the sunflower seeds with baking soda and baking powder).

  21. Cecillia Fountain says

    Would it be possible to freeze this? I’m out of town the four days before Christmas, but would really like to serve this on Christmas morning. I could make it Sat. (20th) and take it out of the freezer on Christmas Eve night. Do you think that would work?

    • Carolyn says

      I would freeze the cake and put the remaining sauce to drizzle over in the fridge. Then just rewarm the sauce over low heat and drizzle.

  22. Barb says

    Ok, so just to be clear, I can sub 2 tbsp of molasses for the coconut sugar, without adding any more Swerve?
    Thanks Carolyn, love your recipes!

  23. Kristin says

    Love this recipe!! Just made it for the 4th time. Only thing I change is I add cinnamon to the dry ingredients. So yummy thanks for creating it!


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