Yes, its here! I’ve finally cracked the long awaited low-carb gin and tonic cake. An all-natural, low-carb, gluten-free cake, with added lovely gin! What’s not to like?
The weather in the UK has been relatively good to us this summer – a little up and down, but never at temperatures below which a lovely fresh, cooling gin and tonic wouldn’t be welcome.
So people lounging on bar verandahs necking craft gin & premium tonics from enormous goblets sprinkled with exotic garnishes has been a common sight up and down the land for, oooh, at least the last three months. And at the start of the summer that sight reminded me of a gorgeous gin & tonic cake that I had baked last year, and it started to become the stuff of my waking dreams. But it was carbs-on-a-stick, and I’m being very good carbs-wise now, so if I was going to indulge again, I needed to concoct a low-carb version.
Followers of my Facebook page may remember that I had a go at that in early summer, but the original cake I came up with was too crumbly, too syrupy and too bitter from the inclusion of lime. So I had to go back to the drawing board, and I promised I would conquer it. One or two people have since asked me when the low-carb gin and tonic cake recipe is coming.
And so finally, now we are entering late summer, and after some extensive playing around in the kitchen, I have cracked it! Or at least I have cracked one version. For there are so many different styles in which you could make a low-carb gin and tonic cake that I intend to go on experimenting, and I may well in future refine this recipe, or come up with an alternative one. But today’s recipe is for an iced syrup cake that includes lemon as well as gin and tonic. It has a pleasing, quite syrupy and slightly grainy texture, that means you’ll want to eat it with a cake fork, rather than pick up a wedge with your fingers to shove in your mouth. But somehow it wouldn’t seem right for a cake containing gin and tonic to have those sorts of connotations anyway.
And when making this cake I figured that – much as you would when pouring a gin and tonic – you should decide for yourself on the ratio of gin to tonic to suit your own taste. So that could range from anything from zero tonic, to mostly tonic.
Personally, I do like sipping and nursing single shots of neat craft gin, both so that I can appreciate the different botanicals, and because it’s a good low-carb way of enjoying an alcoholic drink and making it last a long time. So it follows that I prefer a higher ratio of gin to tonic in my cake. But even if you decided to ditch the tonic and use 100% gin in this recipe, then if you restrict yourself to one slice, that’s only 11ml or so of gin you’re consuming. So practically nuns then, as a Catholic friend of mine is fond of saying.
Also, imho, the gin content is the crucial aspect that lifts up – what might otherwise be considered a relatively pedestrian loaf drizzle cake – to the level of decadence necessary for celebrating your birthday/anniversary/divorce/cat having kittens, whatever. It’s not the most fancy cake you’ve ever seen. But frankly, as adults on a low-carb regime, are we that bothered if it tastes good?
Gin-wise, go ahead and use your favourite, and you could always accompany a slice of cake with a gin and tonic too. One of my current personal favourite gins is Silent Pool – and it’s only coincidence that it’s made in my UK home county of Surrey. I really like its mild sweetness from the addition of local honey in the distillation. Similarly I’m fond of Dodds, which also has local London honey notes from street-wise urban bees, and it’s another coincidence that it’s distilled in my former longtime hometown of Battersea. And I find that Williams’ Elegant 48, distilled in Herefordshire, has a beautiful citrusy flavour.
If I’m using a traditional garnish when I’m drinking gin, then I do usually prefer lime. But in this cake I’ve used lemon, which I found made the cake a little sweeter, and removed the slight overriding bitterness in my first attempt with lime. In a future recipe I’m intending to try grapefruit, or one of the other more exotic combinations of garnishes that have been used for gin and tonic since gin’s massive global resurgence and reinvention in the last decade. In a future cake, I’d like to properly pair the type of gin I use with the specific botanicals that would be used to complement it when served as part of a gin and tonic in a bar.
If you and your friends don’t scoff it all immediately, then any remaining cake will keep in an airtight container at normal room temperature for around 5 days. If, on the other hand, you’ve scoffed it all yourself, then I just leave here this cautionary picture – possibly still as relevant today as it was in 1751.
Nutrition Count: Low-Carb Gin & Tonic Cake vs. Regular Gin & Tonic Cake
The numbers below compare the recipe here with the same recipe using white flour and sugar. Per slice (one-eighth of a cake) the low-carb cake has a minuscule 1g of net carbs – that is, a ginormous (haha, gin-ormous, geddit?!) 46g fewer carbs than the cake made with flour and sugar! And you save around 40 calories, with a very modest increase in your overall protein intake for the day to boot.
And as with so many of my low-carb swap recipes – and in line with the sugar-fat seesaw model that nutritionists talk about – you’re switching some of the carb content in the original for healthy fats in the low-carb version, hence the higher fat content in that version.
|Per 1/8th slice of a cake||Regular G&T cake*||Low-carb G&T Cake*|
|Net Carbs (i.e. minus: fibre counted separately, & polyols in xylitol & erythritol – read my explanation here)||47||1|
* Figures calculated using verified product information on the MyFitnessPal database. Figures will vary according to the ratio of gin to tonic that you choose. In both cases I used in total 30ml Fentimans Light Tonic Water and 90ml gin.
Health Impact of the Ingredients
An up-front warning, in case it’s not obvious. While this cake is free of wheat, gluten, sugar and artificial sweeteners (depending what’s in the tonic you use), it contains real alcohol and almonds, so it’s not for kids or people with nut allergies
Looking at the ingredients in more depth, I’ve talked before about the scientifically-evidenced health benefits of almonds, eggs and grass-fed butter. And I wrote a whole post about the pros and cons of using xylitol as a sugar-substitute.
So let’s get straight into the nitty gritty about some of the key ingredients that I haven’t previously examined – gin, erythritol icing sugar substitute, and lemons.
Erythritol, like xylitol, is another all-natural sugar alcohol/polyol from which the carbs cannot be absorbed by humans, and so they pass out through the body. It therefore has no impact on blood sugar and diabetics can use it safely. Found naturally in fruit and vegetables such as melons, pears and mushrooms, the brand of erythritol that I use, Sukrin – which I choose because it’s available as a powdered version for icing – is derived from non-GM corn starch using a natural fermentation process.
If you read my post on xylitol then, you will get the gist of how that works in more depth, and also of some of the pros and cons of including erythritol in your diet e.g. both may have a positively beneficial effect on oral health, beyond just the fact that they are replacing sugar. And both products have a pleasant sweet taste, without the bitter aftertaste associated with artificial sweeteners.
But there are some crucial differences between xylitol and erythritol. First, erythritol is non-nutritive i.e. it is zero-calorie, while xylitol has some calories, albeit fewer than half those of sugar. In particular, erythritol (see section 9 in this review) is easier than other sugar alcohols to digest, so it’s unlikely to cause the stomach problems and laxative effects that some other sugar alcohols like xylitol may do, especially for those with IBS. Indeed, as it is not fermented by microflora in the colon, you may tolerate it well if you’re on a low FODMAP diet (see section 2 here). It is also not toxic to dogs, as xylitol is known to be.
Erythritol is generally accepted scientifically as acting as an antioxidant in the body. And, unlike sugar, it does not provide a growing medium for yeasts. That means you can’t use it for baking bread successfully, but that it may well be a good choice if you suffer from Candida Albicans.
The brand, Sukrin, that I use, has a little added natural stevia, and can be used 1:1 as a substitute for sugar for sweetening drinks, and baking and icing cakes etc. Since Sukrin comes in three different types – white granulated, powdered (for icing), and brown – then you can select the one that is nearest to the type of sugar that you are substituting it for. The Sukrin website quotes a Professor of Nutrition and several nutritionists and athletes who recommend it as a sugar substitute. Although I don’t know what their relationship is to the company, the independent reviews I’ve linked to above do bear out erythritol’s benefits as a substitute for sugar in the diet.
Citrus fruits such as lemons have antioxidant activity derived not just from vitamin C – also essential as a co-factor for many enzymatic reactions in the body – but from other phytochemicals, especially flavonoids.
Humans are one of the only species lacking the enzyme to convert glucose to vitamin C. And while the body regulates the amounts it holds in body fluid and tissue, since its water soluble, it means vitamin C isn’t stored in the liver or fat in the body and a (relatively small amount) has to be consumed every day for optimum health. So the lemon in this cake is going to help with that.
I’m sure you already know the broad pros and cons of drinking alcohol per se, without me telling you what they are. But in a nutshell, there is a significant body of scientific thought that, in moderation, alcohol of any type (not just – famously – red wine), has some beneficial health impacts, both physically and mentally. And you also know that, as with most things in life, if you drink to excess – then what may well start off as good becomes bad, and you may pay the price by damaging your health.
You can read a good summary of the latest debate on all that in this scientifically-referenced article by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Its take-home message is that alcohol is both a tonic and a poison. But I guess you already knew that, right?
If you Google the health impacts of gin specifically, you will find articles like this one, from the (London) Evening Standard (whose editor was – until the 2016 Brexit vote brought that specific Conservative party administration crashing down – the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer). It sets out supposed ‘scientific reasons’ why gin is good for you, but with absolutely no references to any authoritative science to back up any of the assertions made.
Pausing to go into rant-mode momentarily, these are precisely the sort of post-truth-world, science-lite, pieces that I rail against. This ES article is the sort of click-bait, newspaper-selling (although the ES is free these days) junk, that tells you what you want to hear, because gin is so popular now, and it will make you think that you can drink it guilt-free.
There might well be some scientific basis for some of the ES statements, but how can we know if we aren’t told on what science they’re based? And some of the statements are just blatantly fatuous. I mean come on re. #3, stop buying topical anti-wrinkle cream and drink gin instead?! And #6, ‘gin is the best natural remedy for kidney and liver disease’. Oh yeah, really??!! But I’m happy to stand educated and corrected if you show me the science that says so.
Incidentally, the only point that I do agree with is #4. Gin is both low-carb, and also low-calorie relative to other alcoholic drinks, and I agree that in moderation it is better drunk neat, rather than adding a mixer containing sugar or artificial sweeteners.
I did look into some of the ES points to see if I could find the science to back them up. I couldn’t immediately find any science articles about gin per se (please do let me know if you know of any though, as I’d love to read them!). And I couldn’t find any reviews (my preferred scientific source) about juniper berries, the main component that the ES article suggests conveys healthful properties.
I found several individual studies on juniper berries and extracts of its essential oil. This one, for instance, discusses the fact that juniper berries have been used as a herbal remedy for centuries for skin complaints, and that their flavonoids might be useful in alleviating some skin pigment disorders. And this one makes promising assertions about juniper’s antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. But these are single studies only. And e.g. does any of this apply in the context of juniper berries appearing in the presence of alcohol in gin? As far as I could tell, that hasn’t been scientifically tested.
I’m sorry if I’m putting you off. I’m not meaning to be a killjoy. I love gin and I will continue to drink it. My view is that if you want a slice of cake with gin in it, then you should have it. And as we have seen, many studies do suggest that alcohol and juniper may well have some positive physical and mental health effects. But the point I’m making is about not regarding that as an absolute, based on putting your trust in superficial and tenuous articles like the Evening Standard one mentioned above.
Having said all that, I suggest that you don’t over-consume this cake if you’re on a focussed weight-loss mission. Your body will use alcohol as a readily available source of fuel before anything else you consume at the same time, and before it burns fat. So it’s counter-productive to have too much and thereby switch off fat-burning for the day, if you’re trying to achieve that quickly by following a low-carb regime. Consuming alcohol won’t stop fat-burning, but it will pause and delay it until the energy from the alcohol consumed is used up.
Recipe for Low-Carb Gin & Tonic Cake
Prep time: 15 mins
Cooking time: 20-25 mins
For the cake
- 110 g unsalted butter
- 110g xylitol (I use this one)
- 2 eggs (preferably omega 3 eggs)
- 110g ground almonds
- 1 tsp baking powder
- Grated zest of 2 lemons
- 60ml in total of gin and tonic, proportions according to taste ∗ (I use this tonic, which contains no artificial sweeteners. It contains a small amount of fructose carbs, but not enough to worry about).
For the syrup
- 125g xylitol
- Juice of 2 lemons
- 30ml in total of gin and tonic, proportions according to taste ∗
For the icing
- 50g erythritol-based icing sugar replacement (I use this one)
- 30ml in total of gin and tonic, proportions according to taste ∗
- Juice of half a lemon
∗ Vary the proportions of gin to tonic in the cake, syrup and icing according to your taste. Half gin and half tonic will give a mild alcohol flavour, but you may lose the flavour of the gin, depending on which one you’re using. I prefer to use more gin to tonic, to be sure that the gin taste cuts through the lemon flavour. In my cake, I used half gin and half tonic in the cake (i.e. 30ml of each), and 100% gin and no tonic in the syrup and the icing (so 30ml of gin in each).
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/Fan 160°C/350°F/Gas 4.
Make the Cake
- Line a loaf tin with buttered baking parchment. Or save yourself the bother and use a silicon ‘tin’, which is already non-stick.
- In a food processor with a dough blade, or with a wooden spoon, mix all the cake ingredients together until fluffy and pale
- Pour the mixture into the loaf tin and even out the top. It’a only going to come about half-way up the loaf pan. The cake slices will be more like ‘fingers’, rather than loaf slices.
- Bake for around 20 – 25 minutes (or until a knife/skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean – you know the drill).
Add the Syrup
- While the cake is cooking, put all the syrup ingredients in a saucepan over a low heat and stir until the xylitol has dissolved. It’s fine then for it to cool down until the cake is ready.
- When the cake is done, leave it to cool in its pan for 10 minutes. Get a cooling rack and put a piece of greaseproof paper underneath to catch any drips. Then carefully turn out the cake upside down onto the cooling rack.
- Pierce holes all over the cake with a skewer or thin knife. Then spoon the syrup evenly over the cake and leave it to soak in. You may need to do this in 2-3 batches.
Ice the Cake
9. Once the cake has completely cooled, mix together the icing ingredients to form a smooth paste. Drizzle this over the cake to cover it.
10. Finally, you can sprinkle a little lemon zest over the cake as decoration if you wish. Then serve on a pretty plate – it’s definitely what’s called for here!