Find the right gluten-free baking mixes for cookies and cakes
Plenty of cookbooks have recipes to make all-purpose flour substitutes for people who are avoiding gluten, and there are several brands of substitute flours available even in supermarkets.
They contain tapioca starch, rice flour, potato starch and other ingredients that don’t have gluten. And sometimes the recipes ask for additions such as guar gum.
But if that all seems too much, too chancey, perhaps a mix is the answer.
We tried five: Pamela’s Oatmeal Cookie Mix; XO Baking Co.’s Gingerbread Gourmet Cookie Mix and its Pound Cake Gourmet Cake Mix; Bob’s Red Mill Chocolate Cake Mix; and Among Friends’ Phil ‘Em Up Chocolate Cranberry Cookie Mix.
I have never made cookies with a mix, and I haven’t used a cake mix since childhood. But I was pleased that all five were incredibly easy and that the cook adds butter and eggs. All five worked as promised.
But were they delicious? In this case, the standard is whether people in my office ate everything when it was put out for the taking. They did, and rather quickly.
Some more considered thoughts about each one:
Pamela’s oatmeal cookies were perhaps the most popular, and except for being a little more crumbly, were indistinguishable from other oatmeal cookies. The bag gives directions for making cookies that are not only gluten-free but also nondairy. I didn’t take that option and used butter and an egg. I also added a mix of juicy raisins from the farmers market.
Pamela’s, based in Ukiah in Northern California, opened in 1988 and has several baking mixes, flours, cookies and snack bars.
All three of the cookies were a success, likely to be happily eaten by people who eat wheat as well as those who don’t.
XO’s gingerbread cookies had a pleasant spicy flavor. The directions suggest rolling the dough in sugar, and that’s a good idea. The home cook adds butter, eggs and molasses (again, we did not go with the dairy-free option). The cookies puffed up nicely and cooked evenly, but took a bit longer than the box suggests.
XO, another California company, this one in Woodland Hills, makes an all-purpose flour as well as mixes for cookies, cakes, waffles and bread.
Several tasters (my office mates) like the chocolate and cranberry combination in the Among Friends cookies. The directions call for an egg, vanilla and butter. The batter was really wet, and I thought it helped to chill it for half an hour in the refrigerator. These are oatmeal cookies, but more delicate than Pamela’s. They also contain coconut. The mix is certified as having no GMO ingredients.
Among Friends was founded by friends Suzie Miller and Lizann Anderson in Ann Arbor, Mich. They make three gluten-free cookie mixes (also CJ’s Double Chocolate and Evan’s Heavenly Spelt Oatmeal Raisin) and a gluten-free fruit crisp topping mix.
Now for the cakes. Neither the pound cake nor the chocolate cake were as big a success as the cookies. But that’s to be expected, perhaps, since no one was much judging the “crumb” of the cookies, and the gluten has a much bigger job in cake than in cookies. (In a similar vein, it’s easier to find good gluten-free crackers than bread.)
Bob’s Red Mill has an extensive line of gluten-free products, from flours made of such products as garbanzo and fava beans to mixes for desserts and pancakes. The chocolate cake looked terrific and had a good structure; frosted as a layer cake it would be great. Eaten plain, it could have used a little deeper chocolate flavor, but that might be asking too much.
The popular Bob’s Red Mill, based in Oregon, has been selling gluten-free products for more than 30 years, including flours, bread and dessert mixes and cereals.
XO’s pound cake was also really pretty. And not all the gluten-free cakes I’ve made have passed the visual test. It had a lovely golden edge. I also liked the mouth feel, a very slight crunchiness, almost as if it had a little cornmeal. It was a little sweet for my taste. But the box also suggests a lemon pound cake, and that could solve the problem.
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