Thursday, July 26, 2012
Yes, I am a foodie. I eat food. I look at food. I dream about food. And sometimes, I drink my food from a glass. I even window shop for FOOD. (I wish I were joking...) But the one thing that usually identifies an actual 'foodie' from a hungry person is that we, as foodies, READ about food. And we do it often. Many, MANY hours spent at the computer screen going through food blogs. Looking for great deals on foodie magazine subscriptions. And lots of printer ink and paper consumed in the recipe-printing process. Being a foodie can be an expensive habit. But just as the world requires crazy people to stick their hands in the mouths of alligators and to base jump from tall buildings, just so somebody else can write about it, the world also requires people to shed sweat and tears in the kitchen. It's a dirty and delicious job, and I bravely accept the mission.
I have a LOOOONNNNG list of blogs on my Google reader. And my faves come directly through my e-mail when their authors post something new over which I can drool. And drool I do when I peep new creations over at Gluten Free on a Shoestring. The most clever thing about Nicole's blog is that most of her recipes are centered around using only ONE gluten-free mix, a simple cup-for-cup flour replacement called Better Batter.
I DO prefer my own variation of this made-from-scratch mix, but it's always nice to have a gluten-free Plan B on standby, especially on days where I do NOT feel like pulling five storage bags of various flours from the freezer, encrusted with old, sticky xanthan gum frozen to the outside of most of them.
Truthfully, until recently, I've only used Nicole's blog for recipe ideas with my own mix. (I actually make this coffee cake at least once a month, replacing the blueberries with walnuts and using my own mix, and making it dairy-free as well.) I was a bit snobbish toward flour mixes, and mostly because I'd tried nearly a dozen and couldn't find a single one I loved, or one that would actually work with replacing the flour in my own recipes. Often times, I'd have to dramatically alter the amount of liquid ingredients, and the kinds of liquids I was using, to accommodate the flour mix itself. When I'm paying $6.00 for a small box of gluten-free mix, it should be accommodating ME, not the other way around. And Better Batter seems to do the trick...for the most part.
If I had not already had so much experience with creating a mix from scratch and learning about finely milled brown rice flour from Authentic Foods, then I would probably give this flour a 4 and 1/2 star rating. Because it is probably one of the best mixes I've used to date, with the exception of Pamela's, I would not hesitate to give it a four-star rating, or at least something pretty close. I tested this recipe with two of my own personal recipes: A strawberry cake and chocolate chip muffins.
Sadly I don't have any pictures of the cake. And that's okay, because I didn't exactly 'love' the cake either. It was okay. There was no detectable grit, a common 'symptom' of gluten-free baking mixes or poorly-devised from-scratch recipes. So immediately gives the mix three stars. But I found that the batter was a bit more 'elastic' than I would have preferred. And this is because Better Batter has xanthan gum already added to its mix. This is GREAT for people who do not want to invest in that tiny, expensive bag of glue. (Keep in mind, a tiny bit DOES go a long way.) But I tend to use much less xanthan gum than what most recipes call for, often only half the amount. I use the LEAST AMOUNT POSSIBLE to provide the most lifelike result. I want my gluten-free goodies to be GREAT and actually rival their wheat-filled counterparts. But because the mix actually contains xanthan gum already, I would bump my rating up another half star. This can be a real money and time saver for gluten-free peeps who hate to give up muffins and cookies due to a silly little gluten intolerance.
What gives this mix a four-star rating is due to the fact of HOW WELL these chocolate chip muffins turned out. Here's the thing. I could TELL they weren't made from the perfect blend of flours I typically use. But NOBODY ELSE could tell a freaking difference. Nobody even knew they were gluten-free. I took these muffins (ones shown in the pictures) to an event one day, and one girl who didn't even know what gluten-free even meant was going gaga over my muffins. Of course she appreciated that I had included enough chocolate chips to supply the armageddon. Girl's gotta have some chocolate. But in all honesty, after I got over the fact that the batter was fairly 'tight' in structure, the muffins turned out great. No crumbling thanks the the amount of xanthan gum. And barely any detectable grit. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, could tell these had any rice flour in them. I think out of 100%, I detected the rice flour about 3%. And finally, the mouth-feel is what convinced me. These muffins were impossibly moist...and even soft! Yes, soft. I doubted they would be after seeing how 'stiff' the batter was. But I now release those judgments. I would be more than happy to pay $3.50 a piece for one of these giant gems.
Sooooooooooooooo...my final verdict is this. GREAT all-purpose flour blend for your gluten-free muffins for sure! And I also think Better Batter is super versatile for denser desserts such as coffee cakes. And if you want to try your hand at softer, more tender cakes...I would definitely check out Gluten Free on a Shoestring and FOLLOW her recipes exactly as written. This IS a mix where some of the recipes may need to be developed around the mix itself. But it worked perfectly as a cup-for-cup replacement in my non-gluten-fee muffin recipe. And that is a TRUE testament for a well-developed gluten-free baking mix.