Pamela’s All Purpose Gluten-Free Artisan Blend Gets the Cupcake Test

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I wish I could go to a supermarket and buy a bag of gluten-free flour mix that’s really a no-fail, no-compromise alternative to wheat flour. I try to have an open mind, but truth be told, I haven’t found one that really does what I expect a product named “gluten-free cup-for-cup all purpose flour” or “gluten-free all-purpose 1-to-1 flour” to do (see two of my previous tests on Thomas Keller’s Cup-4-Cup and Nameste Perfect Flour Blend).

What do I expect?

I’d like to be able to pick up a bag of gluten-free “all-purpose cup-for-cup” flour at a grocery store, any grocery store, and successfully use it to bake a tried and true wheat recipe (i.e. a recipe that I know works well) without having to make it several times in order to get it to look, taste and feel like it should. If the bag says that it’s a cup for cup blend, I want it to work the first time in a recipe that I know already works well.

And when people who don’t normally bake gluten-free ask me what they can easily buy and use because a gluten-free friend or relative is coming to visit and they want to be able to make something special for them, I want to be able to give the name of a product I believe in – without going through a list of what they have to do to make it work well.

(And in the back of mind, I’m also thinking to myself: If I were away on vacation in a place with a kitchen, and I decided that I wanted to make some muffins, I’d like to be able to go to a local store and buy a “cup for cup” blend and bake up a really good muffin – the first time – no do-overs to get it right.)

In other words, I want the claim on the package of “cup for cup” or “1 for 1″ to be true. I want it not only for myself, but also for all the unsuspecting new-to-gluten-free bakers out there who buy these products and then, when they’ve produced a dense or sunken or gummy, soggy baked good, think that this is as good as it can get for gluten-free.

With that thought in mind, I ventured out to my local grocery store to purchase the (relatively) new all-purpose, cup for cup gluten-free flour blends from two companies I like and respect: Pamela’s All-Purpose Gluten-Free Artisan Blend and Bob Red Mill’s Gluten-Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour (I’ll discuss the test on Bob’s next week).

Inside scoop: I had high hopes for the Pamela’s All-Purpose Gluten-Free Artisan Blend mix. Why? I think she makes dependable products. In fact, I think her Baking and Pancake Mix is really good. It’s the only one I recommend to people who want a good tasting, no-fail gluten-free mix to make pancake and waffles. And I buy it myself when I don’t feel like using my recipe (made with my own flour mix). And her Bread Mix is the only packaged mix I recommend to people for making sandwich breads (it is not good for artisan breads however).

THE TEST

The goal of my cupcake test is very clear and simple. I want to see what happens when I use a purportedly “cup for cup” gluten-free flour blend in a classic wheat recipe that I know works well and tastes good. It has to be a recipe that I’ve been able to successfully convert to gluten-free using my Brown Rice Flour Mix in such a way that it is indistinguishable from the wheat version. My mix is made with very finely ground brown rice flour (I like Authentic Foods), potato starch, and tapioca starch. It is not a cup for cup blend. (Authentic Foods also makes a product called GF Classics Blend that is my Brown Rice Flour Mix already mixed up in a bag).

Why my vanilla cupcake recipe? Because the original wheat recipe doesn’t contain a lot of ingredients and it needs very few changes to make it gluten-free (1/2 teaspoon of xanthan gum and 3/8 teaspoon increase in baking powder). Also important – both the wheat and gluten-free versions of this recipe make a delicious, light and tender cupcake. So the idea here is that I already have a gluten-free flour mix that works well in the original wheat recipe. In order for the new “cup for cup” blend to pass the test, it would have to work as well or better.

IMPRESSIONS AND FINDINGS

The Pamela’s Artisan Blend contains a lot of ingredients. And I mean a lot. The list includes: Brown Rice Flour, Tapioca Starch, White Rice Flour, Potato Starch, Sorghum Flour, Arrowroot Starch, Guar Gum, Sweet Rice Flour, Rice Bran. Why so many? And in particular, why does it need six different starches (tapioca, potato, arrowroot, white rice flour, and sweet rice flour)? Two of them really jumped out at me: The first, arrowroot, can leave some baked goods with a damper than normal texture. And the second, sweet rice flour, which can help to make baked goods tender when used in the correct amount, also contributes to moisture retention – but it can make baked goods damp when too much is used. Why have both? Pamela’s seemed to have doubled down on the moist (read: wet) factor.

My guess is that in their good-intentioned attempt to banish the dry and gritty reputation of gluten-free baked goods, they went large on the wetter, moisture-giving flours. Based on my experience, I was worried they might have over-compensated. But I didn’t want to adjust the wheat recipe for the first round because I wanted to see if their product worked as described on the package- as a “cup for cup” replacement for wheat flour.

The Pamela’s blend didn’t feel particularly gritty when I rubbed it between my fingers. In fact, it felt pretty much like the Authentic Foods GF Classic Bend in a side-by-side comparison. It smelled fresh and mild; there was no weird bean flour smell or stale rice flour smell (in spite of the rice bran which can go rancid very quickly).

Next, I mixed it up in the cupcake batter. It was a little more “liquidy” than I was expecting (you might remember the Thomas Keller Cup4Cup mixed up gooey and thick and the Nameste Perfect Flour blend mixed up in a way that was very similar to my blend).

The cupcake rose pretty well in the oven and only pulled back a little as it cooled, but it was not as high as the cupcake made with my Brown Rice Flour Mix. The color of each cupcake was similar, although the texture of the top of the Pamela’s was less smooth.

Cupcake made with my Brown Rice Flour mix (with Authentic Foods GF Classic Blend) on left and Pamela's All Purpose Gluten-Free Artisan Blend on right

Cupcake made with my Brown Rice Flour mix (with Authentic Foods GF Classic Blend) on left and Pamela’s All Purpose Gluten-Free Artisan Blend on right

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The inside of the Pamela’s cupcake was denser and it had noticeably smaller air pockets. The flavor was good; there was no huge difference between the two cupcakes. There was also no real conspicuous grit (either Pamela’s heard the sirin call for less gritty flour, or there was so much starch in their mix that the grittiness of the rice and sorghum flours didn’t stand out).

Cupcake made with my Brown Rice Flour mix (with Authentic Foods GF Classic Blend) on left and Pamela's All Purpose Gluten-Free Artisan Blend on right

Cupcake made with my Brown Rice Flour mix (with Authentic Foods GF Classic Blend) on left and Pamela’s All Purpose Gluten-Free Artisan Blend on right

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The real problem came with the texture. It was the tiniest bit damp on the tongue, and it wasn’t tender. In fact, it was one chewy cupcake, almost a little tough.

So what do I think?

I think something is weighing down this mix and making it tough and chewy in a cake recipe that is usually light and tender.

Perhaps the mix was developed more for cookies – and not for cakes – even though the package says it’s an all-purpose cup for cup replacement for wheat? (Many of the recipes using this mix on Pamela’s website are for cookies.)

Perhaps, there is way too much xanthan gum in the mix? (chewy, tough)

Perhaps the combination of the sweet rice flour and the arrowroot makes up too large a percentage of the mix? (wet and some chew)

Perhaps there are simply too many starches in the mix? (wet)

Perhaps the “rice bran” listed last among the ingredients is actually one of those “clean label” ingredients – and they put too much of it in the mix (and/or this particular clean label “rice bran” works better in some kinds of recipes than others, like those cookies I just mentioned above). (wet and chew)

But I didn’t want to give up on the flour mix just yet.

So what happened when I tweaked the cupcake recipe to see if I could make Pamela’s All-Purpose Gluten-Free Artisan Blend work better in my recipe? I took out 1 tablespoon milk and 1 tablespoon canola oil, and I increased the baking powder to the same amount as I use in the gluten-free version with my flour mix.

Cupcake made with Pamela's All Purpose Gluten-Free Artisan Blend  second round with less liquid.

Cupcake made with Pamela’s All Purpose Gluten-Free Artisan Blend second round with less liquid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cupcake rose beautifully, just as well as the cupcake made with my blend – but it was still too chewy. The good thing was, it was good enough eat when it wasn’t so dense. Taking out 2 tablespoons (combined) of the liquid and fat also got rid of the dampness. It wasn’t perfect. And I wouldn’t make it for company- as long as I had my flour mix in the house. But it was good enough for me spread on some homemade coconut frosting and serve to my family for dessert (usually bad the test cupcakes go in the garbage because no one in my house wants to waste the calories).

Bottom line

As it is currently, I don’t think Pamela’s Artisan Flour Blend should be called a “cup for cup” all-purpose blend – because it’s not. Chances are most recipes will need tweaking so that they are not overly chewy, tough and wet. My guess is that they will need less liquid and fat and more leavening to make a decent gluten-free version. And I really think Pamela’s should give suggestions for how to tweak a recipe within recipe categories on their website for people who want to use this mix (I’d also like to see a bit of instruction, on the package).

But I do think this product has promise. Even though I’d like to see them significantly reduce that chew factor, I’m going to test it a little more to see how much liquid and/or fat I have to take out to make several other kinds of recipes, including a tart shell, pie crust and muffins (the kinds of things I might want to make at the last minute in a beach or lake house on vacation). I’ll let you know how I do in later posts. And please, let me know what, if anything, you’ve done to do to make a recipe work as well as the wheat version when you use Pamela’s Blend.

And if Pamela’s asks me, I’d be happy to test any new renditions they try.

 

 

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16 Responses to Pamela’s All Purpose Gluten-Free Artisan Blend Gets the Cupcake Test

  1. Lori says:

    Thanks Annalise, for a great review. I prefer making my own blends, but like you, sometimes need a bought blend.

    • Annalise says:

      hi!
      You are welcome!

      And yes, it would be nice to be able to buy something that really works when I’m away from home and staying somewhere with a kitchen. I never bring my mix or xanthan gum, but after about I week, I sometimes just want to make a little dessert – like a pie with the fresh fruit I see in a local market (or a key lime pie if I’m in Florida!).

      Very best,
      Annalise

  2. Mary Recupero says:

    I found your comments valuable but you for me you need to comment on nutritional value of flours. I do not use rice flour as I do not think rice is beneficial and out of most Paleo receipies.
    almond flour seems to be the best but to much almonds can be harmful as well. I would appreciate your thinking on this important subject.

    • Annalise says:

      hi!
      Thank you, but I am not a nutritionist or dietitian and so I try to stay away from saying any more than that my mixes contain whole grain flours (2/3 of my Brown Rice Flour mix and 1/2 of my Bread Flour Mix). I just don’t feel qualified. I develop recipes for classic baked good with gluten-free flours. If you are familiar with my writing, you may know that I believe baked goods can have an important role in our lives – but I don’t think it’s good to eat a lot of them. They exist to make us happy, not healthy.

      But to address your question more specifically, I don’t think there is anything really “healthy” about any kind baked good – even it’s low-fat, low glycemic, low-sugar or “flourless” and made with almond or coconut flour. And the baked goods in this country have historical roots in Europe where bakers fine-tuned the art of making pastry with dairy, eggs and increasingly refined wheat flour. As a baker, a cook, and someone who writes cookbooks and develops recipes, I think the Paleo diet really does help some people restore and maintain their health. And it can help some people feel better overall. But cavemen did not bake. Not ever. So for me, the idea of Paleo baking is kind of silly. And the idea that making a cake or cookie or muffin with almond flour will somehow make it healthier to eat is something I just can’t wrap my mind around. If you like lemon cupcakes made with almond, then that’s what you should eat. But is it really healthier than one made with brown rice flour?

      In reality, I don’t eat a lot of rice or any grain. I only eat baked goods on the weekend (when I’m not testing recipes) and even then, I never over indulge. I only eat bread and pasta a couple times a month. Otherwise, I try to eat a wide variety of foods.

      And just as an aside to your thoughts — I think that many Asian and southeast Asian cultures would question your doubt of the value of rice. But perhaps you didn’t mean it the way you wrote it.

      Very best regards,
      Annalise

  3. Tracey says:

    I must be missing something. When I tried Pamela’s Pancake Mix for my son who has Celiac, I thought it was the most bland tasting thing I’d ever eaten and never bought any items from her company again. Yuck.

    On another note, thank you for an interesting web site and for test driving new products. Your work is appreciated.

    • Annalise says:

      hi!
      You’re welcome!

      Your comment about the baked good you made being bland is interesting to me. If you were to taste the raw flours in the Pamela’s blend (as I did), they are indeed mild tasting, a bit milder than my brown rice flour mix. But not as bland as an all starch blend – at least to my palette. Perhaps you were looking for a stronger whole grain flavor, like what you might get if the there wasn’t so much starch and there was a lot more sorghum in it? Or maybe the recipe you made needed a boost in flavor? Was it one you had made before with wheat? Or was it from the Pamela’s website? I wonder if you’d mind sharing it with me so I can try to figure out what happened?

      Very best,
      Annalise

  4. MaryAnn says:

    Thank you for testing out these flours. I have not tried the Authentic Classic Blend, because I have been making your blend and another blend with sorghum. It does get a little tiresome to have to keep a variety of flours and starches on hand but I would rather have GF baked goods that taste good. I do make your yellow cup cakes regularly because they are so versatile and keep well in the freezer. I do use Pamela’s chocolate cake mix and find it very good.

    • Annalise says:

      hi!
      I think Pamela’s makes a lot of very good products, including many of her mixes. And in my quest to find a really dependable all-purpose “cup-for-cup” blend, her’s has come the closest so far. I think if Pamela’s reconfigures the mix a bit, it would work better and more dependably, although I wonder if a perfect “cup for cup” replacement is really possible.

      In the mean time, I will be making my Brown Rice Flour Mix made with Authentic Foods Extra Finely Ground Brown Rice Flour (or buying their GF Classic Blend, which is my Brown Rice Flour Mix already made up in a bag). I’m with you in that regard: I would also rather be able to make baked goods that are as good as I can make them.

      Very best,
      Annalise

  5. Mari says:

    Amazon reviewers gave this a thumbs up for the most part, and sadly I bought it before I saw your review. I have used it twice now, and both times I had heavy, chewy baked goods with a ridiculously high moisture content. I wanted something as good as Authentic Foods, but cheaper, and so far, nothing is as good. My husband will eat anything and after the first attempt with Pamela’s, he told me to throw it out. After the second, he thought it might improve from sitting a day. In some respects, it was softer, and slightly easier to chew, but it was still heavy and moist. The flour is going in the garbage. It was a waste of time and money. I use Pamela’s baking and pancake mix frequently, and usually with good results. I have made cakes with it, and for serving at home they were okay. For company, I go with Authentic Foods. I wish it were cheaper, but I haven’t found anything better. Someone gave me a bag of Bob’s, and I read your review today. That will be joining it’s cousin in the trash!

    • Annalise says:

      hi!
      Nice to have confirmation of my results. Thank you for writing.
      I saw all those fabulous reviews on Amazon, too. I wonder what those people are really ending up with? I wonder what their expectations are? I wonder if they know what’s possible? And finally, I wonder one of the gluten-free flour companies will finally come up with something that works really well?

      At least we have Authentic Foods in the meantime. I am grateful for that.

      Very best regards,
      Annalise

  6. Teeann says:

    Don’t throw away the Pamela’s or Bob’s Red Mill mix if you aren’t happy with the results. I have use them for about 1/2 to 3/4 of the flour in a recipe and then added some other flour such as buckwheat or teff or millet. That turns out quite good for my taste.

    • Annalise says:

      hi!
      It’s good to hear that you’ve found mixing these flour blends with other whole grain flours can improve their performance. You’re in good company- I heard from other GF bakers who told me that this is how they were able to use up their big bags of Nameste Perfect Flour blend, as well. Long term for me though (a known member of the life-is-too-short-school-of-baking), it hurts my brain to think about all the failures I’ll have trying to figure out how much extra whole grain flour I’d have to add to any one recipe to make it work. But really- it is very good advice on how to use up those bags that call out to me whenever I open my pantry door.

      Thank you for sharing!!

      Very best regards,
      Annalise

  7. Missy says:

    Try the carrot cake recipe on the package with Pamela’s Artisan flour. I use tofutti cream cheese for non dairy cream cheese frosting. Also try Pamela’s recipe for pancakes. I add cinnamon, vanilla, pecans and blueberries. They are both delicious!

  8. Priscilla says:

    Pamela’s AP mix was the first one I used when I began baking GF. In my experience it made great cupcakes and quick breads, and I was even able to get some good yeast breads from it, though in those cases I added psyllium seed husk. I did find that items made with it did not brown well, but gluten-eating people really raved about the cupcakes and brioche I made with that flour.

    The number one problem I see with your post here is that the Pamela’s blend already has guar gum in it; adding xanthan gum to that will of course make a very tight and tough crumb. I would have made your recipe without adding any xanthan.

    • Annalise says:

      Hi Priscilla,
      But- I did NOT add xanthan gum to the original wheat recipe when I made it with Pamela’s blend. I substituted the Pamela’s blend for wheat flour in the original wheat recipe. Using the supposedly cup-for-cup blend in the original wheat recipe was the exact reason I did the test: to see if it really worked.
      Very best,
      Annalise

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