Gluten-free flours tested in muffin smackdown

Posted Friday, Mar. 21, 2014  comments  Print Reprints

Basic muffins

Makes 12 muffins

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup milk

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, melted

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Grease 12 muffin pan cups (with standard cups of 2 1/2 by 1 1/4 inches). Heat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Measure the all-purpose flour, sugar, baking powder and teaspoon salt into a large bowl; stir together with a wire whisk. Put the milk, melted butter, egg and vanilla into a separate bowl; beat ingredients together with a fork just until combined. Add liquids all at once to flour mixture. Stir just until flour is moistened; batter will be lumpy.

3. Spoon batter into prepared muffin-pan cups. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, 20-25 minutes. Immediately remove muffins from pan. Serve muffins warm or cool on a wire rack to serve later.

Nutritional analysis per muffin: 215 calories, 9 grams fat (5 grams saturated fat), 30 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams protein, 37 milligrams cholesterol, 252 milligrams sodium, 1 gram fiber, 38 percent of calories from fat.

— From the 125th-anniversary edition of The Good Housekeeping Cookbook.

Avocado, fresh mozzarella, and peach pasta salad

Serves 6 to 8

On a hot summer day, find relief in this perky pasta salad, laced with creamy bits of avocado, sweet peaches, and soft, fresh mozzarella. Keep it simple and seasonal, and you can't go wrong.

8 ounces gluten-free spirals or radiatore

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons honey or agave

1/2 teaspoon fine salt

1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper, or more to taste

1 large avocado, diced

2 large peaches, pitted and chopped

8 ounces fresh mozzarella, drained and cubed

1 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped

2 medium scallions, chopped

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta. Cook the pasta, checking it for doneness 3 to 4 minutes before the package directs and testing frequently.

2. While the pasta cooks, whisk together the lemon juice, zest, olive oil, honey or agave, salt and pepper in a large bowl; combine. Add the avocado, peaches, mozzarella, basil and scallion to the dressing in the bowl. Toss to mix and coat: This helps prevent the avocado from browning.

3. When the pasta is done, drain it, rinse with cold water, and drain again. Add to the bowl with the dressing and toss to mix. Serve at room temperature or chill before serving. Keeps for up to 24 hours in the refrigerator, tightly covered.

Nutritional analysis per serving, based on 6: 447 calories, 24 grams fat, 46 grams carbohydrates, 14 grams protein, 34 milligrams cholesterol, 342 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber, 48 percent of calories from fat.

Gluten-Free Pasta by Robin Asbell

Raspberry streusel bars

Makes 16 bars

6 ounces (11/3 cups) ATK Gluten-Free Flour Blend (see recipe, below)

2 1/3 ounces (1/3 cup) granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum (see note)

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2‑inch pieces and softened

2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar

1/3 cup pecans, chopped fine

1/4 cup gluten-free old-fashioned rolled oats (see note)

6 ounces (1/2 cup) raspberry preserves

2 1/2 ounces (1/2 cup) fresh raspberries

1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Make foil sling for 8-inch square baking pan by folding 2 long sheets of aluminum foil so each is 8 inches wide. Lay sheets of foil in pan perpendicular to each other, with extra foil hanging over edges of pan. Push foil into corners and up sides of pan, smoothing foil flush to pan; spray with vegetable oil spray.

2. Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, mix flour blend, granulated sugar, salt, and xanthan gum on low speed until combined, about 5 seconds. Add butter, 1 piece at a time, and continue to mix until dough forms and pulls away from sides of bowl, 2 to 3 minutes.

3. Measure 1/2 cup dough into medium bowl and set aside. Distribute remaining dough evenly into prepared pan and press firmly into even layer using bottom of measuring cup. Bake until edges begin to brown, 14 to 18 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking.

4. While crust is baking, add brown sugar, pecans, and oats to reserved dough; use hands to mix until well incorporated. Pinch mixture with fingers to create hazelnut-size clumps; set streusel aside.

5. Combine preserves, raspberries, and lemon juice in small bowl and mash with fork until combined but some berry pieces remain.

6. Spread filling evenly over hot crust; sprinkle streusel topping evenly over filling (do not press streusel into filling). Return pan to oven and bake until topping is golden brown and filling is bubbling, 22 to 25 minutes. Let bars cool completely in pan on wire rack, 1 to 2 hours. Using foil overhang, lift bars out of pan, cut into squares, and serve. (Bars are best eaten on day they are baked, but they can be cooled and placed immediately in airtight container and stored at room temperature for up to 1 day; crust and streusel will soften.)

Note: Do not omit the xanthan gum; it is crucial to the structure of the bars. Do not use quick oats; they have a dusty texture that doesn't work in this recipe. Make sure to buy old-fashioned rolled oats.

Nutritional analysis per bar: 165 calories, 8 grams fat, 23 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 15 milligrams cholesterol, 82 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 44 percent of calories from fat.

The America's Test Kitchen gluten-free flour blend

Makes 42 ounces (about 9 1/3 cups)

Be sure to use potato starch, not potato flour. Tapioca starch is also sold as tapioca flour; they are interchangeable. See notes at right about shopping for rice flours and substituting soy milk powder.

24 ounces (4 1/2 cups plus 1/3 cup) white rice flour

7 1/2 ounces (1 2/3 cups) brown rice flour

7 ounces (1 1/3 cups) potato starch

3 ounces (3/4 cup) tapioca starch

3/4 ounce (3 tablespoons) nonfat milk powder

Whisk all ingredients together in large bowl until well combined. Transfer to airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 months.

The How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook by the editors at America’s Test Kitchen

Have more to add? News tip? Tell us

A decade ago, gluten-free all-purpose flours for baking were difficult to find in supermarkets. That meant some home bakers who have celiac disease or gluten intolerance spent a lot of time fiddling with starches and alternative flours to create a worthy substitute.

Things have changed.

Gluten-free all-purpose flours have joined a variety of gluten-free baking products. They offer home bakers a chance to prepare favorite recipes free of gluten, a stretchy protein that captures gas bubbles made by leavening agents used to increase a baked good’s volume.

There are about two dozen gluten-free all-purpose flours these days, both well-known brands and smaller independents. They rely on a variety of flours (from grains, legumes, beans) and starches (corn, potato, tapioca, arrowroot) to create a flour’s powdery element. To give baked goods the structure and texture usually provided by gluten, most use xanthan gum or guar gum, both commonly used food additives.

We decided to test a half dozen of these flours to see how they perform in a standard baked good. We chose a basic plain muffin recipe, preparing a control batch with standard all-purpose flour, then baked batches with the gluten-free flours. (The flours we tested can be used cup-for-cup in recipes.)

We did not add any nuts or fruit, so we wouldn’t be distracted from the taste and texture of the muffins. To those with no gum element (Bob’s Red Mill, King Arthur), we added xanthan gum.

Baking results

Bob’s Red Mill, Cup4Cup and Namaste produced a moist, somewhat typical muffin batter. The others created almost sticky, pastelike batters. Yet each made the recipe’s dozen muffins, with all but Betty Crocker and Glutino rising to a height of 2 inches plus.

Our tasters (all bakers, some with gluten issues) enjoyed the good flavor and decent texture of each. Rated on a scale of 1-9, the flours all fell in the average range — with a few quibbles noted in the chart.

Which gluten-free all-purpose flour you choose, from those tested here as well as others on the market, will depend on several factors: your budget (prices for the ones tested ranged from 21 to 35 cents per ounce), shopping criteria (no GMO ingredients, kosher), personal preferences (you like the nutty flavor of brown rice) and dietary considerations (you want the extra protein in Bob’s Red Milll; you can’t have dairy or soy or those gums, xanthan and guar).

When shopping, do not confuse these all-purpose flours with, say, bread mixes (which may have added yeast) or baking mixes (which may have added baking powder or baking soda).

Most of these are available nationally, have a store locator on their website or can be purchased online.

Note: Prices are suggested retail. Rated on a scale of 1-9.

Glutino Gluten Free Pantry All Purpose Flour

$4.69 for a 16-ounce box; 29 cents per ounce

Ingredients: White rice flour, potato starch, tapioca starch, guar gum, salt

Comments: Good-looking pebbly surface with an even grain, good taste. Chewy, dense; leaves an aftertaste.

Score: 5.7

Cup4Cup Gluten Free Flour

$16.99 for a 48-ounce bag; 35 cents per ounce

Ingredients: Cornstarch, white rice flour, brown rice flour, milk powder, tapioca flour, potato starch, xanthan gum

Comments: Crusty top and good texture. Chewy and really bland. Pretty attractive with nice, crispy outside and some fluffiness. Tastes like a muffin!

Score: 5.3

Betty Crocker Gluten Free All-Purpose Rice Flour Blend

$3.75 for a 16-ounce box; 23 cents per ounce

Ingredients: Rice flour, potato starch, tapioca starch, guar gum, salt

Comments: Cakelike texture with a tight crumb. A bit gummy but decent flavor. Very white and rather bland.

Score: 5

King Arthur Flour Gluten Free Multi-Purpose Flour

$7.95 for a 24-ounce box; 33 cents per ounce

Ingredients: Specialty flour blend (rice flour, tapioca starch), potato starch, whole grain brown rice flour, calcium carbonate, niacinamide (a B vitamin), reduced iron, thiamin hydrochloride (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2)

Comments: Tight crumb with a bit of a grainy texture. Lovely rise and not much flavor, but bland isn’t always bad. Floury taste.

Score: 5

Namaste Foods Gluten Free Perfect Flour Blend

$11.69 for a 48-ounce bag; 24 cents per ounce

Ingredients: Sweet brown rice flour, tapioca flour, arrowroot powder, sorghum flour, xanthan gum

Comments: Good browning with a slight earthy aroma. Interior doesn’t look done. Gummy with a strange grain taste.

Score: 3.7

Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Baking Flour

$4.59 for a 22-ounce bag; 21 cents per ounce

Ingredients: Garbanzo bean flour, potato starch, tapioca flour, white sorghum flour, fava bean flour

Comments: Airy crumb and beautifully browned. Crumbly and dry, with a cornlike aftertaste. Good texture but a bit grainy with off flavors.

Score: 3.3

Three new gluten-free

cookbooks to try

Just as grocery store shelves are exploding with gluten-free products, bookstore shelves are filling with cookbooks that claim you can cook gluten-free versions of virtually anything now. Here’s a quick look at three new ones we’ve checked out recently.

Gluten-Free Pasta: More Than 100 Fast and Flavorful Recipes With Low- and No-Carb Options

By Robin Asbell (Running Press, $20)

The first food that comes to mind when most people think of cutting gluten from their diet is pasta. This doesn’t have to be, writes Asbell, a private chef, writer and recipe developer who has authored cookbooks on whole grains and vegan eating. She provides recipes for homemade fresh pastas and veggie pasta substitutes, and gives store-brand recommendations. The book includes traditional Italian favorites, as well as Asian noodle dishes, soups and appetizers.

Sample recipes: potato gnocchi; spinach and chevre-filled jumbo tortellini; spicy kimchee-spiked mac and cheese; avocado, fresh mozzarella, and peach pasta salad (see recipe).

The How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook

By the editors at America’s Test Kitchen (Cook’s Illustrated, $26.95)

In this 336-page paperback, the experts at America’s Test Kitchen offer meticulously tested recipes (they say developing the book was a “yearlong odyssey”), helpful tips and new techniques for tasty gluten-free food. Among the advice is to let cookie dough and muffin batter rest for 30 minutes before baking to give starches time to hydrate, ultimately reducing grittiness.

Sample recipes: sweet crepes; quinoa salad with bell pepper and cilantro; peach cobbler with cornmeal biscuits; raspberry streusel bars (see recipe).

Cooking for Your Gluten-Free Teen: Everyday Foods the Whole Family Will Love

By Carlyn Berghoff, Sarah Berghoff McClure, Suzanne Nelson and Nancy Ross Ryan (Andrews McMeel, $19.99)

The authors of this cookbook say gluten-intolerant teenagers who love food don’t have to be deprived of their favorites — and neither does the rest of the family. Written from the perspective of a teenager with a severe gluten allergy and her chef-restaurateur mother, the cookbook provides easy-to-understand guidance and personal advice to make a gluten-free lifestyle easier for families, as well as recipes for teen-friendly foods.

Sample recipes: glazed baked doughnuts; taco pie; chicken noodle soup.

— Stephanie Allmon

Looking for comments?

We welcome your comments on this story, but please be civil. Do not use profanity, hate speech, threats, personal abuse or any device to draw undue attention. Our policy requires those wishing to post here to use their real identity.

Our commenting policy | Facebook commenting FAQ | Why Facebook?