Thursday, March 24, 2011

Product Review: Pamela's Baking & Pancake Mix

If you caught our Great Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Blend Comparison two months ago, you know that it was a round-up of the nutritional profiles of many of the most prominent, widely available all-purpose gluten-free flour blends in the United States. Starting today - and continuing in the future - we'll look at them individually and evaluate how well they perform in gluten-free baking. First up is Pamela's Products, which sent us a gratis sample of the company's Baking & Pancake Mix, which is sold in 24-ounce (1.5 pound) and 4 pound bags.

Pamela's scored well in the nutritional comparison, but in our Versus: Brownies post last month, Pamela's was found to be sorely lacking. How would the Baking & Pancake Mix fare?

First, the mix's ingredients: brown rice flour, white rice flour, cultured buttermilk, natural almond meal, tapioca starch, sweet rice flour, potato starch, baking powder, baking soda, sea salt, and xanthan gum.

Second, some background about how we approached this review (and how we'll approach future reviews of all-purpose blends): In order to truly and fairly put a blend through its paces, we decided to use it to bake three types of foods - pancakes, cookies, and a quick bread (in this case, muffins). Also, because gluten-free flour blends and gluten-free recipes are often optimized to work together as a unit, if a company specified a recipe, we used their recipe. In this case, the packaging for the Pamela's blend contained recipes for pancakes, chocolate chip cookies, and muffins, so we used their recipes in all three instances.

We made two batches of with extra large eggs and oil, and one with large eggs and melted butter. In both batches of wet batter, we could plainly see the coarse almond meal. The batch made with oil was surprisingly loose. The batch made with melted butter had less runny batter and superior taste. Either way, the result was a very good pancake. (For sake of comparison to the photo at the top of this post, you can also check out our review of pancakes made with the Bisquick mix.)

We followed Pamela's cookie recipe to the letter, but while the resulting chocolate chip cookies had good flavor, they were a flop. They were super flat, melding into one another on our cookie sheet. They had crispy edges and a crumbly, sandy texture. Blech.

Finally, we made blueberry muffins. They largely redeemed the cookie fiasco. They had very nice texture - moist and tender, with good crumb. The flavor did tend to be a little bland, and we thought the muffins could be a touch sweeter, but overall, they were highly successful.

The Bottom Line
Overall, we didn't find the Pamela's mix to be as universally versatile as we expected. The pancakes were good, though there was some variability in their taste and texture, depending on the method of preparation and ingredients. The cookies flopped. The muffins were a star of the show, even if a little bland.

You'll pay about $4 per pound for the Pamela's mix, which is middle of the road (for example, Bob's Red Mill's all-purpose blend comes in less than $3 per pound, while the King Arthur blend comes in at more than $5 per pound...).

At the end of the day, Pamela's is a good, not great, option for an all-purpose gluten-free baking blend.

- Pete


Kristin said...

I just used this mix for the first time last week. I made great pancakes, a decent crumble topping for a strawberry/rhubarb cobbler, zucchini bread and the most amazing pumpkin bread. I used the zucchini bread recipe from their site, my gluten eating husband loved the zucchini bread as it was moist and chewy. The pumpkin bread is also on their website and my gluten eating family devoured it in less then 3 hours it was that amazing. I have not used it to make cookies, but so far cannot complain about this mix at all.

peterbronski said...

Hi Kristin... Great news! Yeah, the pancakes and quick breads (and I suspect, cakes) did well. The cookies were an anomaly, but a noticeable one. Glad you like the mix! The blueberry muffins didn't last long in our house...

Cheers, Pete

Elizabeth said...

I use Pamela's as my go to "flour". I do enjoy it, I've made cookies and muffins as well as used it in various recipes calling for flour such as Chicken Picatta. I have not tried the cookies yet as I generally lean towards Betty Crocker's boxed mix. Thanks for the review and I'm looking forward to hearing about other products!

Kristin Overton said...

I absolutely LOVE this stuff. I've converted a pancake hater into someone who asks for them on a regular basis (and he's not gf!) We've made biscuits with the mix as well with tasty success.

Before I was gf I was someone who loved the grainy, "birdseed bread", so the inclusion of almond meal and the resulting appearance of "grainyness" is a bonus in my books. I hate anything that looks like white bread...

peterbronski said...

Hi Elizabeth... Chicken picatta. We haven't made that in way too long! Thanks for the reminder. I think it'll be on our menu for next week!

Hi Kristin... Much agreed. We like a "whole grain" bread over a "white" bread any day. With Pamela's, that's evident in the pancakes and quick breads. The grainy, sandy texture of the cookies was something else entirely.

Happy baking!

proseandkahn said...

We are fans of Pamelas. My g-free kid likes the pancakes, but loves the waffles. My choco chip cookies don't come out like your photo, they are chunky. My family actually prefers them to Toll House. I took a photo of the last cookie in my last batch. What's your email? I send it to you.

They also love the banana muffins. I throw a handful of choco chips in them as well.

The only flop I had was the sour cream coffee cake. But I chalked that off to me. I baked it in a rush and probably did something wrong.

My two cents.



peterbronski said...

Hi Brenda... Many thanks for adding your two cents. It's interesting to hear about other people's experiences - positive and negative - with Pamela's products. Over the years we've definitely been fans..."back in the day" we used her bread mix, and have bought the chocolate chunk and dark chocolate chocolate chunk cookies and loved them all. As we've more recently been testing other products in the line, we've been somewhat caught off guard by some of the negative or neutral experiences, which we didn't expect. But as always, we keep things brutally honest in our reviews. It's great, though, for people like you and the others here to comment on a review. I think that reviews - much like the difficulty grades of rock climbing routes - are best arrived at through community consensus. I'd love to see your cookies. Click on my name - it'll take you to my profile, where you can link directly to my email.

Cheers, Pete

Sam said...

We love Pamela's as well here and mostly for pancakes only. But we really like thinner pancakes and Pamela's pancakes are nice and light and we really enjoy that. I've also made coffee cake and my husband loves it, but we use the Bisquick recipe and just use Pamela's in place of Bisquick.
I agree that the cookies tend to be runny...but I love the dough! And I can't say that often about a Gluten free cookie dough.

Michele said...

I really don't do much baking since going gluten free. I don't really miss it but I did recently make Pamela's brownie mix. It was disgustingly sweet. I took them to work and most everyone commented on them having too much sugar. I ended up pitching what was leftover in the trash. I don't think I will try anymore of this line although I have seen it rated well in other gluten free websites.

peterbronski said...

Hi Sam and Michele... Thanks for chiming in!

Cheers, Pete

Mary said...

I used the baking mix to make Toll House cookies and blueberry muffins today, and both came out great. For the cookies, I followed the recipe on the bag of mix, except that I used 1/4 cup butter and 1/4 cup shortening, and I made smaller cookies than the recommended tablespoon. I also chilled the dough for about 30 mins. I doubled the muffin recipe and used 3/8 cups water, cutting the doubled amount back by 1/8 cup.

pschase said...

I bought a 25# bag of Pamela's Baking & Pancake mix on Amazon for $82.50. . . $3.30 a pound. I was so tired of buying the little bags and always running out just when I needed to make pancakes. I would like to know if anyone has a peanut butter cookie recipe

Kelly Turner said...

No way those are pamelas cookies... I have tried every single mix on the market. The cookies I make with Pamelas look nothing like those. Mine are lovely, lumpy, bumpy thick and they stay delightfully chewy. I have even substituted coconut sugar for regular sugar with no effect on how perfect the cookies are. All of the Betty Crocker, Bisquick, Jules stuff tastes like cardboard. Pamelas is so good, my husband (who is not GF) asked that I no longer make pancakes or cookies from anything else. Ditto her chocolate cake mix and brownie mix. In fact I have converted several non GF friends to using exclusively Pamela's. I didn't even try to convert them, they just tasted and freaked out over how delicious it is. Oh and the bread mix makes unreal pie crusts! I have to admit I have never tried anything other than GF Pantry brand for pie crusts. GF pantry tasted awful. I buy all of Pamelas products on amazon in bulk. I <3 Pamelas.