Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Product Review: The Gluten-Free Bistro Flour Blend
If you caught the updated Great Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Blend Nutritional Comparison a few short weeks ago, you know that I revised the detailed post with 5 additions...3 gluten-free flour blends (now totaling 12) and 2 wheat flours (for comparison). One of the new entrants is The Gluten-Free Bistro. Back in December 2009 we reviewed their pizza crust, and in short, we were fans. At the time we lamented that the flour blend used to make the crust wasn't available at retail. Well, times have changed.
The Bistro Blend Flour is made of brown rice flour, sorghum flour, tapioca starch, buckwheat flour, coconut flour, and xanthan gum. (Various ingredients are labeled as "eco-farmed," "whole grain," or "organic," but I've omitted those designations for clarity in the above ingredients list.) It ranked quite well in the nutritional comparison, and it's fairly easy to see why...several nutrient-dense flours are used, while few refined starches are in the blend. For this reason, The Gluten-Free Bistro sometimes calls it their 80:20 blend, noting that theirs has the highest percentage of whole grain vs. refined starches of most gluten-free flour blends out there. Their website lists the official ratio as 76% whole grain, and 22% starches. (Presumably the last 2% is the xanthan gum.)
Nutrition was one thing, but how would the Bistro Blend stack up in a baking challenge? Based on our experiences with the pizza crusts a year and a half ago, and on how closely the nutritional profile of the Bistro Blend mirrors that of whole grain wheat flour, we expected it to do quite well. But would we be right?
As per usual, we put the Bistro Blend through its paces with 3 baking challenges - pancakes, chocolate chip cookies, and blueberry muffins.
Rather than supply their own recipes, the Gluten-Free Bistro has a blog post with some handy tips about using their Bistro Blend flour in other people's recipes. (You can also find plenty of Bistro original recipes on their blog...) Most importantly, they recommend substituting the Bistro Blend flour 1:1 for all-purpose flour called for in a recipe, and they recommend baking "low and slow," decreasing the baking temp by 25 deg F and increasing the baking time by 10-15 minutes. Using those guidelines, we took popular "standard" recipes and made them using the Bistro Blend.
First up was the pancakes, which we made using the very popular gluten recipe from the Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook. The batter required quite a bit of extra milk to get it to the appropriate consistency. Once we did that, however, the pancakes had excellent flavor and texture. Compared to the Pamela's and the Bisquick, the pancakes had a darker more "whole grain" look and feel to them, with the buckwheat really coming forward in the flavor profile, while other ingredients, such as coconut and tapioca, took a back seat.
Next up we made chocolate chip cookies using a Ghirardelli recipe. The first batch of cookies flattened out way too much. We added extra flour to counteract this effect, and the result was perfect chocolate chip cookies. (See the photo above.) A little crisp around the edge, a little chewy in the middle, with great flavor.
Lastly, we returned to Better Homes & Gardens to make a blueberry muffin recipe. The batter was very thick, didn't rise as much as we expected, and the result was a soft but slightly dense muffin. They probably would have turned out better had we thinned the batter as we did with the pancakes.
Overall, we found the Bistro's recommendations to decrease the baking temp and notably increase the baking time missed the mark. The cookies were done at 0% extra baking time. The muffins were overdone, and could have had 50% less extra bake time than we gave them. Substituting the Bistro Blend flour 1:1 in recipes also yielded inconsistent results - sometimes we needed to add extra flour (as with the cookies), sometimes we needed to add extra liquid (as with the pancakes and muffins).
Once we worked out the nuances of baking with the Bistro Blend and tweaked it to maximize its performance in the recipes we tested, however, it proved a versatile all-purpose gluten-free flour blend that yields great taste and texture, and which has one of the best nutritional profiles of any we've seen. At $5.99 for a 13.5-ounce bag, you'll pay a little more than $7 a pound, which is toward the more expensive end of the spectrum for all-purpose gluten-free flour blends. But I think that, in this case, you could make a pretty good argument that you get what you pay for.