Product Review – Robin Hood GF Flour
Ahhh, baking. As the world gradually moves towards providing celiacs with acceptable and eventually delicious alternatives to the foods missed the most (pasta and real sandwich bread topping this list), there’s the final frontier – how to find a good GF flour that comes as close as possible to behaving, and tasting, like the muffins, cakes and pies you used to know and love, even if they didn’t love you. Unfortunately, the key to almost all delicious baked goods appears to be gluten, that sticky, stretchy protein that makes bread springy, cakes moist, and celiacs sick. Is there a GF flour that can step up to this plate?
I’ve written in previous recipes (including an early banana chocolate chip muffin recipe available earlier on this page) about my undying love of Cup4cup brand all-purpose GF flour. After starting the celiac way in our house with what we thought was the obligatory and budget-busting 14 kinds of starches and flours needed to make an array of recipes for homemade baking mixes that “taste just like the real thing”, it was a massive relief to discover this amazing product. It really does perform like it’s supposed to, in all kinds of baking, and because of its remarkable ability to do that without the annoying aftertaste of xanthan gum – Cup4cup is still the standard against which all GF flour gets measured, at least in our kitchen.
Problem is, it ain’t cheap. Yeah, you can get it on sale occasionally at Save-On Foods in Calgary, where they have an impressive array of GF options, even in the flour section, but in general, the price for a 1-kilo bag of this magic powder is a hefty $22-$26, depending on where you find it – and it isn’t available at Safeway or Co-op or Superstore yet. So – when I ran out of the last bag we had in the pantry, and I found myself at Safeway for all my other grocery needs, not really wanting to drive way the heck out to Save-On for one thing – I took a good, hard look at a new bag of Robin Hood GF Flour nestled on the shelf among the decidedly paltry selection of GF offerings.
You see – Robin Hood was one of the early bandwagon-jumpers among the major flour producers to get into the market with their GF blend of flour. We bought a bag, because it was reasonably priced. But the taste and texture left way too much to be desired – gritty, metallic and heavy, to put it kindly. We didn’t finish that bag. So -what was different about this one? Well – Robin Hood apparently decided that a HUGE selling point was to proudly proclaim in big letters that this was a New Formulation With XANTHAN GUM. (Perhaps nobody there yet knows that xanthan gum is nothing more than a necessary and expensive evil, not a seductive lure). But what you couldn’t argue with was the price. Safeway was offering this 2-lb. (907 gram) bag for a mere $6.59. OK – fine. We’ll give it a try. If it tastes lousy, not too much harm done.
Since banana chocolate chip muffins are a staple in our house, and have been made with everything from old Robin Hood to XO Bakeries to Cup4cup and a range of homemade flour recipes, we had a pretty good benchmark against which we could test this stuff.
Test number one – mixability. OK, this passed easily. Stirred right in, no talcum-like clouds of starch billowing forth. Test number two – how does it rise? Again, peering in through the oven door, everything puffed up very uniformly, with a smooth texture between the chocolate chips and oatmeal and craisins, and finally, right at the end, cracked open fetchingly just like a perfectly-baked muffin should. Test number three – how’s the crumb? (That’s the springiness and airiness of the finished product). This passed, too – no leaden mass here. Nice and springy. But then there’s the ultimate test – how does it taste? And I confess – I jadedly thought the first three tests were that way just because of the much touted xanthan gum.
So I took a bite. Actually, I ate the whole muffin immediately. The very pleasant surprise here is that Robin Hood has gotten it right. I have to say that there was the faintest – and I mean very faintest – aftertaste of xanthan, but there’s no more grit or artificial metallic tang. In short – this GF flour is really very good indeed – and maybe heralds a new beachhead in the battle to get GF products at a much more affordable price. You can get away with making muffins with this, not only for yourself, but for the gluten-eaters you know and love, without them making a face.
I wonder if it would make good bread. The nice thing is, you can now afford to experiment wildly.