Saturday, October 24, 2009

Product Review: Betty Crocker Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix

Ah, the elusive chocolate chip cookie. A favorite for fall, Halloween or any time of year, really, and the great thing about them is they're fast, simple and delicious. Everyone seems to love chocolate chip cookies.

Except us gluten-free babies.

Those little wheat-filled, soft and gooey delicacies you find in bakeries, on store shelves and in packaged mixes are a major source of sadness for so many of us. We love 'em, but do they love us back? Not so much. Soft or crisp, chocolate chip cookies are a problem.

Add to that the lack of a good mix for those days when you just don't have it in you to break open all the flours and sugar and make your own. Nobody seems to care about us gluten-freers and making our life easy.

Not true anymore.

In the spirit of meeting the needs of a growing population of gluten-free eaters, Betty Crocker has branched out and created a line of gluten-free baking mixes. Made in a dedicated gluten-free processing facility, the Betty Crocker baking team realized they had a problem with their traditional mixes, right in their own kitchens. Two co-workers had varying degrees of problems with gluten, so they started by creating four dessert mixes: Brownie, Chocolate Chip Cookies, Chocolate Cake, and Yellow Cake.

I haven't had the opportunity to try all of them yet, but I had to start with the cookies, of course. I bought my mix for about $5 at my local Central Market. We can all hope that someday they will make it into the Safeways, Albertsons and King Soopers of the world, and being they are Betty Crocker, they just might actually make it onto the shelf. But until then, check the website to find great recipe ideas and retailers selling these mixes.

Sidenote: There is an incredibly mouth-watering recipe for Gluten-Free Cookie-Brownie Bars on their website and I just had to show you the picture here. Doesn't it look yum? Swirls of gluten-free brownie goodness interlaced between chocolate chip cookie dough baked into a bar. Oh, my. I'm trying that next.

Okay, onto the review.

The little yellow Betty Crocker box contains mostly rice flour, chocolate chips (sans dairy, yeah!), two types of sugar, potato starch and flour, some leavening agents and salt. Pretty simple and basic, but nice to have all ready to go. You just add 1/2 a cup of softened butter or natural margarine (I used Earth Balance Soy-Free Natural Buttery Spread), a teaspoon of vanilla and one egg. Mix together and bake on a sheet for 8 to 13 minutes, depending on size, removing from oven and leaving on the baking sheet for an additional two minutes.

The cookies come out soft and gooey, looking like a regular, delicious chocolate chip cookie. The taste is pleasant and sweet, with a hint of chocolate softness melting between bites. I might add a bit more vanilla or get crazy and add some cinnamon, nutmeg or peppery heat to make a Mayan Chocolate Chip cookie next time, but other than that, they were quite good for any basic package mix.

I cooked two batches of small cookies for ten minutes and another two batches (also small) for a few minutes longer. I personally liked the ones cooked longer better. Here's why: the slightly undercooked (and usually resulting in a softer, chewy cookie) had a slightly funky texture and flavor from the potato flour being undercooked. You could taste it and I wasn't a fan. I prefer a soft, chewy cookie, but this batter didn't seem to allow for that in flavor and texture because of the potato flour flavor. The ones I cooked longer were crisp and buttery and the texture was perfect - for a crisp cookie. The funky flavor and texture were gone and they were just great. I'd personally recommend this mix used this way because of the addition of the unique potato flour flavor.

Please don't confuse potato flour and potato starch. Both are used in this mix, but for different reasons. Potato starch adds lightness and chew to baked goods (I use this often), while the flour is used - I'm guessing here because potato flour is not used often and I use it for special things like soft pretzels and sometimes bread, not cookies - for texture, flavor and to enhance the rice flour and its lack of gluten. They don't use xanthan gum in this mix, so I am guessing that's why they chose potato flour, plus potatoes tend to be pretty allergy-friendly. Not always, but quite often, in comparison to so many other flour or starch choices. The downside is potato flour (not starch, which has no real flavor) has a very distinct flavor and I think works best in savory goods. Too much potato flour has a slightly sour flavor when you can taste it. In a soft pretzel or bread, it's perfect because it adds just a hint of sour like a gently sourdough. In a cookie, it's sour meets sweet - and not in a good way. So, bake this mix longer to get the best flavor integration.

Another slight oddity in the recipe is what it says after you mix all the ingredients together. The box states that the dough will be crumbly. Uh, okay. That turned out to be true, but they don't tell you what to do about it. It goes on to tell you to then drop the dough by rounded teaspoonfuls onto the baking sheet. Big question mark here. This is nearly impossible feat based on their directions. I don't see how what I mixed together would ever have stayed together on a spoon or stayed together long enough to actually bake into a cookie. That part thoroughly confused me.

Luckily, I happen to know something about gluten-free baking and well, baking in general, but mixes are supposed to cater to those who don't like to bake or just don't know how to do gluten-free baking. I think this step could cause a huge problem for gluten-free toe dippers. After I mixed the wet and dry ingredients, the dough was a slightly glorified bread crumb mixture. If I had seen this and was trying to go gluten-free, I would have become incredibly discouraged and would have probably thrown the dough away or tried to add things not knowing what else to do. The one exception would be if I had used a stand mixer. Since I don't have one, I relied on the old-fashioned spoon and arm method. I mean, it is just a cookie mix after all.

I think the mix would have come together better with a stand mixer, but the biggest distraction was that on the box they tell you the mix should be crumbly. And they don't tell you to use a stand mixer.

Serious problem. And I completely disagree with the directions here. I should have taken a picture so you could see what I saw.

My description will have to suffice. Crumbly, crumbly mixture. Fall apart, bread crumb, cobbler topping-type mixture. Messy and not really functional. So, I did the next best thing.

Dropped the spoon and stuck my hand into it.

I started to mix the dough with my hands to really squish all the various components together until, yes, it turned into cookie dough. Real, honest to goodness cookie dough. Looked like cookie dough. Tasted like cookie dough. Baked like cookie dough.

Problem solved. We need to alert Betty.

From here, I rolled the dough into little balls and cooked them two inches apart as the rest of the recipe calls for. The rest of it came out just fine. I believe, however, that Betty Crocker needs to make an adjustment to their recipe and make it clear that a stand mixer will work best and if not, then you need to work the dough just until it is really mixed well and holds together. Once I was done, the dough was not crumbly or falling apart. It looked and felt like any other cookie dough, wheat-made or not. I don't see why they didn't just state that. It would relieve a lot of gluten-free newbies and even us old hands.

On my gluten-free goodness scale, I give Betty Crocker's Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Dessert Mix a 4 out of 5 for taste and a 3 out of 5 for ease of use for slightly confusing directions and the potato flour that needs to be a little overcooked to golden brown to get the best flavor.

Happy eating!


  1. Michelle,
    this is a very well written post on the challenges of working with gluten free doughs. Thanks for the details about the challenges and your solutions!

  2. Sharon-
    It is my pleasure to add some of my well-earned advice (as all of us gluten-free veterans know) and share it here. Thank you for your kind words. I appreciate your feedback. I am off to check out your blog now!

  3. I love how detailed your reviews are. Even not being gluten-sensitive myself, I enjoyed reading it.

  4. Thank you so much. I appreciate your kind words and I'm glad you left a comment! Thank you!