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  Gluten in baking
 
Gluten is the protein in wheat flour.     Understanding gluten is key to many aspects of baking.  It is a strange and wonderful revelation when gluten is extracted from a dough.  Once you have seen it you can comprehend the techniques and processes that either promote or reduce gluten development.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You will often hear bakers and food teachers talking about gluten, so What exactly is gluten? Where does it come from? And Why do we need to know about it?

Gluten is a protein formed when water is added to wheat flour to make a dough. It is actually formed from two proteins, one called glutenin and the other gliadin.  Together they form gluten. It is needed in many ways in baking.  In the most part, it is the reason that cooked mixtures containing wheat flour such as breads, cakes and pastries hold their shapes.  A raw mixture of dough is pliable but when it is cooked it becomes rigid. The gluten in the dough, being a protein, sets once the cooking temperature rises to over 60⁰C - 65⁰C.  This is also known as denaturation of protein because it is non reversible.  Once a dough is set it remains so. Gluten is responsible for a flour dough holding its cooked shape.

Starch, the other main component of wheat flour dextrinises on cooking and provides the characteristic golden colour of baked goods.  When sugar is also present in the mixture such as in rich breads, cakes and pastries the golden tones are deeper and richer due to caramelisation.

Have a look at gluten as it is extracted from a wheat dough.  Strong flour contains the most gluten, around 14 - 15g protein per 100g flour as opposed to 9 - 10g protein per 100g in cake flour.  When you mix strong flour with cold water and knead it the proteins will combine to form gluten within a ball of dough.

Leave this ball of dough to rest in cold water and then slowly squeeze the dough to begin to wash away the starch. The starch is suspended in the water and wash away as 'milky white' water. 
Gradually the gluten can be seen as a grey,stretchy mass. The more the starch is removed the stronger and more elastic the remaining gluten becomes. You can shape small portions of gluten into rolls and bake it.

The gluten portions will puff up because of water turning into steam as you bake them.  Gluten has a characterisitic burning protein smell and a bland flavour.  The outer crust of gluten is denatured by the heat and sets, the inner takes longer to bake.  The structure will collapse after cooking as the inner steam softens the gluten.

During breadmaking the development of gluten is important and this is why kneading is an essential process.  A stretchy dough will enable gas from the raising agent to be trapped and also facilitate expansion during rising and cooking.  Ingredients such as sugar and butter delay the ability of gluten to set and the resulting texture of the products are softer and more tender, for example, Chelsea buns compared to plain white bread.

Gluten is particularly important in the formation of layers in Danish pastry dough and in puff pastry. It helps the structure and shape of scones, pastry and biscuits.  Textures resulting from manipulating the development of gluten can also be noted.  A shortcrust pastry or shortbread biscuit mixture incorporated a percentage of fat ( rubbed in )that deters the development of too much gluten so that the end texture is crumbly and melts in the mouth.

Gluten cannot be tolerated by all people and increasingly there is a demand for 'gluten-free' products.  Once you have investigated gluten and seen how elastic and tough it is you can begin to understand why it may be difficult to digest and might irritate the gut.

 
 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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