You will often hear bakers and food teachers talking about gluten, so what exactly is gluten And where is it found?
Starch, the other main component of wheat flour dextrinises on cooking and provides the characteristic golden colour of bakes goods. When sugar is also present in the mixture such as in cakes the golden tones are deeper and richer due to caramelisation.
The dough formed can be ‘washed’ in cold water to remove the starch. The starch grains are suspended in the water and wash away as white milky water. Gradually the gluten can be seen as a grey, stretchy mass. The more starch is removed the stronger and more elastic the remaining gluten. You can cook small portions of the gluten. On heating any remaining water turns to steam and puffs up the gluten. The outer crust of gluten sets as the proteins are denatured by the heat. It takes longer for the inside to set. The structure will collapse after cooking as steam softens the crust.
The picture below shows uncooked gluten:
The picture below shows cooked gluten.
Where might you see gluten when you are cooking?
When you make more advanced pastries such as puff pastry, or Danish pastry dough you will see how gluten can help form layers that give the characteristic flaky light pastry
When you make bread the kneading action used during preparation is responsible for developing gluten in the dough. Gluten is ‘developed’ during this important stage.
When you prepare shortcrust pastry or shortbread the reverse is seen. The gluten is not required to be ‘developed’, in fact it is the action of rubbing in fat that prevents water long strands of gluten forming and keeps the pastry or biscuits crumbly and light in texture.
How ingredients work is part of food science. I hope you found it helpful to read about the role of gluten when cooking.