In the last few years, gluten-free bread, pasta, pizza, and pastries have come a long way. This is good news for people who can’t eat gluten or have celiac disease. But even if you’re a huge fan of gluten or hate it like the plague, it’s important to know that the success of these gluten-free facsimiles depends on how well they look and feel like doughs, batters, noodles, and all kinds of baked goods. (stand mixer)
What makes gluten so hard to make? And how does it work?
Gluten is a type of food.
Gluten is a network of protein molecules that is stretchy and springy. It gives ramen noodles bounce, chewy pizza crusts, and bread that is inside. As a general rule, gluten is made when flour, water, and mixing are added together. In reality, it’s a little more complicated: When flour from certain grains is mixed with water in a certain way, gluten forms.
A little background on flour helps you understand gluten better. All flours are made from grains, which are seeds that have three parts that can be eaten. BRAN: This is the outer, fibrous layer of grain. The germ is the seed’s embryo, which is the part that would grow into a new plant. The endosperm is the germ’s food source, which is sweet and starchy. The endosperm of certain grains, like wheat, barley, and rye, contains a pair of proteins called glutenin and gliadin, which are the building blocks of gluten. You can read more about grain anatomy in our guide to whole grains.
Flours that have glutenin and gliadin in them are callare called “glutenous” or “gluten-like.” Wheat gluten is a protein that comes from wheat and rye. Flours that don’t have that pair of proteins are called gluten-free. (Gluten-free flours usually need things like xanthan gum, guar gum, or eggs to make baked goods that have the same texture as normal baked goods.)
Flour (stand mixer)
There are ground products that are called flour, but this doesn’t include ground products that are called coconut flour, almond flour, and the like.
Adding water makes two things happen: starch molecules in the flour get bigger, and glutenin molecules work together to make long, curly chains that bond together.
Putting dough together, kneading it, and letting it rest for a long time all help to strengthen these bonds. This gives dough the ability to stretch and spring back, which we call elasticity. Instead of relying on glutenin alone, we have to use other ingredients as well. If we did, we’d have to keep fighting with dough that doesn’t want to be made into loaves. This is where gliadin comes in. It helps to have it.
As long as the water is around, gliadin molecules stay in the same shape. It means that they “act something like ball bearings, allowing parts of the glutenins to slide past each other without bonding.” This is what Harold McGee, a food scientist, says in his book On Food and Cooking. This behavior helps the dough be able to be shaped and keep its shape while cooking or baking.
How Mixing Work with a stand mixer
Together, glutenin and gliadin make dough viscoelastic, which means that it can be stretched and shaped at the same time. In the beginning, these two proteins don’t interact very well.
In Bread Illustrated: A Step-By-Step Guide to Achieving Bakery-Quality Results at Home, the cooks at America’s Test Kitchen thought of these proteins as tangled balls of string that were hard to get apart “unwound and tied together into a longer piece that is then sewn into a wider sheet.
“You can’t make cloth out of knotted thread, you can’t make gluten out of glutenin and gliadin until you get them untangled and straight. Putting the proteins together, mixing them, and kneading them together makes them into a single sheet, ATK says.
Continued mixing and kneading cause the protein molecules to form a web-like matrix, or what’s more commonly known as a gluten network. This “sheet” is made of these protein molecules.
It is important to have a gluten network in all kinds of batter and dough, from hand-pulled noodles and pancakes to baguettes and bread. This is important for making muffins that are soft and tender, noodles that spring back, and chewy, crunchy bread. It also helps to know how to control the development of gluten.
The goal is to keep gluten under control
No matter how much gluten you add to your food, it might be bad. A general rule of thumb is that doughs that have more gluten development make foods that are more springy and bouncier, while doughs that have less gluten development make foods that are softer or more delicate.
In the past few days, Operations Manager Kristina and her young daughter made waffles together. She didn’t pay attention to how vigorously he was stirring the batter, and the waffles turned out rubbery. It’s hard to keep a two-year-old busy. There are many ways to change the structure of your gluten, and things like the type of flour you use, how much water you add, and the other ingredients you add to dough can all help or hurt the development of gluten.