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Gluten-Free Basics & Beyond

Explaining Gluten

You know the word. Now find out what it means.

Let’s get down to the basics, using the most common source of gluten—wheat flour—which is the main ingredient in everything from pasta and pizza to cakes and cookies.

Wheat Flour 101

Flour is milled from wheat berries, which contain starches, proteins, and fats. There are two main proteins in wheat flour—glutenin and gliadin. Glutenin is a very large, loosely coiled protein, while gliadin is a much smaller and tightly coiled sphere. Glutenin provides most of the strength and elasticity in dough, allowing it to bounce back after it has been stretched. Gliadin, on the other hand, provides the stretch.

Brunch Favorite

Recipe Gluten-Free Coffee Cake

This coffee cake feeds a crowd and is perfect for Sunday brunches or special-occasion breakfasts.


Defining Gluten

In dry flour, these proteins are basically lifeless strands wrapped around granules of starch. But they begin to change shape when they come in contact with water, a process called hydration. Once moistened, the individual protein molecules (the glutenin and gliadin) begin to link up with one another to form long, elastic chains called gluten. These strands of gluten combine to form a membrane­like network. The network engulfs swollen starch granules and gas bubbles (created by yeast, chemical leaveners like baking powder, or foams like whipped egg whites), stretching as the batter or dough rises and then bakes, giving the finished cake or loaf its structure and chew.

  • Wheat flour contains two types of protein strands, glutenin and gliadin, wrapped around starch granules.

  • When flour is combined with water, the protein strands unwind and link together to form a membrane-like network, which is called gluten.

Gluten Development

There are several factors that can affect gluten development. Here are three common ones.

  1. FLOUR: ​​​​Bread flour is milled from high­-protein wheat, which means it’s capable of developing more gluten, or structure, which is perfect for chewy artisan loaves. In contrast, cake flour is made from soft wheat with a low protein content. As a result, cake flour produces less gluten, making it perfect for tender cakes. All­-purpose flour has a relatively high protein content of 10 to 12 percent, depending on the brand. Bread flours have even more protein, generally 12 to 14 percent. Cake flour has just 6 to 8 percent protein.
  2. WATER: The amount of water can affect gluten development. Basically, the more water in a dough or batter, the stronger and more elastic the gluten strands. Why does this matter? If the gluten strands are strong and elastic, they can support the starch granules and air bubbles that hydrate and swell as the dough rises and bakes, producing an airier bread with good chew.
  3. TIME: The third variable is the mixing time. A muffin batter that is gently stirred will develop less gluten than a bread dough beaten in a stand mixer for 10 minutes. More stirring equals more gluten, which equals more structure and chew.
Maximum Corn Flavor

Recipe Gluten-Free Corn Muffins

By using almost equal parts cornmeal and flour blend, we were able to create a moister crumb with a more powerful corn flavor.