What does over-mixing do to tea breads?

Excellent, reader Mark! Thank you. We’ve been talking a lot about gluten lately, your question is a continuation of that important topic. As we know, moisture and agitation causes gluten to develop. Developed gluten in a cake-like device is a problem because it toughens the finished product. Most of us have probably tasted over-beaten tea breads, those sweet but rubbery slices that sometimes appear on holiday buffet tables.

You can judge an over-beaten tea cake (or cake, or muffin) by sight: that very tall crown — a muffin with a conical top, a cake layer that’s humped up in the middle, a tea bread loaf that looks like a treasure chest. All evidence that the crumb is holding too much gas and steam. Believe it or not, while we bakers rely on chemical leaveners to create gas pockets that will fill up with steam in the oven, we ultimately want most of that gas and steam to escape.

A stretchy, glutinous batter will catch and hold most of it. That’s what creates the extra volume. A slice of over-mixed tea bread is suffused with lots of big or long holes which are also known as tunnels in “the business.” They’re another visual cue that tells you to leave Aunt Maddie’s slices of cranberry bread where they are and have another helping of mashed potatoes instead.

4 thoughts on “What does over-mixing do to tea breads?”

  1. On the subject of ‘rising’ I have finally cracked and am now asking why my english – style fruitcake did not rise as yours did to the top of the tin.
    In fact all four didn’t and I bought tins just like yours (9x5x3 inches) which looked as full as yours before they went in the oven. The fact that I am English makes the whole thing sting a little too. Is it the flour or did I throw in the towel too early on all that beating with a wooden spoon?

    1. I’m so sorry to hear that, Jane. Beating really shouldn’t be an issue with fruitcake. Can you sent me a picture by any chance?

      – Joe

  2. The nice thing about gluten-free baking is that you can mix quick breads (and muffins) as much as you like. And no fancy gums needed – just your flour/fat/liquid/chemical leavener of choice.

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