Curse you, North American gluten!

Here’s a problem. Not a catastrophic one for my pastéis de Belém, but a disappointing one. The classic method for shaping pastéis de Belém involves rolling your puff pastry dough into a tube like this:

You then cut the tube into segments, stand the segments up in the form and — sticking a moistened finger into the middle of the tube — gradually pull the pastry outward until it lines the mold. A neat little technique save for one thing: the gluten in the flour in Portugal (and on the Continent generally) is plastic. Ours is elastic, which means whenever you apply pressure to it, it wants to spring back (think pizza dough when you roll it). Here’s what happened despite repeated attempts to flatten the pastry against the sides of the muffin mold:

Looks like I’m throwing a pot…and a bad one. The stuff simply won’t lay down against the sides of the mold. Now, store bought puff pastry tends to be less elastic than the homemade kind, so there might not be the same issue with Pepperidge Farm. However there’ll be a big sacrifice in taste and texture. So me, I’ll just roll my pastry out thin, cut it into rounds and lay it in. The “grain” of the crust won’t be quite the same, but it’ll be for all intents and purposes identical to the classic method.

On a side note I’ll say that this is a troubling development, since I had high hopes for another project that’s based on this technique. Back to the drawing board!

25 thoughts on “Curse you, North American gluten!”

  1. Have you tried King Arthur’s Italian flour? It’s closer to European flour. Might help.

    1. I do my best to make things that most people can find at grocery stores, but that’s not a bad idea. Their Italian style is still milled from domestic wheat, though, and that’s really the problem.

      – Joe

      1. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can buy King Arthur Italian Flour at my local Whole Foods (which might not be ubiquitous, I’ll admit).

  2. I’m sure you already tried this… but did you let it rest for a while after rolling the dough into a log? Sequential resting often works wonders with too-elastic pretzel dough (roll the first pretzel into a log until you hit the elastic-annoyance point, move on to do the same to the next pretzel, then by the time you’ve made the remainder of the batch into rough logs, the first pretzel log is ready to stretch farther without wrestling…), but I don’t know if it would help here?

    Another option might be to use an all-around lower-gluten flour in the puff pastry dough or to use something to hold the shell opening in place until it gives up and relaxes a bit (a cork? mini muffin tin liners filled with beans? not sure).

    Good luck! 🙂

    1. I rested, I rested and re-rested…all to no avail. The thing about the concentric shape is that it allows the gluten to contract like a drawstring…pulling in ward without mercy. Nope, I fear even with something like beans or pie weights it still wouldn’t work…you’d have to keep adding and adding…really it would be more trouble that it’s worth. Thanks for the good suggestions, though!

      – Joe

      1. Aw, phooey. No easy answer, then. 🙁

        That does make sense, though – with the butter/dough layers of puff pastry rolled up, pretty much *all* the gluten would be aligned in the spiral pattern rather than a more even 3D network throughout like a normal dough, so the aligned gluten has a pretty good excuse for behaving like a rubber band/drawstring. Or, rather, for *misbehaving*…

        Hope the experimentation goes well!

        1. Yeah, there’s really nothing for it, I’m afraid. But it’s a minor thing really. It doesn’t change the look of the pastéis, really, nor the taste. All in all it’s a minor modification. Thanks for the sympathy though! 😉

          – Joe

  3. That is really interesting. Is it a different type of flour they use initially in the pastry? or do they add the fat differently so it coats the gluten and makes the dough perform differently? I’ve never heard of gluten behaving in the manner you’re describing!


    1. It’s the curse of North American flour. There’s nothing to be done about it, really, save for buying flour straight from the Continent, and that’s expensive as hell. But it simply comes down to the genetics of the wheat and what grows well here versus there. The protein (gluten) in our wheat has a very stretchy quality…the molecules are literally coiled like springs and snap back when you pull on them. Not so with Continental gluten, which is both firmer and more plastic. Thankfully there are work-arounds for most of the problems our gluten causes. We live with it!

      – Joe

        1. When you try it you will find you have the same problems because all locally produced flour here is high in gluten. Our climate is not really suitable for soft wheat and only a small amount is grown in Western Australia. That is all exported because it fetches a premium price and the That is why special bread flour is not sold much and cake flour is unavailable.

  4. Hmm.. I wonder what all the North American Portuguese bakeries use (I bet you know). They can’t actually bring flour in from the Continent can they? Do professional bakeries have access to different varieties of flour that us mere mortals do not?

    1. As far as I know only the hardest of hard core bakeries import things like flour, because it’s just so darn expensive. I think there was a Neapolitan pizza place in Manhattan that did it (along with all the rest of their ingredients). That’s why their twelve-inch pizzas ended up costing $24. Sometimes it just ain’t worth it!

      My guess is that Portuguese bakeries use the method that I ended up using — and will post on Monday!

      – Joe

  5. I’m sure you tried this, but I’m curious…

    Why doesn’t rolling the puff pastry into a thicker log work? I’m thinking that if the log were thicker, you could cut thinner slices, then fit the wider, thinner slices into the cups without stretching them at all. Kinda like fitting pie dough into a pie pan. Is the textural difference of this method not what you’re looking for? Or does it just not work?

    I’d guess that you’d need a semi-frozen log to be able to cut thin enough slices… and maybe you’d need to do some smushing of the dough to prevent layers from coming apart while baking?

    Also, I think it’s really cool that rolled-up, sliced dough is that much harder to stretch than flat dough. Not quite as cool as watching mayonnaise come together, but close.

  6. You need to roll the pastry into a MUCH thicker log. Thick enough that you don’t need to stretch it, just roll it out a little with your rolling pin, then line the pans with it normally.

    1. Cake flour certainly would cut down the gluten content. I honestly don’t know how a batch of puff pastry made with cake flour would perform. My fear would be that the layers would tear during rolling for lack of gluten, but never having tried it I really can’t say. It would be an interesting experiment.

      – Joe

  7. Was the other recipe you were going to try this technique on sfogliatelle? That one ranks pretty high in my kitchen disasters catalog. Given that I don’t really like candied citrus peel (and the sheer disappointment of my first attempt), I’m none too eager to try it again. But I would love to actually see it done successfully in picture tutorial form!

  8. Just my two cents – I made a variation of these (though I need to tweak the custard, it just wasn’t right to my taste) from the Bourke Street Bakery cookbook. You roll out the dough, and using reserved butter, you spread that on the dough before you roll it up. Then it’s chilled before you slice it and lay it in the tins. I made slightly smaller-than-standard-muffin-cups and had no issues with shrinkage or surfeits of elasticity. Maybe it was just a fluke?

    1. Very interesting. Mine were chilled as well and I still had the elasticity problem. That’s very interesting. Thanks, Katherine!

      – Joe

  9. Take a look at Chinese noodle makers and how they work their noodle dough. They knead the dough for a very long time. This long kneading takes the dough through the elastic phase to a plastic phase that allows them to pull the noodles without the stretched dough shrinking back. Maybe if you so treat the paste before laminating, it would help

    1. Interesting idea, Frank. I have no idea whether that would work, but I’m game for an experiment!


      – Joe

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