More On the Character of Gluten

Terrific response last week to my posts on the differences between American and Continental gluten. Lost of folks wrote in asking what some of the other implications are for transatlantic baking. I didn’t have time to answer everybody (indeed I didn’t know all the answers), but it occurred to me that muffins would make an excellent illustration of the principles at work. Except this time, instead of one more example where I have trouble adapting one of their recipes, I thought a little payba— er…reciprocity might be in order.

Because Continentals make pretty marginal muffins. They’re dry by our standards and also dense, if memory serves. That isn’t their fault. American bakers know how easy muffins are to make, so it isn’t a skill issue. Rather it’s a materials issue. Our flours combine especially well with chemical leaveners for applications like quick breads. Theirs don’t, which is part of the reason the muffins in the American ghetto sections of French bake shops always look so sad. What, you didn’t know the French baked American? They do. Or at least some do, but usually only one or two of the “big three” American contributions to the Global Baking Canon: blueberry muffins, chocolate chip cookies and brownies.

But what exactly is the difference between American gluten and Continental gluten? As I wrote previously, ours tends to be elastic whereas theirs tends to be plastic. And if you’re wondering why exactly that’s the case, all I can tell you it’s a genetic difference in the types of wheat we grow. It’s that difference that results in most of the disparities between our baguettes and their baguettes, their brownies and our brownies. I’m not sure how a difference in gluten character translates into that dryness or density that I spoke about, but I’ll see what I can dig up on the subject as the week progresses.

13 thoughts on “More On the Character of Gluten”

  1. I know that well enough as a side effect of moving from the states to Sweden. I’m not sure just how much of a difference is myself, I’ve started to bake more from scratch after moving. There is no cake mixes like in the states… and I had just started experimenting with baking before moving. cookies and such, nothing big.

    I do know taht getting a kitchen scale made measuring easier, not harder. Oh, and it fixes the whole cups to metric problem of 3.7 something by using weight and grams. So easy, I just plop a bowl on it and pour stuff in, tare, and etc.

    1. Aren’t those things great? I have two scales and do pretty much everything with them. Regarding the cakes, at least Sweden has a strong baking tradition, so if you can’t bake everything you loved from the US you can probably find something you like just as well!

      Cheers and thanks for the note!

      – Joe

      1. Mmmm swedish cakes are good, but I’ve wowed my neighbors with american recipes. I’m still looking for that box cake replacement that provides a soft moist crumb (I used olive oil in my box mixes in the states… somehow that made people ponder if I really did use box mixes) As well as I am still not sure what flour to get for cake flour here. I can however give you a lovely swedish “sugarcake” recipe that I think swings more Finnish (neighbor) that reminds me of angelfood cake without all teh fuss.

      2. and yes. scales are holy. I never understood until I started using one. I find it interesting, on the bag of flour it says one dL should weigh 60 grams. my measuring brings up 50 grams, and my loves method of measuring is a hefty 80 grams. You can guess how HE measures flour. But now I almost never use measuring cups for flour and sugar and butter…which comes in brick form and not stick form. I have a handy dandy printable on my fridge for the butter conversion amounts. I learned that is just easier.

    1. I honestly don’t know, though one or two readers there have commented that they find the idea of elastic gluten to be…weird. Which makes me think the character of Australian gluten is different from here in the States. But I can’t say for sure!

      – Joe

  2. I moved from the States almost 20 years ago – Swedish kärnvetmjöl (Kungsörnen brand) works just fine for all of my American cookie and cake recipees. I use vetemjöl special which has glutens more similar to those found in continental Europe and is made for baking bread. If your looking for a self-rizing flour try “extra fine vetemjöl”.
    I’l looking for a substitute for buttermilk for my cupcakes and muffins and have found that the vinegar added to milk trick is too runny and Swedish “fil” is too thick. Any ideas out there?

    1. Hey Susan! You might try a combination of the two, replacing a tablespoon of the mixture with a tablespoon of lemon juice for acid.

      – Joe

  3. HI Joe!
    Thanks my mom(a food scientist) tried to explian the whole diff between flours(cuz I live in Paris and am dying for american sweets). To no success – thanks for the heads up….just a note…we(she and I) found that different types of flours CAN be had here in Paris…if you know where to look…for example asian steamed pastries require more elasticity than US and can be found at the few asian grocers around town($$$). As for replicating US recipes – most actually turn out ok – I mix the different flour types(ratio – 1 cup : x cup : y cup) to get the result that I want – Usually works out – only sometimes I forget to write them down!…anyhow thanks for the clarification!

    1. Hey ET!

      Glad to hear you can source some equivalents in Paris. Should you ever decide to write’em down, send them along. There are a lot of expats that would love to know!

      – Joe

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