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.