Europeans don’t talk gluten content like Americans do. They talk “ash content“. But that’s not to say that they ignore it. Gluten (protein) is implied in ash content for reasons the post on the subject, I hope, makes clear. But let’s talk about European gluten a little, because it’s different than ours, and that’s something that most people overlook when they’re trying to replicate a Continental bread or pastry.
As I point out frequently, not all gluten is the same. The stuff we know as “gluten” is actually a combination of different wheat proteins, and depending on the relative proportion of those proteins, the gluten in this-or-that flour can have very different characteristics.
Case-in-point European gluten. It’s firmer and more plastic (moldable) than ours (which is more springy and elastic). And that has implications for everything from the crumb (the size of the holes inside the loaf) to the crust and the chew. The thing I most envy about firm and plastic European gluten is the way in which the allows bread loaves to “stand up” versus spread out. If you’ve ever wondered how Euro breads can get so tall and round, even without being proofed or baked on a form, Euro gluten is the answer.
But European gluten is also great flat bread. You often hear the word “extensible” used to describe a flat bread dough made with European flour. That’s the plasticity at work again. When you roll out, say, a piece of pizza dough made with Italian 00 flour, it simply rolls out — and mostly stays rolled out. It doesn’t stretch out and spring back, stretch out and spring back, like ours does.
Of course there are down sides to European gluten too, which Europeans experience when they try to make our thick cake layers, muffins, biscuits, even brownies. These sorts of tall, tight-crumbed foams are surprisingly hard to produce without American flour and the stretchy, elastic gluten it contains.