Baking - Breads, Ingredient Insights

Gluten-ous Maximus

Wow! I was talking with my mom recently about oats, and we were both wondering if oats contained gluten. I thought it would be interesting to do a post about gluten, but do you have any idea just how much information (legitimate or otherwise) is out there about gluten? You probably do. I figured there would be a lot, given the abundance of gluten-free hype and products these days. It’s pretty overwhelming, and much of it seems conflicting – like so many things (fats, sugars, meat, dairy, etc.)

What's in a flour? Depends on the flour, but all the flours in my bin contain gluten.
What’s in a flour? It depends on the flour, but all the flours in my bin contain gluten.

Let me re-ground myself. Here’s what I knew about gluten before. It is produced by two proteins in wheat flour when liquid is added and worked around. The more the dough is worked, the more gluten is formed. It gives breads their structure and strength. Hence why so many gluten-free things end up crumbly (in my experience).

Here is a very little bit of what I know now that I have tried to find more information about it. These proteins that produce gluten are present not only in wheat, but also in barley and rye flours; and there are A LOT of different varieties of wheat (spelt, semolina, kamut and graham to name a few). There are many conditions that can be aggravated by gluten, including celiac disease and many skin conditions. I’m not going to formulate any opinions or conclusions right now, as I have not done nearly enough reading to do so in a truly informed way. And I don’t have the time right now to read everything and decide what’s legitimate or not. It’s a lot to process. I do know that I really love bread, and am very grateful that I don’t have to worry too much about what I’m eating in that respect.

To the original question of oats, I learned that pure oats do not contain gluten (meaning the proteins that produce gluten), but they do contain another protein (avenin). However, many oat products cannot guarantee that they are totally gluten free, especially if they are processed in an environment that also processes wheat, barley or rye, so for people who have serious reactions to gluten they still need to pay close attention to package labels; and if you are preparing something for the gluten-free person at the party you’re going to, make sure the oats are pure, because it can only take a little bit of gluten to cause serious repercussions for some people; and a certain percentage of people with celiac disease actually react to the avenin in oats the same way they do to gluten, so if you’re not sure then it’s probably best not to use oats as a gluten free option.

 

Baking - Breads, Ingredient Insights

Bored Blogger Confession

I’ve been trying all week to write a post about some black bean brownies I made. I kept coming back to it, and leaving it, and coming back, writing one line, and leaving it, and so on. I had absolutely no motivation. I was bored. Recipe reviews was not what I had intended when I first started this blog.

And then I got an email from my sister-in-law. She had read my post about rye bread and had a question about it. All of a sudden I got really excited, and as soon as I had a spare enough moment, I wrote out as much as I could to try and help her. And I thought to myself, ‘this is what I wanted my blog to be about.’ I want to help people understand and really enjoy baking, because the more you know about something the easier it is to play around with it and make it better. Of course I want to showcase some of the creative side of baking I often undertake, but reviewing a recipe I found on a blog where another author is basically doing a review…well, it’s redundant and unoriginal, which is not what I want to be.

So with my sister-in-law’s permission, this week I am offering her question and my response, and also extending an invitation to anyone to ask questions, which I will do my best to answer. And I will try to keep this space as original and reflective of me as possible.

 

“A question for you about the rye bread —  do you have to make bread with an electric mixer?  We don’t have one of those — and my attempts at bread are always pretty off.  Is that tool a big difference maker?”

  • You don’t need a mixer, but it sure makes it a lot easier. When I first started making bread I got very tired/impatient with the kneading, and my bread never came out how I expected. I started setting a timer and making myself knead the dough well for at least 15 minutes. It definitely made a difference in the outcome. Kneading develops the gluten in the dough, and it’s the gluten that makes the dough stretchy/elastic. Yeast produces carbon dioxide, which gets trapped in the elasticness of the dough, and as the dough rises and bakes, the gas in it expands. Ergo, the more gluten that is developed from kneading, the better your bread will rise. All that to say I have found a big difference in using the mixer because it is stronger than my arms and works the dough that much better. It also takes less time, usually 6-8 minutes in the mixer. Your outcome can also depend on how long you leave the dough to rise and how warm it is where it’s rising. Basically it’s important to follow the timelines of whatever recipe you’re using. If it doesn’t rest long enough it won’t have enough time to produce the amount of gas needed for a good loaf and resulting in a dense bread. If it’s left too long, the yeast can overproduce and actually start to break down the gluten, making the loaf too airy and it will be crumbly and probably have a giant air pocket under the top crust. If it’s rising in a place that is too hot the yeast can actually be killed and it won’t rise (a common mistake that I used to do often). Letting it rise on a counter at room temperature is usually sufficiently warm.

 

If anyone is curious about the black bean brownies mentioned at the beginning, you can find the recipe here. They were pretty tasty, and are both vegan and gluten-free.

Black bean brownies fresh from the oven.
Black bean brownies fresh from the oven.