In most of the baking recipes we see, it is specifically mentioned to gently fold the flour in the batter in order to avoid gluten development in the batter. A couple of bakers I follow don't fail to mention this multiple times in their baking videos to emphasize the fact again and again.
But really, why is everyone so particular about gluten and its development so as to mentioning this again and again? Is it something that everyone just says or is it really important and meaningful?
This post is dedicated to demystifying gluten and its development process in batters and doughs in order to understand exactly what is it that we should be avoiding.
What is gluten?
Gluten is basically a protein found in wheat and a few other grains. In baking specifically, all the recipes which call for All purpose flour or Maida have gluten in them.
Gluten development starts when the flour comes in contact with water or any liquid content. When properly hydrated, gluten proteins bind and form a protein chain which is what gives structure to any baked goods.
The concept of gluten can be best understood with the example of the dough we make for Rotis at home. When initially the flour is mixed with water, it is in a weird lumpy state. We see some pockets of flour sticking together but there is no structure to the whole dough.
As we knead the dough continuously, the gluten proteins form bonds with each other and the water molecules thus forming a structure. If the Roti dough is not properly kneaded, it is rather impossible to make perfectly round rotis with it.
In short, the gluten is what gives a good structure to your Rotis.
And the same is the case with all baked goods. The perfectly risen cakes and muffins rely on gluten in the wheat to give it a good structure.
Why is Gluten development avoided in baking recipes?
As I told you, gluten is what gives a proper structure to your baked goods. However still, we try to keep gluten development to a minimum. Why is that?
That is because unlike roti, we want our cakes and other baked goods to have a melt in the mouth feel rather than a chewy feel. Too much gluten will make your baked goods chewy and hard.
And so for soft & crumbly texture, we want to keep the gluten development minimal in our baking recipes.
How do we keep the gluten development to a minimum?
In order to keep the baked goods soft and have a melt in the mouth texture, we have to avoid gluten development in our batter. And the correct way to do this is by gently folding the flour in the batter instead of vigorously mixing in it.
We only fold the flour in till no streaks of flour are seen in the batter. When all of the flour is incorporated in the batter, it is time to stop mixing.
The method by which we fold the flour in the batter is called Cut & Fold method. Another great tip I always follow is that I keep revolving the bowl with my left hand while keeping my right hand busy with cutting and folding. This ensures I reach to every corner of the batter and mix the flour properly in as less number of folds as possible.
I know that it might seem complicated. But it's really not. Just remember to not over-mix the batter after the flour has been added.
I hope I have clarified everything you need to know about gluten. If you have any questions do write to me or drop in a comment and I will definitely reply back.