Gluten Free Pastry Theory: Ingredient Identification

gluten free pastry theory title logo with yellow background and bread

Chapter 2

This section of the course will give you a high-level understanding of why we use specific ingredients when we bake and other key ingredients used throughout this course. 

Gluten

It might seem odd to talk about gluten when we are specifically learning how to bake without it, but bear with me as I promise that having this key information locked in your mind will transform how you view gluten free baking. I firmly believe that if you want to be a better gluten free baker then you first need to understand the role gluten plays in traditional baking so we can learn how to bake without it. This information will pop up again and again throughout this course and that’s because I want it to really sink in.

So what is Gluten? Gluten is made up of two proteins, Glutenin and Gliadin, which are found in grains such as barley, wheat, rye, spelt, and kamut. It is formed when these two proteins come into contact with water and begin to bind together creating a network of webbed strands.  The gluten strands that are developed aid the dough in rising by trapping gas bubbles during fermentation and baking. Overall, gluten is responsible for the chewiness, texture and elasticity people have come to know and love in wheat-based baking.

Knowing how gluten reacts and its function in traditional baking can help us manipulate and “fake” these proteins with a combination of gluten free flours, starches and various binders and gums such as xanthan gum, guar gum, and psyllium husk. 

Sugar

image of different sugars on white spoons

Often the first ingredient I think about when baking or developing a new recipe isn’t flour, it’s sugar. That’s because the type and quantity of sugar used can greatly affect the flavour, structure and texture of a recipe. Because of this I always have these sugars in my pantry.

  • Caster and Granulated Sugar. These can generally be used interchangeably but caster sugar is finer than granulated sugar, which allows it to dissolve faster.
  • Light Brown, Dark Brown and Demerara Sugar. These golden sugars are simply made by taking white sugar and adding back the molasses that was removed during the refining process. Brown sugars provide extra moisture and caramel undertones.
  • Powdered Sugar (icing or confectioners’ sugar). This is granulated sugar that has been milled into a fine white powder and often contains cornstarch.
  • Glucose and Corn Syrup. Like honey, these are considered inverted sugars. They are best used in recipes like ice cream and chocolate ganache as they are smoother in texture, retain moisture and extend shelf life.

Butter

stick of butter in wrapper on yellow background

High quality butter is one of the most important ingredients in the pastry world and here’s why. Higher quality butter contains more fat and less water. The fat percentage will change the taste, texture, and colour of your recipe. European style butters have the highest fat percentage but generally I will aim to use a butter with a minimum 82% butterfat.

The temperature and form of butter will also determine how your recipe turns out.

  • Cold butter. Recipes that call for cold butter, such as pie dough or laminated doughs do this because the recipe needs the butter to hold its shape until baked. During the baking process the water content in the butter will release steam and this is what helps to creates the air pockets that make for flakey layers.
  • Softened butter. This is butter that has come to room temperature (approx. 18C/65F). It will be soft to the touch so that when you press your finger to it there will be a small indent and it should still feel slightly cool. Recipes that require the butter and other ingredients to be creamed will need softened butter. When the butter is softened it allows for sugar and other ingredients to incorporate and dissolve better.
  • Melted butter. This is simply butter that has been melted and cooled slightly. By melting butter you are removing most of the water content. In specific recipes, usually cookies, squares and loafs, this can help to create a texture that is soft, chewy and dense.

Eggs

half dozen eggs on yellow background

Eggs play many roles in the baking world. They work as a major leavener, build structure, add richness, and improve the over crumb texture in baked goods. With eggs being such an integral ingredient it’s important to make sure you are using the correct egg size when baking. If a recipe doesn’t specifically note the egg size or weight, in North America, you can generally assume the recipe requires large eggs.

Also, I wanted to highlight that egg sizes change depending on what country you are in. For example, let’s compare medium and large egg sizes in the US/Canada to the United Kingdom.

  • US Medium Egg 50g 
  • US Large Egg 57g 
  • UK Medium Egg  53-63g
  • UK Large Egg 63-73g 

For one Large US Egg the yolk is roughly 20-25g and the white is approx. 30-35g.

Egg Wash/Glazing

Let’s talk about Egg Washes and how you can achieve the perfect gold aesthetic. Egg wash is simply a combination of milk, cream or water with sugar that is then brush onto raw dough before baking.  Below you will see the various combinations of egg wash and the effect it will have on the bake’s final appearance. Note, egg wash should only be applied right before baking otherwise it can soak into the dough and ruin/change the texture and flavour of the recipe.

  • Whole Egg and WaterHigh Shine and golden browning.
  • Whole Egg and Whole Milk: Lightly shiny surface and golden browning.
  • Whole Egg and Heavy Cream: Lightly shiny surface and dark browning.
  • Egg Yolk and WaterShiny surface with golden amber browning.
  • Egg Yolk and Whole Milk or Heavy Cream: Shiny surface with dark amber browning.
  • Egg White and Water: Shiny surface with light browning.

Leaveners

Yeast is a single celled microorganism that belongs to the fungus kingdom. Saccharomyces cerevisiae is what is commonly used when making breads and beer. Yeast works by feeding on sugars for energy and in the process, producing carbon dioxide. This is known as the fermentation process. The carbon dioxide air bubbles then get trapped and inflate the dough causing it to rise.

There are two types of yeast that I’ll cover here that are used to help breads rise and provide flavour. Instant and Dry Active Yeast. Instant yeast is just as it sounds. It will begin to activate and work immediately when mixed straight into the dough. Dry active yeast and instant yeast. Dry active yeast is the most common yeast used in commercial bakeries for bread-making and what home bakers tend to use. It requires you to ‘activate’ the yeast by mixing it with warm water or milk before adding it to your mixture. The nice thing about this is that you can actually see it start working as the yeast will start to bubble and froth in the warm liquid.

If you need to convert a recipe that calls for Dry Active Yeast to Instant Yeast this is the conversation rate:

1 tsp Instant Yeast = 1 ¼ Dry Active Yeast

1 tsp Dry Active Yeast = ¾ tsp Instant Yeast

You can also buy Fresh Yeast which is usually sold in blocks and comes wrapped like butter. It is beautiful to work with and lends bread a deeper flavour. That said it isn’t easy to come across and spoils rather quickly. 

Baking Soda is pure soda bicarbonate. It needs liquid and acid (such as citrus, vinegar, buttermilk, honey, or chocolate) to begin creating carbon dioxide allowing the baked good to rise. Once the reaction has started it will immediately begin creating bubbles and air but will dissipate quickly. Baking soda is very strong so you don’t need much of it and it needs to react and create carbon dioxide. Using too much baking soda and not enough acid will leave a soapy taste in your baked goods.

Baking Powder is a combination of baking soda (soda bicarbonate), dry acids or acid salts, and starch, usually cream of tartar (acid) and corn flour (starch).Most Baking powder is packaged as double active, meaning it produces carbon dioxide (lift) as soon as liquid is added, and then it reacts again when heat is introduced.

Salt

salt on wooden spoon with yellow background

Salt is in nearly every recipe I make and for good reason. It creates balance and enhances flavour. Salt may be small, but the impact it has on our baked goods and desserts is mighty. There are two different salts I use when baking. Kosher salt and flaked sea salt.

  • Kosher Salt. This is the salt that most chefs swear by and use for everything. Kosher salt is pure salt and a larger grain, whereas table salt is usually iodized and ground very fine. Table salt can often have a slightly bitter, metallic taste. In a pinch you can use table salt, but you will need to use a fair amount less as table salt is much stronger than kosher salt due to the different granule size. Only use about ¼ tsp or a pinch of table salt to ½ tsp of kosher salt.
  • Flaked Sea Salt is a flattened shape of flaked salt. I use this for finishing and garnishing only. It can be really nice sprinkled on cookies or chocolate.

Gelatine Leaf 

Gelatine leaf is a thin flat sheet of dried gelatine. It is often used as a setting agent for many desserts such as mousses, custards and creams. Gelatine is a natural protein that is derived from animal collagen, usually beef or pork. Gelatine must be ‘Bloomed’ in ice water before using. I prefer gelatine leaves over powder as leaves are better at obtaining a clear, tasteless finish.  

Note that there are grades of gelatine leaf. They are platinum, gold, silver and bronze. The grades determine the weight and strength in the gelatine sheets.

Steps for preparing Gelatine:

  1. Soak the gelatine leaves in very cold water. This is called “Blooming” the gelatine. This process only takes a minute or two. If you leave it soaking any longer the gelatine will start to dissolve into the water.
  2. Using your hand, squeeze out any excess water. If you are adding the bloomed gelatine to a mixture that is already warm you can simply add it in and stir. Otherwise, you can dissolve the gelatine over a Baine Marie or in a portion of hot/warm liquid within the recipe.
  3. Boiling gelatine will cause it to break down and will no longer work as setting agent.

1 Sheet (2 grams) of gelatine will firmly set approx. 120ml of liquid or softly set 180ml of liquid.

Chocolate

bars of chocolate stacked with yellow background

The quality of chocolate you use WILL make or break your recipe. High quality chocolate will react and taste different than lower quality chocolate. For example, a higher quality chocolate will contain cocoa butter whereas a lower quality chocolate will contain vegetable oil. Each will vary in flavour and texture, as well as melting and baking differently.

In general, when baking in my home kitchen I like to use chocolate bars, like Lindt© Excellence Chocolate Bars. For most recipes, using a percentage of around 60%-70% is preferred. Anything above 80% is going to be quite intense and bitter.

Cocoa Powder

dutch process cocoa powder on yellow background

There is a difference between natural cocoa powder and Dutch processed cocoa powder. 

  • Natural cocoa powder is unsweetened chocolate that has been ground into a fine powder. 
  • Dutch process cocoa powder is simply natural cocoa powder that has been treated with an alkalizing agent. 

In many recipes you can use these interchangeably. Where you need to pay attention and make sure you’re using the correct cocoa powder usually comes down to the type of chemical leavener. For example, Baking Soda would need the acidity from Natural cocoa powder to create the desired chemical reaction needed to leaven. Whereas Dutch processed cocoa powder has had the acidity neutralized so it would no longer react with Baking Soda. The recipe would likely include Baking Powder (which contains soda bicarb and an acid).

Various Gluten-Free Flours and Starches

See section on Gluten Free Flours & Starches.

Binding Agents

Xanthan Gum. This truly is a secret weapon in gluten free baking. The name comes from the type of bacteria, Xanthomonas Campestris, that is used during the fermentation process. The result is of that fermentation process is a form of sugar. 

Now when it comes to gluten free baking, this magical white powder-like substance turns gummy when it meets moisture, helps to restore the elasticity and texture that gluten normally provides in many of your favourite pastries. 

Psyllium Husk Powder

psyllium husk in glass bowl on yellow background

This binding agent is the ground seed of the Plantago Plant and reacts much like Xanthan Gum when mixed with a liquid. Psyllium husk is best used for bread baking and some pie doughs. Depending on the recipe, psyllium can be used instead of Xanthan Gum.



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