Proper gluten development is important when making a great loaf of bread. Without good gluten development, your bread will be a bit crumbly, will not hold together very well and slices will break or crumble instead of bend and stretch (have elasticity). Gluten adds elasticity to dough. It makes breads chewy, pizza dough stretchy, and is the glue (gluten) that holds everything together.
But what makes strong gluten? What makes weak gluten? How is strong gluten developed properly? Read on and we'll answer each of these questions.
Gluten Strength Bread 202
Gluten strength is dependent on two things - the type of flour used and the time spent kneading or developing the dough.
Flour that creates Strong gluten: White bread flour, White all-purpose flour, Red or White whole wheat flour.
Flour that creates Weaker gluten: Spelt, Khorasan wheat or einkorn flour, white or whole wheat pastry flour (pastry flour is typically not used for bread).
What makes strong gluten?
Protein in flour - Strong gluten development comes from flour with a higher percentage of protein in the wheat. Typically, hard red and white wheat have higher protein (11 - 14%). When hard red or white wheat is milled into fresh whole wheat flour, or milled into white bread flour or white all-purpose flour, the proteins are retained and help develop good gluten structure when making bread.
Kneading or dough development - Strong gluten also comes from the amount of time or method used for developing or kneading the dough. See the Developing a Sponge page, the Kneading page and the Window Pane Test page to learn more about dough development and gluten structure.
If a bread recipe calls for kneading the dough for a specific amount of time, follow the directions, but don't depend on the recipe to determine gluten strength in the dough. Gluten and well-developed dough is relative - releative to how long you've kneaded or developed the dough, what type of flour you have used and how the dough feels. If you can do the Window Pane Test and the dough shows great elasticity, the dough is ready. If it breaks before it is stretched very far, it probably needs more kneading time.
What makes weak gluten?
Less Protein in flour - Different types of flour contains different amount of protein. Pastry flour, or soft white wheat flour typically has less gluten (less protein) and therefore creates a weaker gluten in the dough. Pastry flour is used for baking products that don't require, and where you wouldn't want strong gluten development, such as cakes, cookies, muffins, etc.
Not enough kneading - - Dough that has not been kneaded enough (assuming you are using a higher protein flour) will also have weak gluten until the dough has been kneaded enough to develop the gluten adequately. Dough with weak gluten, or dough that has not been kneaded enough will break quickly when stretched and won't have the desired elasticity or strechiness in the dough.
Great Bread with Lower Gluten
Ancient grains like spelt, Khorasan wheat, or einkorn all make wonderful bread. However these grains/flour have weaker gluten. Using these grains will typically make a loaf that doesn't raise as high or as fast as flour from red or white wheat - but the taste from these grains is wonderful, AND some people who are gluten intolerant or who have gluten allergies can each spelt, khorasan wheat or einkorn because the proteins (gluten) in these grains is more easily digestible.