Every once in a while in our baking, we come across a recipe that calls for a tablespoon or two of vital wheat gluten. Since it's almost always listed as "optional" and since the ingredient was hard to find, it took us a while to catch on to what we were missing!
Vital wheat gluten is like a super-powered flour that is all gluten and very little starch. It's not technically flour itself, but it's made from wheat flour that has been hydrated to activate the gluten and then processed to remove everything but that gluten. It's then dried and ground back into a powder.
Because it's almost pure gluten, a little goes a long way to improving the elasticity and rise of the raw dough and the crumb and chewiness in the final loaves. Most baking sources recommend about one tablespoon for every 2-3 cups of flour.
You can add vital wheat gluten to any bread recipe, but it's especially effective when baking with low-protein flours like whole wheat and rye (which have trouble developing enough gluten) or in recipes with a lot of extra ingredients added in like nuts, dried fruit, or seeds. We add a few tablespoons of vital wheat gluten when a recipe recommends using high-protein bread flour but all we have is regular all-purpose flour, as with bagels and some artisan breads.
We also recently discovered that vital wheat gluten is the primary ingredient in seitan! Be sure to stock up if you want to start making this at home.
We don't often see vital wheat gluten in regular grocery stores, but we sometimes have luck finding it in specialty stores or health food stores. You can also order it online from one of these sources:
• Vital Wheat Gluten from Bob's Red Mill, $7.55 for 1.5 pound bag
• Vital Wheat Gluten from King Arthur Flour, $5.75 for 1 pound bag
• Vital Wheat Gluten from Arrowhead Mills, $38.65 for 12 10-ounce packets
When do you use vital wheat gluten in your cooking?
Related: Essential Kitchen Tools: Bread Baking
(Image: Bob's Red Mill)