All About: Vital Wheat Gluten (And why It deserves a Place in Your PANTRY)

Vital Wheat Gluten. What is it? Is it a staple in your pantry? Why should you have it on hand if you are baking bread? All of these questions I asked myself as I started baking bread many years ago. As I would research a recipe, oftentimes I would find the author recommending vital wheat gluten. Initially I had no idea what it was or why it should matter, but I started using it. I don’t always keep bread flour (or high gluten flour) on hand. If there is one ingredient that has made a big difference in my bread, vital wheat gluten is it. I’ve compiled some information on what it is and why you should have it in your kitchen as a home baker if you want to make some seriously delicious loaves of bread.

What is Vital Wheat Gluten? 

Vital wheat gluten is the natural protein that is found in wheat. It is made by hydrating wheat flour (this activates the gluten) and then processing the flour to remove everything except for the gluten. This gluten is then dried and ground back into a powder and voila: vital wheat gluten! Many people who buy vital wheat gluten use it to make seitan which can be used as a “meat substitute.” It is very popular in some Asian cultures, where it is mixed with water and some spices to form a “dough” and then cooked. It becomes very chewy and has a meat-like texture. 

The Importance of Protein Content in Flour

Vital wheat gluten is made from the protein in the endosperm of a wheat berry. I’ve written about wheat before; if you want to learn more about wheat to pick the best type of flour for your bake, you can read here. Typically, vital wheat gluten is made up of anywhere from 75%-90% protein. The more protein in flour, the stronger the gluten bond is in the flour. A strong gluten bond traps the gas produced by the yeast and gives a strong rise to your loaf of bread. If you are having issues with your bread not rising well or recipes not turning out exactly as you like, check the flour you are using. Protein content matters. 

  • Soft Flour: Anywhere from 5%-10% protein, best used in pancakes, waffles, quick breads where you want soft, tender quick breads and don’t want the gluten to develop.
  • All Purpose Flour: 9%-11% protein, best all-around flour for your kitchen. Can be used to make pancakes, waffles, muffins, breads and give a good result. If you are making bread, add some vital wheat gluten for superior results.
  • Bread Flour (hard flour): 11%-13% protein, best for baking bread (no need to add vital wheat gluten, unless you are working with whole wheat flours).

All Purpose Flour vs Bread Flour

In a standard home kitchen, you may use only all purpose flour. It is the most common flour and has a protein content of anywhere from 9-11%. You can make good bread from most brands of all purpose flour. If you want to make superior bread, it is best to increase the flour’s protein content. You can do this by buying bread flour which has a higher protein content OR you can add vital wheat gluten to your all purpose flour, essentially making your own bread flour. This increases the protein content of your flour, which results in a better loaf of bread. For best results, sift the vital wheat gluten together with the all purpose flour, though if I’m being completely honest here, I often just throw in a few Tablespoons about halfway through adding flour, and it works well too.

How Much Vital Wheat Gluten Should I Add?

When baking with vital wheat gluten, you want to be careful not to add too much to the recipe. My rule of thumb is to add 1 teaspoon for every cup of flour the recipe calls for. Wheat gluten absorbs liquid at a higher rate than traditional flour, so you may need to increase your liquid by a few Tablespoons. Let the dough be your guide.

Whole Grains and Vital Wheat Gluten

Vital wheat gluten is especially helpful when baking with whole wheat and whole grains. Adding a little to bread made with whole wheat flour produces a soft, light and fluffy texture to a bread that can often be a little coarse. Whole wheat flour typically has all of the bran, germ and endosperm in it. The bran has little shards or sharp edges that cut the strands of gluten forming in the dough. Whole grain loaves tend to be more dense and don’t rise quite as tall as loaves made with processed white flour. Adding a little vital wheat gluten and some extra liquid to these whole grain doughs helps soften the texture and give more oven rise in baking.

Substitutions

So what should you do if you come across a recipe that calls for vital wheat gluten and you don’t have any? In a bread recipe, the vital wheat gluten is there to help give structure to the bread. If the recipe calls for all purpose flour and vital wheat gluten, you can substitute bread flour (you may need a little less flour due to the high protein content in bread flour). If a recipe calls for whole wheat flour and vital wheat gluten, you can leave out the vital wheat gluten. Your whole wheat bread will not rise quite as high and tall or taste quite as soft as it will if you add in the wheat gluten, but it shouldn’t stop you from making a delicious loaf.

A Pantry Staple

I have never made seitan, but I use vital wheat gluten almost weekly in my baking. I buy this large bag from Amazon (affiliate link) and it lasts me a long time. You can also find smaller sized bags (affiliate link) at your grocery store, usually in the baking aisle. A small amount of vital wheat gluten added to yeast bread recipes improves the texture and elasticity of the dough. It helps produce tall, round loaves and gives a light and fluffy texture when used in moderation. Vital wheat gluten also helps soften breads made with whole grains and results in a superior bread bake. Add it to your grocery list and start using it in your baking. You won’t regret it!

Follow me on Instagram @amybakesbread, like Amy Bakes Bread on Facebook or follow me on Pinterest for more baking ideas.

Please share this recipe if you enjoyed it! Post a photo and tag me @amybakesbread so I can see your bake.

One Year

When I started this journey, I told myself I would give it a year. As a busy mama of four elementary-school and preschool aged kids, I was at a place in life where I needed an outlet for myself. I’ve always loved to bake, share recipes and critique the things I create to make them better. And so, after a lot of thought and research, I decided to start a recipe blog. I brainstormed recipe ideas, made recipes and I hit publish on my first post, exactly one year ago today.  

A Turbulent Year

As I was feeling an impression to start this website (and acted on it), I never would have imagined the life-saver it would be to me during the pandemic. Those spring months were hard. Lonely. Filled with uncertainty. Writing and creating recipes helped me get through a pandemic, a difficult medical diagnosis, the death of my wonderful grandma (these lemon bars were her favorite) and a move to a new house. Creating recipes, baking in the kitchen with my kids and having a purpose (other than my role as mama) during this year has saved me in a way. I am forever grateful for this community. For those of you who take the time to try a recipe, share a post or leave a comment: Thank you for being here. Thank you for supporting me in this endeavor. Your love, support and comments have meant more than you know. 

Learning Experiences

This past year has taught me so much. I’ve learned how to work with wordpress. How to create recipes in wordpress (you can see from some of my old recipes that I didn’t even know how to add a “recipe card” into the recipe at first–I’m still working on updating them). I’ve learned to make recipes over and over again and that when it doesn’t turn out exactly right, to just eat the soupy peach cobbler (for the 3rd time) and shelve the recipe to come back to next year. Pro tip: if using frozen peaches, thaw them and drain excess extra liquid before making your cobbler or just use fresh peaches to begin with. I am grateful for every experience I have in connection with running this website. Each experience teaches me and helps me do better in the future.

Top Five Recipes

I love looking at the analytics of my blog, so without further ado, the top five recipes on my blog this year. Is it any wonder that all of these recipes have something to do with sourdough? It seems fitting because Sourdough has become so popular this year with the pandemic.

5th. Coming in at number five: Sourdough Discard Banana Bread

This banana bread uses sourdough discard and a combination of white and brown sugar to deepen the flavor. Delicious banana bread, and perfect if you are looking to use up some sourdough discard.

4th. Fourth place goes to these: Cinnamon Sugar Muffins Two Ways

Make your muffins with our without sourdough discard. After baking, the top of the muffin is dunked in butter and then cinnamon sugar for a sweet and delicious crunch.

3rd: Third place: Sourdough Discard Crispy Crackers

These are definitely one of my favorites and we make them a lot. The perfect crispy cracker that can use up a lot of sourdough discard and tastes incredible.

2nd: In second place: Crispy Sourdough Discard Waffles

If you want seriously amazing sourdough waffles, these are them. They are crispy on the outside; soft and fluffy on the inside. Basically the perfect waffle.

1st Coming in first and knocking all the others out of the park really, these: Sourdough Discard Soft White Roll

These rolls have been number one on my site for the past few months. They are soft, tender and delicious with just a hint of sourdough tang. So glad so many of you love them too!

Statistics for the Year

I always find it so interesting to see how the statistics side of blogging works, so I thought I’d share a few blog statistics with you. Last year, my first full month of writing this blog, I had about 1400 page views. This year (looking at the last full month in January) that has increased to about 14,000 page views a month. Thank you for being here! I love more than anything seeing all the recipes you are making. I so appreciate every share to an audience big or small. My biggest blogging takeaway is to just keep writing. Slow and steady. Keep adding good content.

Profitability: One Year In

Well, I said I’d give it a year and I am still going. Am I making any money off this endeavor? No. Not yet. I have made a little revenue from affiliate links on this blog, but nothing to cover the cost of the site itself just yet. I’ve learned this year that I love developing recipes, writing them up and posting them. I also feel a need to balance my time with my family. My hope and goal is for this blog to pay for itself one day and maybe some of the ingredients I’m using through affiliate links and ads on the site. It took a year, but finally google Adsense qualified this website for ads. These ads are what will continue to allow me to give you all of this free content.

High Hopes for the Future

I have high hopes for this upcoming year. I want to share more sourdough recipes, give more baking tips and definitely share more of my family’s favorite baked goods with you. My little preschooler will be starting kindergarten next year (cue tears) and I will have more time to devote to this space once he is in school full-time. I hope to travel more (a few trips booked and planned already) and bring a little more travel content to this space as planning vacations and traveling is one of my favorite things to do with my family. I’m grateful that this year my love for baking and sourdough has been able to ease the loss of travel for the year. Most of all, I’m planning to keep developing recipes, keep writing and keep posting on this website.

And with that, a big giant thank you! Thank you for being here. Thank you for all your comments and shares. Thank you for trying my recipes and coming back to them. Thank you for supporting me in this endeavor. Here’s to year two!

Follow me on Instagram @amybakesbread, like Amy Bakes Bread on Facebook or follow me on Pinterest for more baking ideas.

Flour, Water, Yeast & Salt

Why I love bread and why I want to share that love with you

When I was a child I used to dream about bread. My obsession probably began living in Germany at a young age with a “Baeckerei” around every corner. Fresh baked bread was so delightful with a pat of butter (unsalted all the way). I loved picking up a local “broetchen” (small, circular German bread roll), adding my favorite cheese and going to town. My mom would pack my lunchbox with daily salami and butter sandwiches on crusty bread and to this day it’s one of my go-to comfort foods. 

Me (right) with my sister in our dirndls, as children living in Germany
Brotchen and Butterkaese, my favorite comfort food

As I aged I started my own culinary journey. I was mesmerized by the simplicity of flour, water, salt and yeast. I spent countless hours making homemade pizza on a rectangular baking sheet, dissecting my family’s ancient bread machine and mixing up creations in my childhood kitchen. My best friend and I had dreams of opening our own bakery by the ocean one day…oh the dreams of a teenager! 

Crazy teenager…heading to college 🙂

When I was in college, baking took a bit of a back seat to my studies, but I never lost the desire to bake and create even in a little dorm kitchen (banana bread anyone?!). I married shortly before graduating and then the real fun began…setting up my own kitchen and learning how to bake when I wasn’t teaching elementary school. We welcomed our daughter over ten years ago and I quit my day-job for a new day-job with her at home. My daughter was not quite two when we moved away from family and the western United States to begin a new adventure in Kentucky; the beautiful Bluegrass region.

Shortly after we were blessed with twin boys and even though we survived off freezer meals for the first year of their lives (luckily I have photos to remember that time…everything is so hazy), I continued baking. I spent hours willing my twins to sleep while researching how to grow my own natural leaven and then baking loaf after loaf of sourdough bread with toddlers running between my legs. I started teaching my kids the wonderful world of flour, water, yeast and salt as we created loaves and gifted them to those we loved or knew could use a pick-me-up. This small act of service helped us make friends and feel at home in our new state.

Our young family was given the opportunity to live abroad in Japan and we learned so much from the beautiful culture, kind people and opportunities to travel. We sampled delicious pastries, breads and treats from Japanese bakeries and learned to love rice, noodles and fish. I navigated the world of “hard and soft” flour and learned how to bake a batch of cookies using Japanese ingredients (lots of consumed cookie dough in that trial and error process). My bread baking days took quite the back seat for the year and a half we lived abroad because ingredients were so hard to come by, not to mention $$$. We welcomed our final baby boy during our last few months in Japan and celebrated with delicious naan bread from our favorite local Indian restaurant. 

Moving back to Kentucky brought new challenges with growing kids, making friends, a new house and teaching my kids to love whole wheat everything again; in Japan it was hard to come by. We spent our first summer with the kids out of school baking together every week and I taught my kids the basics: how to smell the ripeness of the yeast, where our flour comes from (our local mill) and how to knead a loaf of bread. Passing this tradition of bread baking to my kids and tasting the love from the hands that have kneaded and worked the bread is part of what makes bread so comforting. Bread takes time. Time to mix. Time to knead. Time to rise. Time to shape. Time to bake. Relationships take time.

Which brings me to today. Why start a blog today? 

My goal is to share with you tips and tricks that I’ve learned along the way, and am continuing to learn, and empower you wherever you may fall on the baking spectrum–novice to expert. Get in the kitchen. Grab some flour, water, yeast and salt, and bake. Bake with your kids, your families, your significant other or by yourself. Create the memories. Make the messes and enjoy the experience of a fresh-baked loaf of bread. Ask questions and follow along as we use this space to share recipes, memories, tips, traditions and culture around a little bit of flour, water, yeast and salt.

Happy Baking

-Amy