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Sponginess in Cakes With Gluten and Cakes Without Gluten

Evan Lamberson
3143 Sprucewood Drive
Decatur, GA 30033
Lakeside High School
Tenth Grade

What constitutes the best gluten-free flour substitute for baking cakes? Gluten, a
substance that is found in many grains like rye, barley, and wheat (What is Gluten? par. 1) has
many unique properties that many baked goods are based off of. People with intolerance to
gluten or a condition known as Celiac disease experience a negative reaction when they eat
gluten, so if they want to eat baked goods, they must bake them with gluten-free flour. The best
gluten-free flour substitute would be one that displays as many of the unique properties of gluten
flour and performs like flour with gluten when baked into a cake or bread.
When trying to find best gluten substitute one must know the properties of gluten. Gluten
is a mixture of two protein groups: gliadins and glutenins (Fennema 291). A protein is a very
large, complex molecule made up of different combinations of 21 smaller parts called amino
acids strung together like a chain (Fennema 291). They can be classified by how they are made
or by their structure (Fennema 219). Proteins are like the factories of machines of life; they
assemble all of the molecules that make up a cell, and they also disassemble all of those
molecules (McGee 805). The behavior or job of a protein changes when its conditions are
changed as well, such as being exposed to heat or air (McGee 805). Gluten is a very special kind
of protein though.
Gluten is what is known as a food protein. Food proteins are proteins that are available in
abundance, agriculturally sustainable, not toxic, digested easily, and nutritionally adequate
(Fennema 219-220). Gluten also has very unique properties. The proteins that make up gluten are
some of the most complex naturally available proteins ever discovered (521). Gliadins and
Glutenins are both approximately 1000 amino acids in length, which is incredibly large even for
a protein. Gluten also has special characteristics that make it so useful for baking.

One of the things that is needed especially for baking bread is a dough that rises. Gluten
is so important in bread dough because of its elasticity and plasticity (McGee 522). Dough with
gluten in it will change its shape when pressure is applied (elasticity) but will then revert back to
its original shape when pressure is relieved (plasticity) (McGee 522). This allows for the dough
to expand when a leavening agent like yeast creates gas, but because of the plasticity of gluten,
the walls of the bubble will not break when they are placed under pressure (McGee 522). Gluten
also relaxes over a period of time or when it is kneaded, allowing for the dough to be more
malleable and form into many shapes (McGee 523). Unlike bread benefitting from a more elastic
gluten dough, cakes benefit from a less elastic gluten dough (McGee 523). The elasticity of
gluten can be decreased by slowing the development of protein bonds with sugar and salt (525).
Gluten also has interesting properties that are based on its interaction with water.
Glutens interaction with water is one of the other reasons that it is so important in
baking. All proteins hold and absorb water, although some dissolve in water and some do not
(McGee 808). Gluten is special in that it absorbs large amounts of water but does not dissolve,
which explains why a well-baked cake is moist and spongy (McGee 808). Obviously baked
goods without gluten in them must account for the lack of the unique properties in some way.
Gluten-free flours work similarly, but not the same as flours with gluten, which is why
gluten-free cakes and breads are generally tougher, drier, and stiffer. Cakes and breads made with
gluten-free flower cannot benefit from the elasticity and plasticity of gluten, so they must
substitute in other components (McGee 546). Xanthan gum is generally used in gluten-free flours
to provide elasticity, but the elasticity xanthan gum offers is much milder than gluten (McGee
546). Xanthan gum also doesnt relax like gluten (McGee 546). To account for the plasticity of
gluten, emulsifiers are added to stabilize gas bubbles produced by yeast (McGee 546). Because

gluten-free flours work differently than flours with gluten, it is very hard to create flour that is
gluten-free and bakes into a good cake.
As one can see, gluten is a very unique protein, and flours without gluten generally have
to resort to using ingredients that sloppily recreate the properties of gluten. Glutens properties of
elasticity and plasticity allow it to create well shaped cakes and breads with a good texture
(McGee 522). Its ability to hold a sizable amount of water without dissolving is also important
to the water content and sponginess of cakes (McGee 808). If Bobs Red Mill Almond
Flour/Meal is used in a cake, then the cake will be less elastic or spongy compared to a cake
baked with Publix All-Purpose Flour.

Works Cited
Fennema, Owen. Food Chemistry. Miami: CRC Press, 2008. Print.
McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking. New York: Scribner, 2004. Print.
What is Gluten? UVM Dining. University of Vermont, n.d. Web. 11 Sep 2014.
<https://uds.uvm.edu/documents/gluten_basics.pdf/>