A Tale of Two Dough Balls

EXPERIMENT #4:
Does starting with more or less water effect your gluten yield?

For this experiment I began with my standard flour measurements of 450g into each bowl. I added the standard 1 cup/236mL of water into one, but in the other I added 360mL. While I normally weigh the dough balls again before washing, I knew they were going to be substantially different, so this time I did not.

I made my typical dough ball with the first, kneading only enough to just evenly combine. The wetter dough was a very sticky consistency which I could not form into a standard dough ball at all, so I simply combined it the best I could. I covered both with a damp towel and let them rest for about 2 hours.

I set a timer for 9 minutes, which I’ve established is just about how long it takes me to wash a dough ball of this size to my typical desired result. Keeping the water at the same temperature with each wash, somewhere between cool and lukewarm, the first, dryer dough ball felt as it normally does. I had to stretch it and knead it under the water as usual, and when the timer went off it looked just about right.

The wetter dough felt very slimy to me as I began washing. There was no need to stretch as I washed because it fell apart. For about the first five minutes of washing it did not feel like it was going to come back together. It did feel, however, easier to wash away the starch. Because of all the little bits of dough, I was afraid I was going to lose gluten if I tried to save the starch in a separate container without a colander. (Normally it holds together well enough I can pour it off without one).

After the first five minutes, the gluten started coming together. By the time 7 minutes had passed, I felt my gluten was already done being washed to my desired level, so I stopped the timer there. This saved me 22% of total washing time compared to the first.

After resting both for 5 minutes and wringing out as much excess water as possible, my weigh-ins were 227g for my normal dough ball, and 214g for the dough ball that started with more water. Here is another case that I am a little torn. Did I lose gluten with the wetter dough? If so, it was only a 13g difference. So, if I was in a rush, I might opt for this to save time washing. I think next time I will try going with something in between.

CONCLUSION: While there wasn’t a huge difference in yield, you may wash away a very small amount of gluten when starting with more water. With flours that might have less gluten yield in general (see Experiment #2) this could be a bigger concern. However, if you know your flour and trust it works well, adding more water will save you some time. It’s also an easier job to wash, no stretching or kneading necessary, because as it falls apart the starch releases.

About the Author:

I created this website hoping to make it easier for people interested in seitan to be able to find, share, and rate recipes. Through both research and my own experimentation, I hope to answer some commonly asked questions in the "Learn More About Seitan" section, and you’ll find some of my own recipes here, too. Happy cooking!

8 Comments

  1. Mara April 19, 2021 at 2:32 pm - Reply

    How about covering the dough ball with a plastic bag, and giving it some room? I do that with my sour dough so a crust does not form. I think I read somewhere to submerge the doughball in water and place it in the fridge. Then taking it out, wouldn’t that make it harder to work with, to get the stretch and the knots? Not sure, a newbie here.

    • Jen April 19, 2021 at 2:43 pm - Reply

      I was taught that a cloth and allowing the dough to “breath” was better, but testing out a plastic bag sounds like another worthy experiment! I still prefer the cover-with-water method, though. I just leave it on the counter to rest like that. It really made no difference to me in ease of being able to wash out the starch, and since I’m washing with water, anyway, I just start with the water that’s in my bowl. No need to add laundry to the equation! 😆

  2. erica dawson November 3, 2021 at 11:13 pm - Reply

    Hi thankyou for this it has answerd so many questions for me ✌

    • Jen November 3, 2021 at 11:44 pm - Reply

      Awesome! Happy to have helped. 😊

  3. Simon January 30, 2022 at 5:57 am - Reply

    How do you dispose the starchy water if you’re not using it for anything else? I used to do the WTF method when vital wheat gluten was hard to find where I live and it clogged our house sink. However, to this day I think seitan from the WTF method is much tastier and would like to do it at least occasionally or having it as a resource for example when travelling and not having vital wheat gluten at hand. The starchy water is the problem.

    • Jen January 30, 2022 at 9:02 am - Reply

      You can compost it, it’s high in nitrogen. If it’s too much starch for your compost (often the case for me since I just have a small composter) or that’s not possible, you can freeze it and throw it in the trash in garbage day (my preferred method) or microwave it till it gets stiff and toss it that way. Finally you can dehydrate it – I pour it in thin layers on sheet pans and put it in my oven with the light on for 24-48 hours, breaking it up as it dries to help it along. Hope that helps!

  4. Ana Salazar September 4, 2022 at 5:28 pm - Reply

    What are the reasons why people would prefer creating Seitan using the WTF method vs Vital Wheat Gluten?

    • Jen September 4, 2022 at 7:04 pm - Reply

      I personally prefer it for making certain types of mock meats like chicken, beef, and pork styles because I find the texture easier to achieve without adding several other ingredients like tofu or beans, etc. It also shreds much more easily in my opinion without having to knead for a long time, run through a food processor or wait to autolyse. There is also a noticeable “gluteny” flavor in vital wheat gluten that I can detect and my husband despises, which is much less prevalent in WTF. However, for more heavily-seasoned dishes that can get away with a less smooth texture like sausages or for use as a burger binder, etc, I prefer using VWG.

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