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Using L-cysteine as a dough relaxant


Chris Hennes
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In Modernist Cuisine the authors add L-cysteine (an amino acid) to the dough for their hamburger buns to relax the gluten in the dough: has anyone experimented with this stuff? I've got a recipe here for pita bread that calls for dough relaxant and was hoping to use the L-cysteine I've got instead.

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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Not to be That Guy, but to what degree is L-cysteine related to the types of additives (many of which are reportedly dough relaxers) in commercial bread that have prompted so many people to learn to make it themselves?

I couldn't quite figure out how to word this in a way that isn't leading and sort of passive-aggressive, but that's not my intent. I will, however, confess to being a traditionalist on the order that I'm always a little suspicious of Modernist Cuisine (the concept, not the book per se). I mean after all, pita is one of the oldest types of bread, long predating dough relaxers.

Andy Arrington

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Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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As someone who makes bread because homemade tastes better, not because I distrust the ingredients in commercial bread, I don't really worry about it. L-cysteine is sold as a dietary supplement, in fact (for what purpose I don't know). And the pita recipe is from the King Arthur Flour cookbook, which is not exactly a hotbed of culinary Modernism :smile: — the relaxer is an optional ingredient to make shaping easier.

I went ahead and tried it and the L-Cysteine worked well as a dough relaxer, in incredibly minute quantities. It turns out that the size bottle they sell as a nutritional supplement is basically a lifetime supply for dough relaxation purposes. And using the relaxer allowed me to hand-shape the pitas without using a rolling pin, which was nice.

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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As someone who makes bread because homemade tastes better, not because I distrust the ingredients in commercial bread, I don't really worry about it. L-cysteine is sold as a dietary supplement, in fact (for what purpose I don't know). And the pita recipe is from the King Arthur Flour cookbook, which is not exactly a hotbed of culinary Modernism :smile: — the relaxer is an optional ingredient to make shaping easier.

I went ahead and tried it and the L-Cysteine worked well as a dough relaxer, in incredibly minute quantities. It turns out that the size bottle they sell as a nutritional supplement is basically a lifetime supply for dough relaxation purposes. And using the relaxer allowed me to hand-shape the pitas without using a rolling pin, which was nice.

Ok, ok, all fair points. And yes I started doing it for the flavor and the challenge, too. In honesty I only learned about the weirdness of commercial bread when I started investigating why homemade tasted different.

I've lately been moving towards "advanced" more ancient technique, namely sourdough, so my question was probably an unfair knee-jerk. Thanks for enlightening me.

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Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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It goes without saying that it's up to you how you make your own bread.

But why add unnecessary stuff to dough? Give your dough a rest to relax the gluten, use a lower gluten flour, increase the hydration of the dough.

I think a few hamburger buns have been made without the need for additives.

Mick

Mick Hartley

The PArtisan Baker

bethesdabakers

"I can give you more pep than that store bought yeast" - Evolution Mama (don't you make a monkey out of me)

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Cysteine is a semi-essential amino acid and apparently has some use in combatting acetaldehyde in rats, which does a whole host of bad things. While that doesn't directly translate into usefulness for humans, I don't see anything inherently bad in additives. I mean, is yeast, eggs, or butter really necessary for making bread? No, but it improves it without being much downside.

I'm curious, what does an excess of l-cysteine do? Does it impart a peculiar taste beyond small amounts?

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Mjx - while adding oil changes the texture of dough, I don't think it's correct to call it a "relaxer" per se: the oil doesn't affect the structure of the gluten itself, whereas the relaxer actually splits the gluten apart (I think). So you achieve a different texture in the final product as compared to using no relaxer, as well as causing the dough to flow more. It behaves like a higher-hydration dough to some extent, but with a finer crumb.

Philip Le - Obviously I'm in agreement about the value of adding ingredients if they can improve the final product. I don't know what an excess of L-cysteine would do, but the quantity you ingest when it's added to bread is so tiny that I think by the time you could taste it you would have added WAY too much for the dough's structural integrity. Modernist Cuisine suggests 0.01% for their buns. I added 0.05% to my pita and thought it was probably too much (when I made MC's buns I though it was too little, so wanted to ramp it up to see what happened).

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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Mjx - while adding oil changes the texture of dough, I don't think it's correct to call it a "relaxer" per se: the oil doesn't affect the structure of the gluten itself, whereas the relaxer actually splits the gluten apart (I think). So you achieve a different texture in the final product as compared to using no relaxer, as well as causing the dough to flow more. It behaves like a higher-hydration dough to some extent, but with a finer crumb.

. . . .

If you ever happen to do a side-by-side of the pita dough with and without the L-cysteine, I'd love to see some pictures of the crumb (I'm kind of hazy as to what makes something classifiable as a dough relaxer, but I can't think of how else to describe the effect of adding fat to a dough, after the flour and fluid are already at least partially combined, since it definitely kills the 'snap', making the dough very supple, and the crumb both soft and friable).

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
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  • 4 years later...

Here we go again! Today's project is puff pastry -- many recipes call for the addition of lemon juice, said to relax the dough. I thought I'd have a go at using the L-Cysteine again in this application instead, and wondered if anyone else has give that a shot? I've had very good results with it in later iterations of the Modernist Cuisine hamburger buns, and since I have a lifetime supply I figure, why not?

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Chris Hennes
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chennes@egullet.org

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have you tried vitamin C aka ascorbic acid ?

 

I've had good results improving the rise of no-knead types.  winter (cool) I go 18 hrs - summer (warmer) 14 hrs.

 

and it's also one of those 'tiny dash on the end of a teaspoon handle' amount things - too much seems to make / keep the bread texture "wet."

I use FruitFresh - a jar per lifetime (g) - I toss it every two years tho.

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Well, I'm six turns in and so far 0.02% L-Cysteine has done its job perfectly, giving a relaxed dough that rolls out very easily and doesn't fight with the butter. Next time I might actually drop to 0.01%, the dough might actually be a bit too slack. We'll see later when I bake it if any problems appear.

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Chris Hennes
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chennes@egullet.org

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And a final update: when used as a crust, 0.02% is a great amount because it makes the finished dough very supple and easy to work with. If you are going to try to form it into anything non-flat, however, it does tend to be a bit too relaxed, and it sags. I'd say 0.01% would probably be a better target for those applications.

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Chris Hennes
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chennes@egullet.org

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I'm probably beating a dead horse, as Phillip already pointed this out, but for the benefit of anyone who might not be clear on the matter, I'd point out that cysteine, being a semi-essential amino acid, is already a common component of the human diet, naturally, from both animal and plant sources. Wheat flour and dairy products already include some cysteine, so adding it as a relaxant would not amount to adding a whole new ingredient to the dough, just changing the amount of that AA in the dough.

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"If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced" - Vincent Van Gogh
 

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  • 3 weeks later...

Also, next time I hear the word "additive," I'm going to hang the person from a nail by their underwear waistband and challenge them to make a distinction between additive and ingredient. What the hell is an additive? 

If your answer has anything to do with whether you can pronounce it or not, I'm not letting you down from the nail.

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Notes from the underbelly

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Is this something that could be useful in softening pizza dough (making it less tough and elastic) without actually weakening the gluten? Making a decent faccimile of a Neapolitan pizza in a home oven is difficult, because baking times are long and the dough cooks through and toughens. Added oils tenderize the dough, weaken the gluten structure so you get smaller, less convincing bubbles.

Notes from the underbelly

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11 hours ago, paulraphael said:

softening pizza dough,,,,

 

you could try sugar - it acts to retain moisture... 

 

we're in the crust-that-snaps-crisp camp - haven't done the sugar thing.  based on other bread experiments, I'd start with one Tbsp per 10 inch pie size.

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12 hours ago, paulraphael said:

Also, next time I hear the word "additive," I'm going to hang the person from a nail by their underwear waistband and challenge them to make a distinction between additive and ingredient. What the hell is an additive? 

If your answer has anything to do with whether you can pronounce it or not, I'm not letting you down from the nail.

 

I always thought that if the presence of a certain ingredient is measured in fractions of a percent, it was classed as an "additive" - so in some of my recipes, that's salt, or baking soda.  I see no issue with adding these things, or L-cysteine if you've got it - it's part of the quest for the best product you can make.

 

Now, when the majority of the ingredients in bread are listed as refined chemicals rather than the basic building blocks of bread, I'm probably not going to buy it.  But I'm not going to condemn the presence of those chemicals either.

Elizabeth Campbell, baking 10,000 feet up at 1° South latitude.

My eG Food Blog (2011)My eG Foodblog (2012)

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17 hours ago, paulraphael said:

Is this something that could be useful in softening pizza dough (making it less tough and elastic) without actually weakening the gluten? Making a decent faccimile of a Neapolitan pizza in a home oven is difficult, because baking times are long and the dough cooks through and toughens. Added oils tenderize the dough, weaken the gluten structure so you get smaller, less convincing bubbles.

It is used industrially for just that purpose, actually, though I'm not sure it's correct to state that it is doing it "without weakening the gluten." L-Cysteine is what's called a "reducing agent," which breaks some of the disulfide bonds in the gluten (and between the gluten molecules). Excruciating detail available here

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Chris Hennes
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chennes@egullet.org

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11 hours ago, Panaderia Canadiense said:

 

I always thought that if the presence of a certain ingredient is measured in fractions of a percent, it was classed as an "additive" - so in some of my recipes, that's salt, or baking soda.  I see no issue with adding these things, or L-cysteine if you've got it - it's part of the quest for the best product you can make.

 

Now, when the majority of the ingredients in bread are listed as refined chemicals rather than the basic building blocks of bread, I'm probably not going to buy it.  But I'm not going to condemn the presence of those chemicals either.

 

So, there are different regulatory definitions of food additive depending on your location in the world. In the U.S., the regulatory definition is given in the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA), section 201(s), as amended in 1958, which defines food additive as "any substance the intended use of which results or may reasonably be expected to result, directly or indirectly, in its becoming a component or otherwise affecting the characteristic of any food (including any substance intended for use in producing, manufacturing, packing, processing, preparing, treating, packaging, transporting, or holding food; and including any source of radiation intended for any such use)." There are exemptions from this regulatory definition, including substances that are afforded the status of GRAS (generally recognized as safe).

 

From a chemical point of view, just in terms of the physical properties of the substances themselves, I've always found it interesting how our food labeling conventions in some ways tend to perpetuate inaccurate conceptions of what foods actually consist of (not at all implying that you have any such inaccurate conceptions, just making a general comment!). So, for instance, I buy a loaf of bread, check the ingredients, see wheat flour listed as the first ingredient, and I naturally tend to think of it as a simple sort of thing, a single, uniform substance. But of course the physical reality is that wheat flour, like almost all biologic materials, is in fact a mind-bogglingly complex stew of hundreds or thousands of individual chemical compounds. If we represented wheat flour the same way we often represent food additives, as individual chemicals, the list would be too large to fit on any package, and the ingredient list would include hundreds of words like anthranilate synthase, ADP-glucose pyrophosphorylase, palmitic acid, isopentenyl pyrophosphate, phosphatidyl ethanolamine, myo-inositol hexaphosphate, β-tocotrienol, and so on. I'm probably veering too far off-topic (if so, please delete this Chris). I definitely understand the elegance and attraction of simplicity of composition, and of using technique rather than chemistry to achieve a result. It's just that this discussion reminded me of the astonishing chemical complexity of biological materials, and how labeling sometimes tends to obscure that complexity.

Edited by Patrick S
acronymization (log)
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"If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced" - Vincent Van Gogh
 

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In my own personal lexicon, which I don't expect anyone else to adopt, I think of additives as anything that isn't fundamental to the flavor of food. So, for example, leavening agents and texture modifiers. In ice cream, I think of egg yolks as additives, because I don't want the flavor of eggs. So when I consider gum-based stabilizers, I don't see them as the addition of an additive; I see them as replacing one additive (eggs, which work in large quantities) with another (gums, which work in tiny quantities). 

 

In this model, an additive isn't a bad thing, but it's something that has the possibility of interfering with the flavor of the main ingredients. So additives that work in smaller quantities, or ones that are by their nature less intrusive, are better. 

 

But these are all just types of ingredients. There is no fundamental problem with an additive, no matter how you want to define it. You can't make a cake without a leavener; you can't thicken sauce without a thickener; you can't cure meats without curing salts, etc. etc..

 

Of course there are crappy additives, just as there are crappy ingredients of every type. They are not crappy by virtue of someone labelling them an additive.

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Notes from the underbelly

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22 hours ago, Chris Hennes said:

It is used industrially for just that purpose, actually, though I'm not sure it's correct to state that it is doing it "without weakening the gluten." L-Cysteine is what's called a "reducing agent," which breaks some of the disulfide bonds in the gluten (and between the gluten molecules). Excruciating detail available here

 

Here's another article, also technical but a little less intimidating, targeted apparently to professional bakers, Dough and Bread Conditioners by Klaus Tengergen.  Worth reading the whole thing, but the particularly relevant paragraph explains:

 

Reducing agents have exactly the opposite effect of oxidizers. They disrupt the disulfide bonds between and within protein molecules, weakening the protein structures. Since the intramolecular disulfide bonds are rapidly "disconnected," the proteins unfold quickly with less mixing. This can also soften the gluten where desired, as in biscuit dough, or can be used in conjunction with a slow-acting oxidizer [e.g., ascorbic acid] to reduce mixing time. The oxidizer rebuilds the disulfide bonds between the now-unfolded proteins; otherwise the dough would become too soft and sticky. The most commonly used reducing agent, L-cysteine, works very quickly. Other reducers include sulfites, which can cause allergic reactions, and reduced glutathione in the form of deactivated yeast.

 

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For those concerned with "additives", dead yeast cells have lots of glutathione which is a protein that is rich in L-Cysteine. This is why a lot of doughs made with poolish, old dough, starter, etc are easier to handle and develop faster. They've got all that dead yeast in them. You can also just buy deactivated yeast to relax your dough, which sounds more "natural". (Or, of course, you can make a really simple sponge just to kill it and get some dead yeast.)

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Professional Baker in Tucson, AZ

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