Week Twenty-One: Gluten-Free Breads
If I ever were to be diagnosed with celiac disease, I think one of the hardest things to give up would be pizza. That wonderful meal in itself, that glory of delivery foods, pizza is a crowd-pleasing mainstay of the American diet. It’s even a bit comforting to have one in the freezer, just so you know you’ll always have dinner in an emergency, should all else fail. And while it’s certainly convenient to have it delivered, there’s simply no match for fresh, from-scratch pizza. You can even buy the dough ready made from any number of sources, but it’s so easy to throw together (and so much better and cheaper!), I’m not sure why you’d bother.
For those unfortunate celiacs, there is little choice but to purchase pre-made frozen pizzas of dubious quality, or to craft your own using a list of arcane ingredients that sound better suited to a laboratory than a kitchen. True, there are restaurants that offer gluten-free foods, but they are few and far between, and even fewer of them offer pizza.
It’s not exactly a matter of simply throwing some flour and water together in the proper proportions, adding yeast, waiting a while, and voila, pizza! The consistency needs to be spot on – too liquid, and you’ll be eating wafers instead of pizza; too dry, and you’ll be rinsing sawdust out of your mouth. Besides, who has time to wade through the myriad recipes out there, especially when one celiac’s “best recipe, honest” is another’s “how can you eat that without gagging”? And it’s not like gluten-free ingredients are cheap to experiment with, either. Have you seen the price of xanthan gum? Crazy!
So I can’t exactly offer you an alternative to the bizarro ingredient list, but I can offer you a recipe that doesn’t do a half bad job of mimicking a wheat-flour crust. The dough is kind of insane; the consistency is somewhere between cake batter and cookie dough. The recipe directed me to press the dough into shape with oiled fingers, but my dough ended up too sticky for even that. I ended up having to use a spatula (a cake frosting spatula would be perfect, but I couldn’t be bothered to find mine at the time). Now that I think about it, that’s what the dough consistency is like: cake frosting.
Another unusual thing about this recipe is the baking process. Unlike wheat-flour crusts, which are generally topped while uncooked, then baked, these crusts are baked, then topped, and heated again quickly to finish. This means that if you like, you can freeze a couple of pre-baked crusts for a fast dinner at a later date.
The dough, though a bit tricky to deal with in shaping, baked into a convincing facsimilie of a wheat-flour crust. I detected no strange or off flavors, and the crust turned out nicely crisp, with a slightly chewy center. I’m not going to say it was the best pizza crust I’ve ever made, but it certainly passed muster with the three discerning (non-celiac) foodies who enjoyed it for dinner. It mostly reminded me of one of the better frozen pizzas I’ve ever tried.
As for toppings, I say don’t be shy. This recipe doesn’t make quite as much crust as a comparable wheat flour recipe might, so one batch won’t be as filling, and toppings will help stretch it (as it were). Besides, one cure for a less-than-perfect crust is to pile on as much flavor as possible, and this crust could use a little boost in the flavor department.
I topped one of my pizzas with a ricotta-olive oil mixture, yellow tomatoes, and basil, to let the flavor of the crust come through, and to be able to judge it properly. That one ended up tasting a bit flat, though, and I used a heavy hand with the crushed red pepper at the table. The other was topped with the same ricotta mixture, fig jam, caramelized fennel, and green onions. That one was a much better combination, as the fig jam perfectly accentuated the slight sweetness of the crust. If I may be so bold, I highly recommend using a sweeter set of toppings, accentuated with big flavors: caramelized anything, pears with walnuts and blue cheese, cured olives with garlic jam, etc. Think big, and let the crust take a back seat.
I think with some experimentation, this recipe could be a real winner. You could add more salt to the dough to give it more punch, but keep in mind that salt retards yeast activity, so add a little more yeast, or let it rise for a longer time. Additional honey would not be out of place either, but take care to adjust for the extra liquid, and decrease the amount of water or milk. As is, this recipe won’t replace my go-to wheat-flour recipe; but if that’s not an option for you, this is certainly a good starting place. Honestly, if I didn’t know it was gluten-free, I would’ve been fooled myself!
Gluten-Free Pizza Crust
Adapted from Epicurious.com
Makes two 10 inch pizzas
3/4 cup tapioca flour (or starch)
1/2 cup white rice flour
1/3 cup chickpea (or gram) flour
1/3 cup sorghum flour
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1/2 cup warm milk (115° to 130° F)
1/4 cup warm water (115° to 130° F)
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
1. Preheat oven and baking stone, if using, to 400° F. If you don’t have a baking stone, heat a large baking sheet turned upside-down with the oven. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the flours, xanthan gum, and salt. Whisk in the yeast.
2. Combine the honey and olive oil with the warm milk and water, and stir until the honey is dissolved. Add to the flour mixture in the bowl. Add only one of the egg whites, and mix with the paddle attachment until incorporated, scraping the bowl if necessary. If the mixture is dry and crumbly, add the remaining egg white by teaspoons until the consistency resembles cake frosting. Continue to beat at medium speed until dough is smooth, about 5 minutes, scraping bowl down as needed.
3. Lay out two 12 inch pieces of parchment paper. Scrape half of the dough onto each piece. Using a nonstick or oiled spatula, spread each half into a 10 inch round, as thinly and evenly as possible. Loosely cover dough with oiled plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm spot until puffy and risen slightly, about 30 to 40 minutes.
4. Using a peel or a rimless baking sheet, transfer each crust on the parchment to the preheated baking stone, and bake until the top is firm and underside is crisp, about 5 to 10 minutes. Remove baked crusts to a wire rack to cool slightly, while preparing toppings. (Crusts may be cooked in batches.)
5. Top baked crusts as desired. Brush edges of crust with olive oil, if desired. Transfer topped crusts to a large baking sheet, and bake pizzas until toppings are heated through and crust is golden brown, 4 to 8 minutes.
1. Be careful to use white rice flour, since brown rice flour will produce a gritty texture.
2. White rice flour, tapioca flour (or starch), sorghum flour, and xanthan gum can be found in specialty food or natural food stores. I found them all at Whole Foods. Chickpea (or gram) flour can be found at the same, or in an Indian/Asian food store.
3. I found that the crust “aged” on the plate and held its crunch better the thinner it was, so spread the dough as thinly as possible. If you like a thicker crust, you can leave it thicker; but I advise you to let it rise for longer, so you get a fluffier and less dense texture.
4. Take care with toppings, as many ingredients (such as pepperoni, many pre-grated cheeses, and sauces) can contain gluten. Ricotta is generally considered safe; however, it’s always a good idea to double check the ingredient lists.
5. Baked crusts can be made ahead and frozen, wrapped tightly, up to 1 month. Bake unthawed in a 350° F oven until hot, 4 to 5 minutes, before topping and finishing.