Pizza is one of my favorite food groups. Whether it’s served hot or cold, it soothes my stomach and my soul. To imagine not being able to enjoy this treat is hard to think about, but many with celiac disease fully understand. Of course, it’s generally not the sauce, cheese or various toppings that worry you, though of course there is always a great risk of cross-contamination to be considered with all of those things. It’s that small problem with the base of any pizza, the crust.
I see many pizza shops offering gluten-free pizzas to customers. Even when the crust is gluten free, where the pizza is assembled and how and where it is baked can be a potential factor for causing digestive issues. Most pizza shops that offer a gluten-free crust are probably purchasing the crust from a gluten-free manufacturer. How that manufacturer makes the product might vary somewhat, but many use machines to produce tens of thousands of items per batch.
What about making your own pizza dough? I make my gluten-free crust similar to gluten-free bread, with extra hydration to allow for better absorption qualities within the flour blend. The dough should be wet enough to allow for ease in scooping out onto the parchment-lined tray or by shaping via a pastry bag.
If there is excess moisture, it can be eliminated by using guar or xanthan gum. Remember to start with approximately ¼ to ½ teaspoon of gum per 1 to 2 cups of flour. You want to mix using a paddle, to intentionally beat in some air along with producing a smooth and somewhat thick batter. Additional batter strength can be achieved by replacing up to ¼ of the total liquid with liquid egg whites. As far as adding oil to the crust, consider brushing it on the surface when the assembled pizza is about to be cooked or immediately after removing from the oven.
As far as proofing the dough goes, make a sponge pre-ferment before mixing the complete crust mixture. That way, you can get a lot of fermented flavor into the mixture, and if you happen to let it proof too much, the remaining ingredients added in should start the proofing cycle again. As a general rule of thumb, I’d take up to ⅓ of the total flour from the recipe, use it in the sponge, mixed with up to half of the total yeast from the recipe and hydrate that flour with an equal amount of water (from the entire recipe). So if the full recipe calls for 3 cups of flour, use one cup of it in the sponge. Use the suggested amount of yeast with that one cup of flour, then hydrate it with one cup of warm water. The mixture will be very wet, so cover the top of the sponge with some of the remaining flour from the entire recipe, forming a crust-type flour covering. The sponge is “proofed” when the flour covering is breaking open from the yeast action inside of the sponge. At that point, mix the sponge with all remaining ingredients. Scoop or pipe out the shape onto a lightly oiled parchment-lined tray or pan. Proof for 20 minutes, then partly bake the crust.
The oven need not be super hot (350° F), but bake until some color is formed. Remove from the oven, and gently and quickly flip the crust over so the firmer crust texture surface that was on the bottom is now on the top. Once cooled, proceed to top with your favorite sauce, cheeses and assorted toppings.
Don’t forget to brush the outer crust edge with your favorite infused olive oil, consider a nice micro-brewed gluten-free beverage and save some slices for your friends and family.
Richard Coppedge Jr. is an award-winning chef and professor of baking and pastry arts at The Culinary Institute of America. He is the author of Gluten-Free Baking with The Culinary Institute of America: 150 Flavorful Recipes from the World’s Premier Culinary College and Baking for Special Diets.