Pizza is a fantastic and delicious food, but lately more and more people are discovering that they are sensitive to gluten. Quite a few customers have asked us about gluten-free pizzas, and more specifically how they cook in the Pizzeria Pronto. We figured it was about time we shed some light on the subject.
What is Gluten?
To put it simply, gluten is a substance formed by the mixing of two proteins. A result of combining flour and water, gluten helps add structure to baked goods. When you make pizza dough, gluten is developed both by adding water to flour, and by mixing and resting the two using a specific method. How effective your mixing technique is can have a direct effect on how much gluten your dough develops, and in turn how well your dough performs.
Who is Affected by Gluten
Studies show that many people who are sensitive to gluten don’t even know it until they remove it from their diet. From a medical standpoint, there are two types: those who are sensitive, and those who are allergic. Those with sensitivities merely want to avoid gluten to avoid discomfort such as an upset stomach or joint pain. However those with a gluten allergy have much more serious reactions like damage to the digestive system, chronic fatigue, and anemia. Almost everyone I've spoken with from either category has one thing in common, they all love (and miss) pizza.
So if you're avoiding gluten, what ingredients can be used to make your pizza? Fortunately for you and everyone else left out in the cold, there’s an ever-growing list of flours made from ingredients that don’t contain gluten. Some of these flours include:
- Almond Flour
- Coconut Flour
- White Rice Flour
- Brown Rice Flour
- Sorghum Flour
- Millet Flour
- Garbanzo Bean Flour
Each type of flour has its own unique flavor, texture, and ability to perform when used to make pizza dough. Many times a single flour isn't enough to make a pizza crust by itself. Something that’s increasing in popularity is the gluten-free pizza crust. These typically include a mix of two or more of the gluten-free flours listed above, plus some additional ingredients for texture and flavor. Some of the additives (a.k.a. “dough conditioners”) are:
- Xanthan Gum
- Tapioca Starch
- Potato Starch
- Guar Gum
Unless you’re an experienced gluten-free baker, you may want to purchase a gluten-free pizza crust mix out of convenience. It's easier, cheaper, and can help you get a feel for gluten-free baking before venturing into a recipe. Gluten-free crust mixes are usually formulated with a fair amount of R&D by companies with a lot of experience baking.
To Par-Bake or Not to Par-Bake
Most recipes will call for you to par-bake the dough before assembling your pizza. Par-baking is simply putting the crust into the oven to cook it (halfway or less) without any toppings on it. This is done to ensure the middle of the crust doesn't end up doughy or undercooked. Because they’re made with non-traditional ingredients, gluten-free pizza crusts sometimes need a head start of 10 to 20 minutes baking before toppings and cheese come into play.
How to Bake Gluten-Free Pizzas with the Pizzeria Pronto
So what do you do differently to successfully cook gluten-free pizzas in the Pizzeria Pronto? Well, since the Pronto was designed around baking a standard pizza using raw dough, the first thing you should do is follow the par-baking instructions for your crust. While this step can be done in the pizza oven, it can be easier to maintain the lower temperatures used to par bake in your kitchen oven. Let your home oven to do most of the work to set you up to successfully finish the pizzas on the fly for your hungry guests.
Par-baked crusts are easier to handle after they’re half-cooked. Par-baking your gluten-free crusts will also allow you to achieve the fast 5-7 minute cooking time with the Pronto. Half-cooked crusts can also be frozen and defrosted at a later date so you can keep a stock in your freezer for convenience. It can help to run your pizza oven a little lower than normal. I recommend 500-600°F, instead of the usual 700-900°F. Your pizza will most likely take longer than 5 minutes to bake, but with a little experimentation you’ll find the perfect time and temperature combination.
Consider using heat-safe parchment paper and a pizza screen. Gluten-free dough can be sticky and harder to handle than traditional dough. Preparing pizza on a sheet of parchment paper will allow you to easily slide the pizza onto the peel and into the oven. Be sure to trim off any excess parchment paper that hangs over the edge, so it doesn't burn. A pizza screen is a good tool to use if you need to slow down the rate at which the bottom crust cooks. I've noticed with most gluten-free recipes, the bottom browns much quicker while the interior of the dough needs a bit more time to cook through. It's a good idea to screen your gluten-free pizza 40-60 seconds into the baking process.
The Taste Test
For the grand finale, we decided to taste test a few gluten-free brands. All of the dough made was par-baked according to instructions (approximately 10 minutes at 400°F) and finished with the Pizzeria Pronto to see which performed best. Let’s take a look at the results (with comments from our staff):
- Bella Gluten-Free Pizza Dough Mix: This mix had interesting flavor, but had some strange things going on in the texture department. Some said it was cake-like, while others said it used too much tapioca. It was the most “flavorful” crust, as it had additional herbs and spices. Some people enjoy flavored dough, but we preferred the more neutral crusts. Cooking time was about 6 minutes in the Pizzeria Pronto.
- Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Pizza Crust Mix: This mix was similar to the Bella gluten-free crust, but had a more normal and true “pizza flavor.” We liked the texture and the flavor better than Bella’s. Both this and the Bella mix use eggs as a binder. While the eggs helped with structure, they do present a potential allergen problem for some people. Cooking time was also just over 6 minutes in the Pizzeria Pronto.
- Pamela’s Gluten-Free Pizza Crust Mix: This dough mix was the standout winner of the three mixes that we tried. Not only was it crispier (due to a higher ratio of rice flour) but it also cooked faster. The only downside to this mix was that it was the hardest to work with when forming the pizza. This pizza cooked in a record 3 minutes 40 seconds in the Pizzeria Pronto.
- Finally, we tested a flatbread recipe from Danielle Walker’s “Against All Grain” grain-free paleo diet cookbook. This was the simplest of all the dough we tried, with only 5 ingredients. There was something about the simplicity of this crust that made it delicious; so much so that many of us preferred the taste over any of the mixes.
While this was our first in-depth test of gluten-free pizzas, I have a strong feeling it won’t be our last. Do you have any gluten-free pizza experience with the Pizzeria Pronto? If so, please let us know!