Pizza is a beloved food for many, but those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity often have to avoid traditional pizza made with wheat flour. Using gluten-free flour to make pizza dough can allow those with gluten restrictions to enjoy pizza again, but there are some important differences to understand about how these alternative flours impact the end result.
What is gluten and why does it matter in pizza dough?
Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. It provides elasticity to dough, allowing it to stretch and create a chewy texture in baked goods. Gluten also helps dough trap gas bubbles from yeast, allowing pizza crust to rise and take on an airy, soft interior beneath a crispy exterior.
Traditional pizza dough is made from wheat flour, which contains gluten. When mixed with water, the gluten forms a network that creates structure and strength in the dough. It enables the dough to be stretched thinly without tearing, which is essential for creating a round pizza crust. The gluten matrix also allows the dough to expand when gas bubbles form from the yeast, leading to a light and airy interior crumb.
Gluten free flours lack this protein, so dough and baked goods made from them can end up heavier and denser with a tendency to crumble or fall apart easily. This poses a challenge when trying to make a gluten free pizza crust that can hold toppings and maintain the typical pizza shape and texture.
Common types of gluten free flours
There are a variety of gluten free grain and starch flours used to substitute for regular wheat flour in pizza dough and other baked recipes. Here are some of the most common:
- Rice flour: Made from finely milled rice. It provides starch but no protein or elasticity. Often used as a base in gluten free baking along with other flours and starches.
- Tapioca flour: Derived from the cassava root. Another starchy flour with little protein. Can add chewiness to baked goods.
- Chickpea flour: Made from ground chickpeas. Contains some protein to help bind dough but not as much as wheat flour. Adds nutty flavor.
- Potato starch: Adds moisture and soft texture to baked goods like bread. Not able to form much structure on its own.
- Cornstarch: Pure starch derived from corn. Used to lighten texture and hold moisture in gluten free baking. Flavorless.
- Almond flour: Made from finely ground almonds. Higher in protein and fat than other flour substitutes. Adds nutty flavor and texture.
Using a combination of these flours can help mimic some of the properties of gluten and produce improved results in pizza dough and other baked recipes. But the protein and starch composition will still be quite different from wheat flour.
Challenges of using gluten free flour for pizza dough
When using alternative gluten free flours to make pizza dough, several challenges can arise:
- Less structure and elasticity – Without gluten, the dough is much more delicate and prone to tearing when stretched out into a crust.
- Dense or crumbly texture – Gluten free dough won’t develop the same chewy, airy interior texture. The crumb can be dense or crumble easily.
- Difficulty getting dough thin enough – Lack of flexibility and strength means it’s harder to roll or stretch the dough thinly without it breaking apart.
- Problems with rising – The absence of gluten inhibits the dough’s ability to trap gas bubbles and rise effectively.
- Crumbling when transferred – Dough can break apart easily when picked up to transfer onto a baking sheet or pizza peel.
- Dry, gritty texture – Some gluten free flours high in starch result in a dough that bakes up dry or gritty in texture.
- Off tastes – Flours like chickpea can impart other flavors not typical in regular pizza dough.
Dealing with these potential issues requires using specific techniques and ingredients to produce the best possible gluten free pizza crust.
Solutions for improving gluten free pizza dough
It takes some trial and error, but there are ways to adapt recipes and methods to make tasty gluten free pizza with a crust that can approximate the texture and flavor of traditional pizza:
- Use a flour blend – Combining several gluten free flours like rice, tapioca, sorghum and potato starch can improve dough structure and texture over any single flour on its own.
- Add eggs or dairy – Ingredients like eggs, yogurt or milk powder contribute protein and fat for a softer, chewier crumb that holds together better.
- Increase leavening agents – More baking powder or yeast helps give lift to the dough in absence of gluten’s rising effects. But too much can make crust taste bitter.
- Use xanthan gum – This additive mimics the stretchy, sticky properties of gluten to improve binding and structure. Start with 1/2 to 1 teaspoon per cup of flour.
- Let dough rest before shaping – Allowing it to relax makes dough easier to stretch without tearing. Can also improve cohesion.
- Work carefully when shaping – Roll between two sheets of parchment to prevent sticking and tearing. Use minimal flour for dusting.
- Par-bake empty crust first – Helps firm up the structure before weighing down with toppings to prevent sagging.
- Use a pizza stone or steel – The heavy, hot surface crisps up the bottom of the crust nicely to improve texture.
How different gluten free flours change dough properties
The specific gluten free flours used in the dough recipe impact the properties and workability of the dough, as well as the flavor and texture of the baked crust:
- Very fine, powdery texture
- Flavorless and hypoallergenic
- Crisps up nicely when baked
- Absorbs a lot of liquid
- Additive that on its own can make dense dough
- Sandier texture than other flours
- Nutty, beany flavor
- Protein helps binding but not stretchiness
- Adds moisture
- Can make dough taste too bean-flavored
- Very starchy so soaks up moisture
- Chewy texture
- Can improve binding but causes grittiness
- Adds structure but needs other flours
- No protein so can’t replace eggs/dairy
- Coarser consistency with some grit
- Provides protein and binding ability
- Imparts almond flavor
- Holds more moisture than other grain flours
- Higher fat content than other flours
Finding the right balance of these gluten free flours along with binding ingredients like xanthan gum and eggs can help create a pizza dough that rolls out smoothly and bakes up with good rise and structure.
Setting appropriate expectations
Even with the best techniques, a gluten free pizza dough will usually have a different texture and appearance from a traditional wheat crust. Being prepared for the following differences can help set realistic expectations:
- Dough may seem much more delicate and require gentle handling
- Structure will likely be more dense and compact
- Crust may bake up thinner than usual
- Edge may not develop a crunchy “lip” like wheat crust
- Flavor can be more neutral or bean/nut-influenced from flour ingredients
- Texture tends to be more dense and sandy rather than chewy
- Crumb can crumble easier and not hold up well to big toppings
With the right mindset, you can still achieve very tasty gluten free pizza. The crust just requires an extra level of care in preparation and may be somewhat different than what wheat-based dough produces.
Gluten free pizza dough recipes
When starting out, look for tested recipes developed specifically for gluten free pizza dough. Here are some reliable examples to try:
Chickpea Pizza Crust
This recipe relies on chickpea flour along with eggs and olive oil for binding and texture. The chickpea flavor comes through but in a pleasant way. Adding baking powder gives it some lift.
- 1 1/2 cups chickpea flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 cup warm water
- Whisk together the chickpea flour, salt, eggs, olive oil, and baking powder
- Add the warm water and stir to form a thick, sticky batter
- Let batter rest for 10 minutes, then spread into a parchment-lined pizza pan and bake at 425°F for 12-15 minutes
- Remove pre-baked crust and add desired toppings before returning to oven 5 more minutes
Gluten Free Pizza Crust Mix
This blend of flours and starches makes an all-purpose mix for gluten free pizza doughs. The pre-mixed flour takes the guesswork out of combining your own.
- 1 1/2 cups gluten free pizza crust mix
- 3/4 cup warm water
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
- In a bowl, combine the yeast, sugar and warm water. Let activate for 5 minutes
- Mix in gluten free crust mix, olive oil and oregano until a dough forms
- Knead dough for 2 to 3 minutes until smooth
- Let rest in an oiled bowl for 30 minutes, then roll out between parchments
- Transfer dough to pizza pan and par-bake for 10 minutes at 450°F before adding toppings
Cauliflower Pizza Crust
For a vegetable-based crust, try this recipe using grated cauliflower, egg, cheese and Italian seasoning. The cauliflower provides needed moisture without the grit of flours.
- 4 cups grated cauliflower
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
- 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- Grate cauliflower florets through a box grater or food processor
- Place in microwave safe bowl, cover and microwave for 5 minutes until soft
- Let cauliflower cool then stir in egg, cheeses and seasonings
- Transfer mixture to a parchment-lined pizza pan, flattening into a crust
- Bake at 450°F for 10 to 15 minutes before removing and adding toppings
Gluten free pizza crust tips
It can take some experimentation to master gluten free pizza dough. Keep these tips in mind for the best results:
- Let dough rest after mixing – Gives time for flours to fully hydrate for easier stretching
- Use parchment paper when rolling out dough – Prevents sticking and tearing
- Add toppings gently – Pile on too many and heavy toppings can make crust collapse
- Bake on a pizza stone – Crisps up crust evenly from bottom; use cornmeal to prevent sticking
- Pre-bake empty crust first – Helps set structure before weighing down with cheese/sauce
- Brush crust edges with oil or milk – Encourages browning and prevents drying out
- Consider vegan cheese – Often melts better than dairy-based cheeses onto gluten free crust
- Troubleshoot unsuccessful results – Adjust hydation, ingredients, shaping or baking temp/time
Ready to try gluten free pizza?
While it requires some extra care and an open mind about differences in texture, impressive gluten free pizza is absolutely achievable at home. With information on ingredients, techniques and recipes in hand, you can start experimenting with your own gluten free crusts. Troubleshoot any issues that come up, embrace little quirks in the results, and most importantly – enjoy the delicious pizza you worked hard to create!