Changing of the crust

Pizza is an ancient food, born of theneed to find a simple way of enrichingbread to make it more substantial andtastier. Pizza dough and the resultingbaked crust is a member of the flatbreadfamily. However, the most interestingaspect of pizza is its variety. Theuniversal success of pizza is containedwithin a fairly simple formulation andin the many transformations that areaccomplished by simply adding orreplacing one or more components.The number of variations is countless,considering the different toppings,sauces and dough/crust types that canbe combined together. This article willfocus on variations within the baseof the pizza and the wide varieties ofalternative dough/crusts that can beused to produce them.

Think of the many different styles,shapes and procedures used to producepizza crusts and associated pizzaproducts: regional styles such as the St.Louis cracker, New York thin, Neapolitanthin, Sicilian thick, Chicago deep-dish;concepts including take-and-bake, ovenrising,gluten-free; and everything elsein between. Spread ingredients over thetop of dough and you have a pizza; gatheringredients in the center of that dough,fold it in half and you have a calzone; orspread ingredients over the dough, roll itup and you have a stromboli. Numerousready-made flatbreads, such as naan,flour or corn tortillas, par-baked pizzacrusts and English muffins can be toppedlike a pizza and baked. Pocket breadssuch as pita can be topped and bakedlike a pizza, or sliced vertically so thatthe pocket can be opened and filled withtoppings. Ciabatta, focaccia and Frenchbread can be sliced and topped like apizza. Bruschetta (bread that has beensliced, coated with oil and toasted) canalso be used as the base crust for a pizza.

Pizza crusts can be made from a widevariety of milled and whole grains,fibers, seeds and nuts, including wheat,bulgur, spelt, durum, emmer, kamut,amaranth, barley, buckwheat, rye, corn,oats, millet, sorghum, teff, triticale,rice, quinoa (pronounced keen-wha),and assorted seeds and nut meats.They can also be made with a variety ofvegetable matter—caulifl ower, zucchiniand spinach, or tubers (starches) suchas potatoes, cassava, taro, tapioca—andfrom assorted legumes such as favabeans, chickpeas, soybeans, lentils andmany other varieties.

Change Is Good

Some examples of ingredient additionsor substitutions:

Whole-wheat flour can be used toreplace some or all of the regular flourin the formulation. If 100% of the whiteflour is replaced with whole-wheat flour,the resulting crust can be called “wholewheat.”If the texture or flavor is foundto be undesirable at 100% replacement,try substituting only 25% (or higher)of the white flour in the formula (thiscould be called “wheat crust” or “madewith whole-wheat flour” but should notbe called “whole-wheat crust,” sinceonly a portion of the dough is madewith whole-wheat flour). Be aware thatthere are red and white whole-wheatflour varieties available; if the productis referred to as “whole-wheat” flour, it’slikely milled from a red wheat variety.The big difference between red andwhite whole-wheat flour is the flavorthat it adds to the crust. A whole-wheatflour milled from a red wheat varietyused at 100% in the formulation will adda bitter, “off” flavor to the crust fromthe tannin that is present in the whole-wheatflour (similar to tannin found inwine, coffee and tea); crust made withwhole-wheat white flour has a morepleasant flavor with less bitterness dueto the lower tannin content.

​Multigrain blends can also be usedto replace a portion of the regularflour in the formulation, and there’sno standard of identity or rules aboutthe amount that needs to be added tothe dough when it comes to callingsomething “multigrain.” Multigrainblends can also be added to whole-wheatdough. When using multigrain blendsand whole-wheat flour in dough, somesweetness in the finished crust may bepreferred and will help to enhance theflavor of the crust. Honey, molasses,or white or brown sugar can be usedat 3% to 4%, based on the amount offlour that is added to the dough, butaddingsweeteners to pizza dough is amatter of personal preference and isn’tnecessary in order to provide food forthe yeast. The more sweetener that’sadded to a dough system, the more thatthe resulting crust will brown/colorduring baking. If the crust browns tooquickly or excessively during baking,the toppings may not be adequatelybaked/heated and the crust may havean “off” or bitter flavor associated withthe greater amount of browning.

Masa flour provides what is bestdescribed as a corn chip flavor andis especially well-suited for thoseoccasions where a “Tex-Mex” crust flavoris desired. Replace 15% of the regularwhite flour in the batch with yellow,white or blue masa flour. Be sure to usemasa flour and not cornmeal, whichwill not give the same flavor. However,cornmeal can also be used in dough asa partial replacement for flour; again,15% of the total flour is a good startingpoint. This addition works well in thickand deep-dish crusts, like those usedin Chicago-style pizzas. The cornmealcan give the crust an interesting colordifference and offer a unique mouthfeelin the baked crust.

Gluten-Free and High-Fiber

In order to create a gluten-free pizzacrust, tapioca (fl our/starch), sorghum,rice, potato, soybean, fava bean,garbanzo bean and other varietiesof flours can be used in combinationto replace wheat flour. Be aware thatthis will typically mix out like a batterrather than dough and needs to be parbakedin or on a solid pan. Gluten-freecrusts can then be frozen for use later.

Substitute resistant starches for aportion of the regular flour in the doughformulation. This will add fiber withoutthe undesirable taste and mouthfeelthat some types of fibers can impart tothe finished crust. Using an 80%-to-20% fl our-resistant starch blend willmeet the U.S. NLEA requirements fora “good source of fiber” designation,and using a 67%-to-33% flour-resistantstarch blend will allow a “high sourceof fiber” designation.

All of the alternative flours and grainblends mentioned can also be used asdusting flours on the surface of the doughwhen stretching, sheeting or pressingto form the base of the pizza. This willimpart different flavors, textures andappearances in the finished crust.

Chemical leavening agents, such asbaking powders (regular unencapsulatedor special encapsulated versions),as well as combinations of baking soda(sodium bicarbonate) and various acidsources (lemon juice, vinegar, cream oftartar, sodium aluminum phosphate, sodiumacid pyrophosphate, monocalciumphosphate, etc.), can be used as a solesourceleavening system or in combinationwith yeast in a pizza dough. Thisdough can be used to make an ovenrisingfrozen pizza, or to produce a “neverfail” type of take-and-bake crust.

Add-ins and Stand-ins

Crusts can also be made by addingvegetables to the dough—as either acomplete or partial replacement forthe flour in the formula. It will benecessary to decrease the amount ofadded water to the formulation in orderto compensate for the extra water thatthe vegetables will add to the dough.

Cooked spinach can be added topizza dough at a weight of 70% based onthe amount of flour in the formulation(this would be added in addition to theflour, not as a replacement). Addedwater will need to be reduced to zeroor very little.

Mixtures of raw egg, spices andseasonings, shredded cheese, shreddedraw zucchini, cooked cauliflower(riced/shredded) or cooked spinach canbe combined and spread on a greasedor oiled pan and baked as usual to forma crust. Once baked, add sauce and desiredtoppings to the “crust” and returnto the oven or broiler for a few minutesuntil everything is hot and the cheeseis melted.

For a potato-based crust, weigh andcombine twice the amount of mashedpotatoes as compared to self-risingflour, add salt and butter to taste,and mix to form a soft dough. Spreadthe mixture onto a greased or oiledpan and bake as usual. Once baked,add sauce and desired toppings tothe “crust” and return to the ovenor broiler for a few minutes untileverything is hot and the cheese ismelted. Instant mashed potato flakesor potato flour can also be used as a10% replacement for the regular flourin a typical pizza crust formulation.Be aware that an ingredient called“potato starch” functions completelydifferent than potato flour or flakes ina dough system.

Finally, the crust can be replacedaltogether by using cheese to glue thetoppings together. Using a piece ofparchment baking paper on a pan orscreen, arrange desired pizza toppings(i.e., meats and vegetables) evenly overthe paper. Cover the toppings withshredded or diced cheese. Bake asusual until the desired color level anddoneness is achieved. Slice and serveon parchment paper.

A lot of variety can be added to apizza just through the crust alone.So go ahead—be brave! Use some ofthese ideas or brainstorm some of yourown and start experimenting withalternative crusts.

Jeff Zeak is the pilot plant managerfor the American Institute ofBaking (AIB).Visit the PMQ DoughInformation Center ( to read an expanded versionof this article that includes crust formulations.