Flour power

I’m sure that, by now, most of you have wondered if the price of flourwill ever come back down again. For many of us, it can’t come down fastenough. Our bottom lines aren’t just hurting; they’re in serious trouble.With the escalating price of cheese, meats, and now tomatoes and freshvegetables, flour seems to be the only ingredient that we have any sense ofcontrol (however remote) over. We can shop around for better flour prices,and we can occasionally pick up a good buy at a club store but, for the mostpart, even these prices have gone right through the proverbial roof.

I know that many of you are looking to sidestep flour costs by usingsome other type of flour. The bad news is, you can’t blend other typesof flour into your wheat flour to come up with a lower-cost alternative.

However, you can very effectively blend any number of different typesof flours into your wheat fl our to make some truly unique pizza crustswith different flavor and textural properties from your regular white flourcrusts, and charge more for these.

Before making any hasty plans to switch, we need to have a fullunderstanding of the flour that we presently use. Wheat flour is a ratherunique product in that it is made up of several different groups of proteins,two of which are vitally important to the making of pizza. These proteingroups are glutenin and gliadin. When hydrated with water and agitated(mixed), they produce the structure-forming material in our dough, whichwe call gluten. Gluten is the material that holds dough together, allowingit to be sheeted, pressed, stretched and tossed without coming apart. Italso contributes to the bite, or chewiness, of the baked pizza. As you cansee, it is responsible for many of the characteristics that we take forgranted in a pizza crust.

Looking at Alternatives

Other grains also contain these specific gluten-forming proteins, butthey are present in such a low quantity that they make even forming doughsomewhat problematic, not to mention trying to shape it. These cerealgrains are rye, barley, and the wheat-rye cross, triticale. While rye flourcan be used to make pizza, the rye dough is very sticky and weak, makingit difficult to handle or shape—and keep in mind that rye flourof any type is in extremely short supply, and the price is aboutdouble of wheat flour.

Semolina flour is another kind of fl our that has gluten-formingproteins, but the type of gluten derived from durumflour is extremely tight, not very elastic or stretchable. Thischaracteristic makes for dough that is difficult to shape well,and has a lot of memory. Also, after baking, this flour canimpart extreme toughness to the finished crust. Again, as luckwould have it, semolina flour is in tight supply, reflected by itsprice—nearly double that of a regular high-protein wheat flour.

Barley flour contains gluten-forming proteins, but againthe level of gluten-forming protein is so low that the resultingdoughs are extremely weak and sticky, plus, as you mightexpect, the cost is significantly higher than even our mostcostly wheat flours.

Doing the Math

When making a blended flour crust, you canadd any of the nonwheat fl ours at replacementlevels of up to 25% of the total wheat flour, soif you were using 50 pounds of wheat flour,you could replace up to 12.5 pounds of it withone or more of these other fl our types to producea uniquely flavored crust.

Some available non-wheat flours are:

  • Triticale
  • Durum semolina
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Buckwheat
  • Corn flour
  • Rice flour
  • Quinoa
  • Amaranth

Others that can be incorporated into the doughformulation to provide uniquely flavored crustsor crusts with a “healthy” or exotic-sounding appealinclude:

  • Flaxseed meal
  • Soy flour
  • Sorghum flour
  • Oat flour
  • Spelt flour

Something to keep in mind when adding anyof these products: They will exhibit anaffinity for water in much the sameway that the flour does; in manycases, it may actually be greaterthan that of flour. A good wayto check for this (to determinehow much water will need tobe added to the dough) isto place a known quantity,such as 10 ounces, of thenonwheat flour materialinto a small bowl, then add5 ounces of water and stir until the water is mixed into thematerial. If the resulting paste is too thick and/or too dry, addanother ounce of water and stir in. Continue doing this untilthe material looks to be well-hydrated, and allow the mix tohydrate for 60 minutes; then check it again for consistencyand add more water if necessary. Remember to allow thematerial to hydrate again for another hour before checking itfor correct hydration.

When the material has the consistency of very thick oatmeal,it is properly hydrated. You can calculate the absorptionpercent by dividing the weight of water added by the weightof the nonwheat flour used, and then multiplying by 100. Forexample, if you started with 10 ounces of nonwheat material,and you ended up adding 7 ounces of water before it was fullyhydrated, you would divide 7 by 10 and multiply by 100—inthis case, 70% absorption. To use this in calculating yourdough absorption, you would multiply the white fl our weightby 0.56 to fi nd the correct absorption for that portion of theflour blend, and then you would multiply the nonwheat flourweight by 0.70 to find the correct absorption for that portionof the flour blend. Add up the two weights and you will havethe correct amount of water to add to the dough with thatparticular flour blend.

Other Considerations

When formulating dough to include any of these nonwheatflours, it is a good idea to experiment a little on small-size batchesto determine what changes might be needed to complement thenonwheat flour. For example, in many cases we find that anincrease in sweetness may be beneficial. In this case, the typeof sugar used, such as honey, brown sugar, molasses or maltsyrup, could be an important consideration, as it can influencethe flavor of the crust, as well as the perceived sweetness or eventhe perception of healthful, rustic or natural to the consumer.Occasionally, we also find that the use of butter, margarineor butter-flavored oil (instead of the traditional olive oil) canhave a significant impact upon the flavor of these crusts. Thisis especially true when flaxseed meal, oat flour, barley flour orsoy flour is used.

Another consideration when using a wheat and nonwheatflour blend: The dough will be somewhat weakerthan a normal white flour dough. This means thatthe dough mixing time will probably be less. In thiscase, be sure to mix the dough just until a smoothdough appearance is achieved, and then takethe dough directly to the bench for scaling andballing. To use the dough on the same day, putthe dough into plastic dough boxes and lightlyoil the tops of the dough balls, then stack andnest the boxes and allow them to set at roomtemperature for 90 minutes before formingthe dough balls into pizza skins. For a moretraditional, overnight refrigerated storageof the dough, cross-stack the filled doughboxes in the cooler for 90 minutes, andthen down-stack the boxes and nest them toprevent drying. Allow the dough to remain in thecooler for 18 to 24 hours. To use the dough, removea quantity of dough sufficient for a three-hour period of time,and place at room temperature to temper for 2 hours. Thenbegin shaping into dough skins. The dough will remain goodto use over the next three hours. Any unused dough may beopened into skins, placed onto screens and held in the coolerfor several hours until needed for making pizzas. Due to theweakness of these doughs, it is not recommended that they beheld in the cooler for more than one day.

When making a pizza with any of these crusts, you may alsoneed to experiment with the baking time. Since these crusts willbe more dense than your regular white flour crusts, they shouldbe allowed to bake for a slightly longer time, ideally at a lowertemperature (450° to 500°F), assuming you’re using a deckoven—but, in most cases, for practical purposes, we will wantto keep the oven settings the same as we use for our regularpizza production. If this is the case, consider baking thesespecial pizzas on a screen or a baking disk in your deck oven,as this will allow for a longer baking time without burning thepizza, and then “deck” the pizza for the last 45 to 60 seconds ofbaking. (“Decking” involves removing the pizza from the screenor disk and placing it directly on the oven hearth to further crispit.) If you use an air impingement oven, you may only need toextend the baking time by 30 to 60 seconds to correct for thedenser, heavier dough characteristic. To effectively accomplishthis, you might be able to slow down one side of your conveyorif you have a split conveyor, or, as most operators do, simplypush the pizza back into the oven as it exits for the additionalbaking time (though this is sometimes easier said than done,especially on a busy Friday or Saturday night).

While none of these approaches will help you to reduce thecost of your flour, they may help you to develop some newor different offerings that will command a better price, thushelping your bottom line. Or the right combination mightappeal to a different group of customers that you didn’tpreviously attract, thus further building your customer base,which should also help. In these trying times, we need all thehelp we can get with those bottom-line numbers.

Tom Lehmann is the director of bakery assistance for theAmerican Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas.