For Ryan Pollnow, co-owner of Flour + Water Pizzeria in San Francisco, gluten-free pizzas were always a must for the menu—after all, his sister and mother both have celiac disease. It was just a matter of nailing down the dough recipe to his exacting specifications.

The time has come now, with a gluten-free Sicilian-style pizza debuting on the menu on Monday, June 3. “I have a mission to do gluten-free here,” Pollnow told Eater San Francisco. “We want it to be as good as the regular pizza, not ‘pretty good for gluten-free.’ I just want it to be delicious.”

In PMQ’s January-February 2024 cover story on Flour + Water Pizzeria, Pollnow and partner Thomas McNaughton described themselves as “dough nerds.” So it’s no surprise that considerable thought, time and effort went into their gluten-free base for the Sicilian pie, which was developed with chef de cuisine Elliott Armstrong.

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It starts with a gluten-free flour from Caputo, with more sugar added, less salt, a lot more yeast and “numerous other tinkerings,” food writer Paolo Bicchieri reported for Eater San Francisco.

“Gratefully, their efforts paid off,” Bicchieri continued. “The pepperoni has huge crunch and shatter on the blistery crust. The sponginess and spring are ideal. There’s lots of give in the crust. Since there’s more room, the compression from each bite combos with the crust’s crunch for a sharper contrast.”

Bicchieri was so impressed, he noted that Water + Flour Pizzeria’s gluten-free Sicilian is “not just the pizza for weirdos or those with autoimmune diseases like your boy. It’s a different, just as good, preferential order. The caramelizing on the carriage is as good as I’ve ever had—sorry, Grandma Floy. Unlike my mom’s mom’s pies, the crust is not gummy or cracker-y. There’s certainly a focaccia-esque structure.”

Pollnow said the demand for gluten-free food has “become more normal. Every night people ask for it. Dairy-free is the next mission.”

Testing and tinkering are the standard MO for dough at Flour + Water Pizzeria. In PMQ’s January-February cover story, McNaughton described the thought and care that went into crafting a traditional Neapolitan pizza that would taste as good coming out of a delivery box as it would straight from the oven. For starters, he said, “Through a lot of experimentation, we landed on a deck oven, which immediately brought us away from wood-fired. But we still like a high char. We believe very strongly in bulk fermentation and incorporate a poolish into it. And we believe in that deck-oven bake and slowing down the bake time. We’re roughly at a six-minute bake in a 600° oven. We’ve incorporated olive oil into the dough to allow for a little more texture as it bakes. And we like a slow [three- or four-day] fermentation for depth of flavor.”

McNaughton continued: “We also add what we like to call ‘cheese in the middle.’ Our red-sauce pizzas have a layer of shaved dry mozzarella on the base, then it’s topped with raw-milled tomato sauce, and we put our fresh fior di latte on top of that. That’s a really important step, because that aged cheese allows for a little more oven spring. It doesn’t allow the sauce to get saturated into the dough itself. And then it’s another layer of seasoning. Ryan and I come from chef backgrounds, and we really look at each pizza as we would look at a dish.”

But McNaughton and Pollnow still weren’t finished. They conducted about 18 different tests on the base recipe, trying out different flours and experimenting with hydration levels. Satisfied with the results at last, they custom-designed hot-hold cabinets for their delivery pies. “As soon as that pizza comes out of the oven, it hits a stainless-steel rack for 10 seconds, allowing a little heat to be removed from the bottom. That helps with the sog factor. Then it goes into a box that’s held in a cabinet that we helped design.”

Food & Ingredients