Wednesday 5 October 2011

{Ratio Rally} Ratios by the slice

The cool weather arrived a few days ago as abruptly as the turn of a calendar page. Normally I'd welcome the smell of crisp morning air, watching the leaves turn gorgeous shades of orange, but that day it just felt too soon. Too fleeting. Almost as if I'd been expecting late summer to somehow stretch on indefinitely - as though the hypnotic ebb-and-flow of cicada song and rasping crickets had taken the place of clocks and calendars, placing time on hiatus like one long, lazy afternoon suspended in amber. I found myself daydreaming about that lingering summer, my mind drifting to romanticized images of some idyllic place; closer, probably, to one of Van Gogh's Provençal landscapes than to any actual place I could visit. Images of the late-afternoon sun slanting across golden fields and hilly vineyards and row upon row of lavender...

Yes, I suppose I do daydream quite a bit. My cooking and baking are often expressions of those daydreams - whereas some people may flip through travel books for a brief escape, or look at old photographs of somewhere they're longing to revisit, I'm just as likely to head to the kitchen, inspired by the cuisine of whatever new place has captured my imagination.

Which finally brings me to this month's Ratio Rally. Karen of Cooking Gluten-Free chose pizza dough for this month's theme. I used my dough to make pissaladière, the Provençal equivalent to pizza - partly because of the daydreaming as I explained, but partly just because it's delicious! Well, I suppose that's subjective. I think anchovies are delicious. If you are not fond of anchovies, you can of course choose different toppings - the dough itself is actually free of all major allergens, making it vegan as well. Pizza is an endlessly adaptable recipe, as you can see from everyone's creations in the roundup.

It is also, I think, one of the most difficult things to make gluten-free. It has to be chewy but not crusty. It has to hold up under sauce and toppings without getting soggy or falling apart, but it still needs to be soft, not stiff or dry. And (according to my boyfriend, who grew up eating New York pizza) you must be able to fold a slice without it breaking.

I've finally developed a dough that does all those things.

While the reference ratio in Ruhlman's cookbook, 5 parts flour:3 parts water, did produce a workable dough, the resulting bread was always a bit too stiff no matter what flour blend I used. I was frustrated that I couldn't come up with a flour blend that worked like wheat flour, until a thought occurred to me: what if a 5:3 ratio would not give me the sort of crust I was aiming for, even with wheat flour? What if the bread in that cookbook is not like the bread I was used to? I'd forgotten that the doughs for many traditional and artisan-style yeast breads use a higher hydration than 5:3, where the water amounts to 60% of the flour weight; ciabatta dough, for instance, is usually around 85% hydration. With that in mind I increased the water to a 5:4 ratio and the result was amazing. This dough, at 80% hydration, gives a crust which is pleasantly chewy, will hold up under toppings, and yes, you can even fold it - and the taste is just as excellent as the texture.

Real pizza crust. Without gluten.

Note: This is meant to be baked directly on a baking stone, rather than on parchment. If you don't have a baking stone, or if you don't feel comfortable transferring dough from a pizza peel, shape dough on parchment instead of a pizza peel when instructed.

This recipe, using a total of 250g flour, makes enough dough for a small pizza. It can easily be doubled.

65g brown rice flour
25g oat flour
15g chickpea flour
10g millet flour
10g potato flour (not starch)
1tsp yeast
150mL warm water

Combine flours and yeast in a large bowl, stir in water, and allow to ferment for 12-16 hours.

75g tapioca starch
50g potato starch
1T psyllium husks
3/8 tsp Pomona's citrus pectin (see note on my Ingredients page)
2 1/2 tsp raw sugar
5/8 tsp sea salt
1tsp yeast
All of the sponge
50mL warm water
2 tsp grapeseed oil or other high-heat oil
3/4 tsp double-acting baking powder (set aside)

Method: In a small bowl, combine starches, psyllium, pectin, salt, & sugar. Stir the extra teaspoon of yeast into the sponge. Stir about half of the starch mixture into the sponge, add the warm water, then add the rest of the starch mixture, "kneading" it with a soft spatula. After the dough has come together, knead in the oil by hand. The dough will seem very soft and slack - this is normal. Shape into a ball, cover the bowl, and set aside in a warm place for about an hour.

The dough will be very soft, but not sticky.
Meanwhile, prepare the topping:

1 small yellow onion, sliced very thinly (a mandoline is helpful here)
1 clove of garlic, minced
2-ounce tin anchovies in oil
8-10 olives, cut into halves or quarters (Not the watery black kind from a tin! Use Mediterranean-style olives. I used Castelvetrano Italian olives, which have a rich, almost buttery taste.)
1 bay leaf
1-2T olive oil

Heat the oil in a heavy pan. Add the onions and bay leaf; when the onions have softened slightly, add the garlic and turn heat to low. Let cook for 30 minutes or so over low heat, stirring occasionally - do not let them brown, just get them nice and soft and melty. (Yes, I know onions don't technically melt. But that's really the best way to describe it.)

See? Melty.

Assembling the pissaladière:

Pre-heat your oven, with a baking stone on the middle rack, to 395ºF/200ºC. Knead the dough gently a few times in the bowl and tip it out onto a work surface. Pat it flat, sprinkle the baking powder over the surface, and roll it up as demonstrated here. This ensures even distribution of the baking powder and creates a better texture. Now generously coat a pizza peel or baking sheet with white rice flour, place the dough seam-side down on it, and shape it into a rectangle - pat and stretch the dough until it is almost as thin as pizza dough. Slightly curl up the sides to create an edge crust. (Your crust will be smoother than in the picture if you do this now, rather than forgetting to do it until after you arrange the toppings as I did!) Now, gently attempt to slide the dough around on the pizza peel, to make sure it will slide off easily. If it sticks, gently lift up one corner at a time and push more rice flour underneath.

Scatter the onion-garlic mixture over the surface of the dough. Arrange the anchovies and olive pieces in a decorative pattern on top. If desired, brush the edges with a little olive oil and honey (optional). Let the dough rise for 20 minutes or so, then gently slide it onto the baking stone using your pizza peel or baking sheet (you will have to coax it towards the end of the pizza peel, but it really will slide off smoothly, I promise). Bake for about 30 minutes. It is delicious hot from the oven or after it has cooled.


  1. Oh wow, this crust looks incredible - so do the toppings!

  2. The crust looks fabulous. Springy even. I want to try this!

  3. Your pizza look amazing, but it's your technique that's really got me. I am definitely heading back over here the next time the bread-baking urge strikes!

  4. I agree with Tara wholeheartedly. Not only does your crust look bangin', it is simple to make. Citrus pectin... I had no idea!

    Also, if psyllium husk is unavailable (or the pectin), do you have any substitutions you would recommend?