It Starts at the Bottom: How Pizza Crusts Can Evolve to Feature Better Nutrition

Last year, Chris Krenzel of Firebird Artisan Mills reached out to Paul Mehl, founder of Mehl’s Gluten Free Bakery, a wholesale and retail bakery in Fargo, North Dakota. Krenzel was working with the Firebird sales, product development and marketing teams to assess how pizza crusts could be upgraded in taste and nutritive value while remaining gluten-free.

Pizza crusts range from authentic artisan recipes found in fine pizza shops, Italian bistros and bakeries to forgettable creations underpinning frozen pizzas, inexpensive delivery and food service options. Past gluten-free options have often combined the worst of both worlds to contain little nutritional value, taste or sensory satisfaction. The Firebird team was convinced emerging alternative ingredients the company produced as ingredients for other applications could work well in pizza crusts when in the hands of a culinary pragmatist.

Photos courtesy of Paul Mehl

“Paul is an experienced baker and he has been a highly motivated leader to improve gluten-free baked goods since he and his family suffer from celiac disease,” said Krenzel. “Paul is hands-on with his bakery product development and he has created his own recipes using several years of experimentation, trial and error. Paul has even developed his own cook-book showing customers how to work with gluten free flours so we knew he would the right approach to improve pizza crusts.”

Krenzel knew that Mehl likes to work without the use of starches which were bad for his blood sugar being a diabetic as well. His success using flours such as sorghum, millet, garbanzo bean and more is apparent through the presence of these ingredients in his base blends including bread, muffins, cookies cakes and more.

“We started with his pre-mixed pizza blend which contains sorghum flour, millet flour, tapioca starch, and garbanzo bean flour. It also included yeast, salt, sugar, gum, and Italian seasoning. For a control we used 100% of his flour mixed at a 2:1 ratio with wet ingredients, namely oil and water,” Krenzel added.

The dough was blended at low speed for more than five minutes and scooped onto a baking tray and pressed with a 6” pan. The dough was then proofed until the yeast/sugar had activated. The dough produced was clay-like and easy to scoop and press.

Photo courtesy of Paul Mehl

During a series of crust trials, Mehl and Krenzel decided on replacing one-half of his base blend with five different flours including light buckwheat, millet, roasted garbanzo bean, pre-gel great northern bean and ivory teff. Water/oil volumes were kept consistent across each iteration. A 100% replacement was not trialed since the dough required the yeast/sugar in the base to activate and rise in the proofer.

Mehl prefers to overwork gluten-free flours to get the gums and sugars well mixed, unlike working with a traditional wheat flour that can be overworked and break down the gluten. Each flour was scooped and hand rolled onto a baking tray and proofed. The same size scoop was used for each variation to get a fair representation of the dough. The doughs were proofed in a warming oven and cooked in a commercial oven. The team removed each pizza crust from the tray and taste-tested both when warm and again and at room temperature and ranked for taste, function, volume and overall performance.

Teff performed well in all of the tests with great color and good taste. The pre-gel great northern bean surprised the team by performing much like a wheat product. It produced dough that required the team to make dough balls versus being scooped, however, and Mehl believes bakers could reduce the amount of starches/gums in a future formulation. Due to taste of the pre-gel, the team believes it could not use large volumes in blends and would require additional trials to determine the accurate amount of water needed for proper dough manipulation.

“The roasted garbanzo bean flour produced the nicest looking final product. Dough was easy to work with and the texture was the best of all the flours we used,” Krenzel noted. “The final product was chewy and elastic to touch.”

Light Buckwheat-performed well in all the tests featuring a great taste with a nutty-like smell and taste but with a somewhat grey color. Mehl indicated that 50% was high a concentration due to the color but really liked the performance of the ingredient. Millet had poor performance, poor taste, was more sheet-able and thinner than other crusts. The team would not suggest a customer use more than 10% in blends.

For detailed results on each test version and input on how to calibrate these promising emerging ingredients for your applications, contact your Firebird sales representative today.