Gluten is the one thing that holds our dough together. Without it, the dough would be a pasty mix of ingredients, lacking the capability of being shaped, hand-tossed or slapped. Contrary to what a bag of fl our might say, flour does not contain any gluten. Instead, it contains specific wheat proteins which, when agitated in the presence of water, combine to form what we call “gluten”. This is why our doughs become more cohesive as we mix them for a longer time.
As with all good things, however, there is a point where they must come to an end — and the same is true for gluten development. It is entirely possible to over-mix dough, thus causing the gluten to begin breaking down. Fortunately for us, pizza doughs are best when the gluten is significantly under-mixed. In fact, the best development for most doughs is described as when the dough just takes on a smooth, satiny appearance. Any more mixing than this and the dough becomes more difficult to form into balls. In addition to the gluten that is formed during the mixing of a wheat fl our dough, dried gluten (vital wheat gluten) can be purchased for addition directly to the dough as an added ingredient.
There might be a number of reasons for adding additional gluten to a dough. The first reason is that the fl our on hand may be too weak to perform. In this case, for example, we might have a fl our with only 11 percent protein content, and we want to make a New York-style crust that is both crispy and chewy. To do this we would typically use a very strong fl our with 13 to 14 percent protein. To determine how much gluten will need to be added, just divide the amount of additional protein needed by 0.6. This will give you the amount of gluten to add as a percentage of the total fl our weight. Here’s the math: 3 divided by 0.6 = 5 percent gluten will need to be added to the fl our to increase its protein content to 14 percent. How much gluten is that? Using your calculator, enter your fl our weight and multiply by 5. Press the “%” key and read the answer in the display window. Example: Let’s say you are using 50 pounds of fl our. 50 x 5 (press the “%” key) and read 2.5- pounds of gluten to be added. Next, for every pound of gluten that you add, you must also add 1.5-pounds of additional water. So 2.5 x 1.5 = 3.75-pounds of additional water will need to be added to the dough. Whenever you add gluten to the dough, always remember to blend it into a few pounds of fl our before adding it to the mixing bowl. This will help to prevent it from pilling/lumping upon contact with the water.
Another good reason to add gluten is for making what I call “goodie bags” for both thick- and thin-crust doughs. In this application, we would typically want use the same fl our at the store(s) to eliminate the need to inventory two different fl ours. The goodie bags would distinguish between thin and thick crust formulas. For example, the store(s) would be working with a lower protein content flour for the thick crust pizzas, and the goodie bags might contain two pounds of flour, salt, sugar, and instant dry yeast. This would be added to the mixing bowl along with a specified amount of flour, water and oil, then mixed and processed as directed. The goodie bag for the thin crust pizza would contain the same two pounds of flour, plus specified amounts of salt, possibly sugar, instant dry yeast, and sufficient gluten to bring the protein content of the fl our up to our standard for thin crust pizza, which could be anywhere from 12 to 14 percent.
Because the ingredients in the goodie bag are thoroughly blended together, the bag can be opened at the store and added directly to the fl our without the need to further blend/disperse into the fl our. The use of goodie bags in this manner also helps to reduce scaling errors and maintains the proprietary nature of your dough formula in addition to reducing inventory and associated space when used at multiple stores.
Let us not forget the growing popularity of wheat, whole-wheat, and multi-grain type crusts, either. If you have ever made any of these crusts, you may have noticed that the dough is a lot weaker than your regular white pizza dough. This is due to the presence of the fiber in the whole-wheat fl our and the multigrain blends. The handling properties and overall performance of these doughs can benefit from the addition of 3 to 5 percent gluten.
As you can see, gluten can be an important ingredient in making high quality, great tasting pizza. Just remember the basics for adding gluten to any dough formula: increase the water by 1.5 times the weight of gluten added, dry blend the gluten into a portion of the fl our so it doesn’t lump up when it contacts the water, and watch for the signs of excessive gluten level — which will manifest itself as excessive dough memory and the development of unwanted toughness or chewiness of the finished pizza crust. ?
Tom Lehmann is a director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas.