In defense of gluten
I'd like to take up for poor, old, unfashionable gluten.
Gluten-free everything has become so popular that a friend recently had trouble finding ordinary wheat flour amidst all the gluten-free varieties on the Annapolis Whole Foods shelves.
Gluten-free menus are said to be one of the hottest restaurant trends for 2010. As EL noted on this blog this month, an article on gluten-free Tastykakes was the most read story on The Sun's Web site -- amid two mega-blizzards and a Super Bowl.
All great news for people who can't tolerate gluten.
But for non-allergic home bakers, especially those of us bent on using whole wheat flour where it doesn't belong, I have a suggestion: More gluten, not less.
Not too long ago, I came across a product on the King Arthur Flour Web site called Vital Wheat Gluten. Adding it to whole grain flour gives the dough a boost while it rises, resulting in a lighter texture, the site claimed.
As someone who mercilessly sneaks whole wheat flour into the baked goods I make for my husband and two young children, I was interested.
I like a good, dense whole wheat bread as well as the next gal. But the whole-wheat pizza dough I'd been making sometimes fell flat. Using bread flour would have helped, but I wanted to stick with whole wheat because it's more nutritious. (I'd already been using a mixture of white flour and white whole wheat flour, a whole-grain variety made with a lighter-tasting type of wheat. I use two parts white whole wheat to one part white.)
I ordered a $5 1-pound bag of the King Arthur wheat gluten, paid an absurd $6 in shipping, and very soon thereafter was making distinctly better pizza. (I've since learned you can find vital wheat gluten in some supermarkets, including that Whole Foods with the almost annoyingly well-stocked baking aisle.)
I like a thin, crisp pizza crust, and I still got that by rolling and stretching the gluten-boosted dough thin. But the edges came out softer and more bread-y -- an improvement over past crusts, which could be as dry and hard as crackers.
It says on the gluten-booster bag to add up to 1 tablespoon per cup of flour. I found 2 tablespoons were enough for a batch of dough made with 3 cups of flour. (I've adapted Christopher Kimball's pizza dough recipe in his book The Cook's Bible, which calls only for all-purpose flour. I'd include the recipe here, but I'm afraid Kimball would send a bunch of bow-tied lawyers after me.)
I made a batch of gluten-boosted dough last night for Malaysian Chicken Pizza, an old Cooking Light recipe. It didn't taste the slightest bit like health food.
Malaysian Chicken Pizza and the gluten-booster that makes it better. Photo by math-hubby