Posted in Baking

Caputo Gluten Free Pizza Flour

pizz - 1The true test of any gluten free pizza is whether it is as palatable cold as it is hot. What might pass as acceptable straight out of the oven can be very different the following day. Slimy is the adjective I’d use to describe the sensation of swallowing GF pizza — until now, that is. Before I get to the Caputo experience, here’s what I’ve tried so far in my search for an acceptable GF pizza.

Pizza Express

I ordered some pizzas from this chain, who offer a gf option with any topping. These crusts are clearly industrially produced pre-formed bases, supplied to restaurants to use on request. They’re not particularly brilliant. Quality is acceptable hot, not so great cold. An expensive option, in excess of £10 per (not very big) pizza. I haven’t tried Dominos, who only offer a limited selection with a GF base, but I suspect similar outcomes.

Bob’ Red Mill81xOpErAmoL._SL1500_The first home-made GF pizza crust mix I used was Bob’s Red Mill (Amazon), which is a blend of brown rice flour, potato starch, millet, sorghum, tapioca, and potato flours with both xanthan and guar gum. These kinds of blends are hard to reproduce at home, as they require you to have a cupboard full of different flours. This mix makes a very wet dough (the recipe on the packet calls for eggs as well as water and oil), which is hard to work with: you basically have to push it into a baking tin with your fingers. I was very disappointed in the result, both hot and cold. It took a lot of cooking (much more than a standard bread base) and the texture was very gummy.

Teff

I moved on to try teff flour as a main ingredient (again, from Amazon), and this was fairly successful, making for a crisper pizza crust with a decent flavour. It was like pizza made with wholemeal flour, which might actually appeal to some people. It was definitely edible and not unpleasant cold, though not brilliant.

(I tried combining a bit of teff flour with some of the Bob’s Red Mill mix, with disastrous results. I pre-cooked the crusts for five minutes to avoid undercooking them, but they were quite nasty and I ended up throwing one whole base and most of the one finished pizza I made in the bin.)

Pre-made bases

ProductsUSA_ Pizza CrustIn most supermarkets, you can find Schär pre-cooked bases (on the small side), which are okay, but nothing special, and no good cold. They come in a vacuum sealed bag, which means they keep indefinitely, I guess, but they’re only average (as, to be fair, are most pre-cooked crusts).

The better pre-made option was a raw dough (chiller section) in the French supermarket Auchan. This was pretty good, though again on the small side, and required five minutes pre-cooking before you put the topping on.

It’s a characteristic of GF (so-called) dough that it requires more time to cook than wheat-based options.

Which brings me to…

…Caputo

pizz - 1 (1)By a weird coincidence (or is it?), the people from whom I buy my 25kg sacks of Caputo (blue) pizza flour emailed me the other day with news of a new product, Caputo Fiore Glut.

Well, I couldn’t get to the laptop to order quickly enough. My main reason for optimism is that Caputo is an Italian product aimed at professionals. The recipe on the (1kg) pack is for the entire pack, for example, and the instructions on the web site suggest making the dough balls in advance and keeping them in the “walk in cooler”. I didn’t think Caputo would put their name on anything less than the best product you can get. Caputo are the Apple of pizza flour. Or something.

The first surprising thing about this flour mix is that the recipe calls for 800 ml of water per kilo of flour. Regular blue Caputo uses a ratio of 65% water to flour for a pizza base (depending on humidity, you might add a bit more or less). 80% water suggested this would be a very wet dough, but it was not. In fact, I added a little extra water and it could have taken more. I didn’t use the whole kilogram, but enough (300g) for a couple of 30cm pizzas.

pizz - 2The mix* consists of Rice starch, rice flour, potato starch, soy flour, sugar, both guar and xanthan gum (your gluten substitutes) and fibre. There are no eggs required in the recipe, just water, yeast, salt, and a bit of oil.

The second surprise was that the dough rose quite quickly. I didn’t have time for a long rise, so I added a couple of tsp yeast, and it rose at the same rate as the regular wheat dough I made at the same time. In contrast, the dough made with Teff flour certainly fermented when left, but didn’t noticeably rise, even when left for several hours. The Caputo GF dough was slightly harder to work with than Caputo Blue, obviously not as stretchy, and harder to move onto the peel. The greatest challenge with GF pizza dough is to keep the shape regular, but I don’t worry too much about that — as you can see. I rolled the second one directly onto a peel, which made it much easier to handle.

I cooked the two pizzas on my stone on the barbecue, sliding from the peel using cornmeal to prevent sticking. They cooked more or less as quickly as a regular base.

The results were crisp, with a good inner texture of air pockets, and while not as tasty as a base made with Blue, they were pretty damn close. I send love and kisses to the whole Caputo family with gratitude.pizz - 3

And, just for the hell of it, I tried a slice cold that had been in the fridge overnight, and it was absolutely fine. No gagging on the claggy, slimy, gummy texture.

Five stars to Caputo.

*As a bonus feature, according to the specs, this flour features hardly any insect cuticle or rodent hair.

Posted in musings

Detox yer box

grapefruitwaterWhen people talk about detoxing, they’re usually referring to the idea of cleaning out your system by abstaining from something for a period of time, or by only eating one genre of food for a weekend or so. So a weekend drinking nothing but fruit juice, for example, or a (first two weeks of) January without alcohol.

Well, I’m here to tell you…

When I was investigating possible causes of my eczema (now confirmed by biopsy as such), I came across a reference to the idea that gluten intolerance might cause such a rash. Huh. So I gave up the gluten for two days. Ha ha! Classic detoxing.

No effect, so I went back to the wheat and carried on (literally) scratching my head as to the cause of me having to scratch my head.

But the doctor who performed the biopsy suggested that giving up gluten needed to happen over several weeks, and I later found a website which mentioned that it could take up to six months for any positive effects of giving up gluten to be felt.

Six months. Not six days, or a weekend, or even a whole January.

In the event, it took precisely 5 weeks for my near-constant itching to diminish and disappear, once I gave up gluten. And, six weeks into the experiment, I’ve been advised to continue it for another six weeks before cautiously reintroducing gluten-containing foods to see if the rash comes back.

In short, if you want to detoxify your body of Substance X, you have to detoxify it for an extended period of time before every last molecule of X leaves your system. This is most clear in the case of drug addiction. Giving up cigarettes for a day or two is easy. Giving them up forever is much harder, because the cravings can be present for weeks, or months. So juice purges or whatever dietary fad you’re following aren’t really achieving anything. As to what’s really going on inside, there’s an argument that says your liver, which is designed to naturally detox your body – that being its function – is working at peak efficiency when it is given something to work with. In other words, drinking (alcohol) moderately is better for you than not drinking at all.

Posted in Baking

Breakfast at Teffany’s?

gf-pizz-1I’ve been (trying to be) gluten free (GF) for four weeks now, and I’ve spent three weekends in a row experimenting with various ingredients to make baked goods and other things. I’ve also raided the supermarket shelves for GF items with mixed success.

Although some of the seeded breads are okay in small quantities, and as long as you toast them, I’ve been struggling to find something that hits the spot when it comes to spreading butter on it. I’ve thrown away one failed so-called bread and found that most of the shop-bought stuff has to be heavily adulterated to make it palatable. I tried a Warburton’s sliced brown loaf, for example, which I could only eat in the form of an egg/bacon sandwich or crisped up in olive oil as croutons, or smothered in (GF) welsh rarebit.

gf-cook-1This weekend it was the turn of Teff flour. Sainsbury’s sell a tiny (125g) pot of it in their GF section (Doves brand), which is barely enough to use in a single recipe. So I ordered some of this stuff, and used it this weekend to make the following:

  • Chocolate chip cookies
  • Pizza base
  • Crumpets/pikelets

I used the Doves teff flour last weekend to make the same cookies, but their recipe had water in it, which was bizarre. As with so many of these things, a lot of recipes and pre-packaged goods try to take into account multiple dietary needs. In this case, I guess they were avoiding egg as well as gluten. Well, this weekend, I made the recipe with an egg instead of 4 tbsp of water, and it was much better. The cookies held their shape well and were less crumbly. Teff flour (even this “wholegrain white”) has something of the texture of wholemeal wheat bread flour, so everything I make with it reminds me of some of the vegetarian recipes I’ve followed, which always include wholemeal flour when they could just as easily include white or sauce flour. So the cookies are pretty good, like standard cookies made with wholemeal, which makes me wonder about making digestive biscuits.

For the pizza base, I used 125g teff topped up to 150g with cornmeal for added crunch. The dough was very soft (softer than a cookie dough, looser than pastry) and nothing like traditional dough. So you have to push it into a tin by hand. I lined the tin with baking parchment because I’ve learned the hard way that gluten free stuff tends to stick more. After about two hours, I topped the base with the usual pizza toppings, and I baked it in a hot oven for about 15 minutes. The result was much better than my previous attempts (and those I’d bought in supermarkets). A crunchy crust that was quite palatable – you could convince yourself that you were eating a regular pizza made with wholemeal flour.

Onto the crumpets. Last weekend, I tried crumpets with Doves GF flour, but they ended up stodgy, without the right kind of texture. Disappointing, because Warburton’s GF crumpets are among the few bread products I’ve tried that are okay (if expensive, which is why I wanted to make my own). So I made the same recipe again, but swapping out half of the flour for teff. I also tweaked it by adding a bit more salt, more bicarbonate of soda and a hair more yeast. This time, the batter fermented very well, and the resulting crumpets taste good and have a good, aerated texture. In colour, they look yellower than regular crumpets.

After two batches of four, I was a bit fed up of the crumpets sticking to the rings (hard to get out because they were so hot), so I just cooked the rest of the batter as pikelets, which was perfect. In the future, I’ll not bother with the rings and I’ll just make batches of pikelets. These are great when warmed in the toaster and spread with butter. Nirvana!

gf-cook-1-1Other successes over the past couple of weeks:

  • Cake au jambon – a French style savory cake made with a jar of green olives and some bacon or ham. Works perfectly well with GF flour, and because it’s an enriched dough, it’s fairly indistinguishable from the original.
  • GF naan bread – while not as puffed up as regular naans, these were pretty good really, and went down well with a chicken curry.
  • GF dumplings – these were nothing like dumplings, but fairly close in nature to scones, or what the Americans call biscuits. We had something similar at school, and they called it beef cobbler.

gf-cook-2After all this, I think I can go forward, though I’m still obviously hoping that my possible gluten intolerance is not a thing, and I can go back to eating wheat. In terms of my eczema, the itching continues, four weeks into the experiment.

Posted in Baking, musings

Going off the gluten

img_7427I’m not really the kind of person who would give up something like wheat just because, under my 21st century clothes, I’m still a caveman who didn’t evolve to eat refined white flour. I’m aware of course of the one percent of the population who have a genuine health reason (coeliac disease) not to eat gluten, but I’ve also been peripherally aware of a number of people who have taken to a gluten-free diet for unspecific lifestyle related reasons, in much the same way as one might give up red meat, or go organic.

But, see, I’ve had this eczema-like itchy rash for several months now, and I was at the hospital for a biopsy, and the doctor asked if I had tried giving up gluten.

Well, I said, I cut it out for a couple of days in the summer (because I’d been reading widely about possible causes for my mystery rash), but it made no difference.

A couple of days isn’t enough, she said. You have to go for several weeks at least.

Urgh.

So, okay. I’m giving it a go. It has been a week and a bit, and no change is yet perceptible in the itching. It tends to be worse when my brain’s processor is idle; it’s almost like restless feet in that respect. So I’ve been sitting here thinking, two, three more weeks, maybe. And then I read this:

It is important to appreciate that a gluten free diet may have no effect on the rash for approximately six months and sometimes, even longer.

That sound you hear, like water going down the plughole, is my life draining away. I’ve spent 30 years of my life, for example, perfecting my home-made pizza(s) recipe. I’ve got a 25kg bag of Italian 00 pizza flour in the cupboard and home-made sweet fennel sausage (containing gluten) in the freezer. And I want to cry. Obviously, I can still make it for other people, but not to be able to eat it myself is like (*reaches for grandiose comparison*) Moses not being able to enter the promised land or Jonny Ive not being able to use an iPhone.

The supermarkets are making a lot of money out of the gluten-free crowd. It’s kinda criminal. A teeny tiny loaf of urky bread full of holes costs more than a full-sized standard loaf. A ciabatta roll costing twice as much as a standard one is also half the size. If something costs a couple of quid, the gluten-free version is £1.50 more, and has a weird texture and tastes worse.

So here’s hoping my biopsy result is negative for that thing, that dermatitis herpetiformis thing.

Anyway, I’ve tried quite a lot of gluten free food over the past week or so. Oats for breakfast, and oat biscuits: acceptable. Almost every variety of bread: glop. Pizza: cardboard*. On the plus side: Pieminster chicken pie: good; quiche: also decent. Tesco carrot cake: actually pretty similar to the real thing. So it seems that cakes, biscuits and pastry can be replicated, but anything bread-based is a big fat nope.

*The pre-packed pizza problem is not aided by the fact that I KEEP FORGETTING the damn things are in the oven. They don’t cook like a normal pizza. They seem to use weird cheese that doesn’t MELT, which means I usually end up carbonising it, like the one above.