You want to make your own pizza but you open your cupboard to find you only have plain flour inside. The recipe says you need bread flour – do you carry on or make a trip to the shop? Let’s answer some questions: can you use plain flour to make pizza dough, and what will it turn out like?
So can you use plain flour for pizza dough?
You can use plain flour to make pizza dough but the pizza will not be as good as dough made with bread flour. This is because pizza dough needs flour with a higher protein content to develop gluten, and plain flour typically has too little.
Let’s discuss what will happen if you use plain flour, mention some alternative flours and the best ones to use.
What Is Plain Flour?
Plain flour is a flour found in the UK and other linked countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong. It is an all purpose flour that can be used for a variety of recipes such as cakes, biscuits and sauces.
Protein content is a key factor which dictates the use of flour, as this is what develops the stretchy network of gluten in the dough. More protein means more elasticity, strength and chewiness, which is great for bread and pizza. This isn’t so great for cakes.
So with plain flour being in the middle, it means that it isn’t the best for anything. Using soft pastry flour for cakes, strong bread flour for bread, and pizza flour for pizza is using the right flour for the job, meaning better outcomes. But being a general purpose flour means that many people have it in the cupboard all the time because it can be used in so many ways.
All purpose flour is an American equivalent to plain flour but is slightly stronger flour (due to its protein content), so is a bit more suited to pizza. More on that below.
What Will Happen If I Use Plain Flour For Pizza?
The lesser protein content means that less gluten is developed. Gluten makes dough elastic so it can stretch thin without tearing. Also, when the yeast ferments, it can expand with its elasticity and hold on to the pockets of air bubbles. Plain flour can’t do this, so you lose the potential for air bubbles in the crust.
The crust will be a little flatter, and a little denser. It won’t have the poofy softness of a classic Neapolitan pizza with Italian ’00’ bread flour, or the large hole structure of a New York style crust made with strong bread flour.
The other main thing is flavour. If you mix up dough and cook it straight away, then it won’t taste of much more than flour, which isn’t very appealing. Flavour is developed from the fermentation of yeast over a period of time. The best doughs having been left for many hours to build the depth of flavour. Dough also loses strength over time as the gluten breaks down. So with a dough with low gluten already, if you proof for a long period, you’ll probably find the dough hard to work with. That’s why bread dough is better for pizza, simply put.
Read more about dough in my article proofing pizza dough guide, to learn how to make it properly.
How To Make Pizza With Plain Flour
If you decide to make a pizza with plain flour then it won’t be the best pizza in terms of flavour and texture, but it will still work.
It’s been a while since I made pizza with plain flour so I gave it a test out with Google’s number 1 recipe for the search of ‘plain flour pizza recipe’ found here – Very Simple Margherita pizza
This is what happened. When mixing, the dough didn’t really develop any gluten while kneading for 10 minutes. It became smooth but it didn’t become elastic, and I couldn’t stretch it to pass the “window pane” test which you can usually do with bread flour dough. It wouldn’t stretch to a base without tearing so I had to press it into the baking tin to shape.
I cooked it in the tray, on top of my preheated pizza stone which would have helped transfer heat from below. It cooked well in around 10 minutes and was fairly light in texture, with a crust of tiny air pockets like a cake. No big rise or holes in the crust here, which was predictable.
The taste was bland and slightly floury. No deep flavors or aromas, and I needed some extra dipping ketchup to make it interesting enough to finish.
Overall it was editable, but I probably wouldn’t do one again in a hurry! Using bread flour and letting the dough proof for at least overnight to develop flavors is the way to go.
Tips for cooking pizza with plain flour:
- Roll it out or press it into a baking tin otherwise it tears.
- Use a good coating of olive oil to stop sticking.
- Use a preheated pizza stone to cut the cooking in half and keep moist.
- Make a more flavourful sauce – add tomatoes, oil, garlic and seasoning.
- Cook it for long enough – probably 2-3 minutes more than you think you should. Wait for a deep brown crust.
The Best Type Of Flour For Pizza
Flour for pizza is usually determined by the protein content, as this protein content is what forms the gluten network. You can find the protein content by looking at the values per 100g. This means that 14g is 14% protein content.
Aim for around 12-14% protein content for good gluten development. Plain flour usually has protein content of 9-10% which isn’t high enough.
The gluten is formed when kneaded. It’s tight and elastic with strong flour, and then degrades over time. The best pizza is left to ferment for 24 hours or more to develop flavor (a bit like sour dough), so this means you need a higher protein content to withstand this.
Strong Bread Flour and Italian ’00’
There are a few types of flour which are better than plain flour. The best being “strong” bread flour or Italian 00 bread flour.
Home ovens are more suited to strong bread flour as they are cooked longer than a wood fired oven. Strong bread flour has higher protein content of around 13-14% so are stronger and easier to work with.
Italian 00 flour is very soft milled flour which has a protein content of around 12.5%. It has been developed to make perfect soft Neapolian pizza in a wood fired oven. This is the best option if you have a wood fired oven, but also great at home.
I wrote an article on the best flours here, and tell you where to get them.
Can You Use Self Raising Flour For Pizza?
Self raising flour is just plain flour with a raising agent added, such as baking powder. This is usually used in baking cakes instead of yeast, which is preferred for bread baking.
If you plan on using this instead of yeast then it will technically work, but won’t be very good. The base will be more like a biscuit or cookie, with a fine and dense crumb instead of chewy crust filled with holes. It also won’t have the flavour and taste that good yeast fermentation brings – so expect it to just taste of bland flour. Treat it as a last resort.
Plain Flour Vs All Purpose Flour
Plain flour is the British, Australian and New Zealand variant, and All Purpose flour is found in the USA. Although I don’t think they are completely equivalent by looking at the key metric: the protein content.
A popular UK brand is Homepride Plain Flour which has a low 9.7% protein while a popular USA brand is King Arthur All Purpose and has 11.7%.
Using All Purpose would produce a better pizza than Plain because of this extra 2% protein content. It would stretch out easier when shaping, rise better for a crust, and be nice and chewy.
So in summary, it is possible to use your plain flour to make pizza as I’ve shown. The pizza it makes won’t resemble anything you could get at a good pizzeria – it will be tasteless and won’t have a good crust. So I say only do it as a last resort.
Instead, I would recommend you get some bread flour and develop some flavour in a slow, cold proofing. Here you slow down fermentation with the temperature, so the dough can develop flavor but without the dough becoming over proofed and floppy.
Check out my post on pizza dough flour, hydration and yeast in my article here, where I link some best pizza recipes. Make sure to get some proper equipment, like a pizza stone/steel and a peel too.