Keto Baking: Fathead Pizza Tips

In this post, we’re going to explore the two main problems with Fathead Pizza recipes: limp, bland crusts.  In the past, I never had luck with Fathead Pizza.  I would follow recipes to the letter and get a sad, sad excuse for a pizza crust.  Now,  I’ve studied the recipes, the comments, the tips in both keto and regular baking sites.  Off we go!  Our goal is not just a “passably acceptable” faux pizza product — I want something I can totally love and be proud to serve to anyone (including my pastry chef in-laws!) 

Preparing for Success in Keto Baking

I watch every baking show I can.   I’ve discovered that where baking is concerned, the recipe is just the beginning point. Experience in baking is really needed to get a great result. Just look at all the ruined “bakes” by those top British bakers on the Great British Baking Show!  Even experts have bad days in the kitchen.  Great cooks and great bakers study recipes to better understand what’s “going on” in a recipe.   There are many variations — and people are worried about finding the “right” recipe. But it’s the ingredients that matter–the ingredients AND the techniques. 

The Problem of Bland Fathead

Studying the recipes for Fathead out there, I notice that most recipes leave out seasoning.   At best, the original recipe calls for garlic powder. My mother-in-law hates garlic — I know there are alot of folks out there who don’t do garlic.  Salt is not usually even mentioned.  Real pizza chefs know that a hit of salt is important to providing a well-seasoned dough–and without it, even wheat-based pizza crusts can be bland.   

Blandness is an even bigger problem in gluten-free pizzas that don’t have the natural flavor of wheat to begin with.  Garlic is added to the Fathead dough to make up for the lack of flavor in the almond flour.  There are other seasonings that can be used to amp up the  flavor in basic Fathead pizza. You can try:

  • oregeno or Italian seasoning – mix in 1-2 tablespoons! 
  • different cheeses like shredded or grated parmesan, grated gruyere or grated gouda
  • pink Himalayan salt
  • pepper — white or black
  • garlic powder, onion powder 
  • fennel seeds

Salt and pepper are probably the best additions to fathead dough to make the crust as tasty as the toppings. 

Whatever variant of the fathead recipe you use, don’t forget to give it a good dash of salt at the very least. I use sea salt, oregano and white pepper.  White pepper lingers a little longer in the mouth. I mix in about a 1/2 to 1 tsp into fathead dough to give it a touch of peppery flavor.

The Problem of Limp Fathead 

Fathead dough uses cream cheese (of which there are dozens of brands) and mozzerella–which has hundreds of brands and forms.  Each of these cheeses are going to bring a slightly different level of “hydration” — water — to the  dough. 

 Making good dough is largely about dough that “feels right.” Overly wet dough is a problem in Fathead Pizza recipes.   When I follow Fathead pizza recipes to the letter, I get dough that is sticky and wet. It doesn’t roll out properly. In my experience, these recipes tend to create a dough that is more like a bad calzone recipe and not a crisp pizza-like crust. 

Many people seem to get perfect results from these basic recipes — but I am so not in that crowd!  

Real pizza chefs know the problems of overly wet dough.  With wheat flour, they use the stretch and fold technique to deal with wet dough.  This isn’t going to work with a gluten-free dough.  Stretching and folding what is mostly wet cheese and ground almonds mixed with a raw egg is not going to get you very far.  

In reading recipes and comments, several additions to the dough stand out:  the addition of flax meal to the dough, psyllium husks, and/or baking powder.   These additions can make for a sturdier dough that bake up more like a “regular” pizza, according to many sources around the Internet. 

 Improving Fathead Dough 

I was a new member of the Facebook Group, “Fathead,” when Tom Naughton published his “Oldest Brother’s Oldest Son’s Faux Carb Pizza” recipe in 2013. Diet Doctor has the same recipe — to which it added 1/2 tsp of white wine vinegar.  WHY?  Flavor? 

Usually, you see vinegar (or cream of tartar or some other acid) added to non-yeast doughs to activate BAKING SODA and get a slight rise to the dough.  But there is no baking soda in the Diet Doctor’s recipe.  I think someone started to add baking soda to this version of the recipe but accidentally left it out — an error in editing that no one picked up. 

In reading over the comments in the Diet Doctor’s version, I noticed that there were a number of discussions of how to make this dough less flimsy and crisper.  These included: 

  • Xantham gum to help the dough stick together better, making it easier to work with.
  • The addition of flax meal or psyllium husks to improve the structure.
  • The addition of baking soda to help to create more of a “rise” in the dough. 

I noticed another difference. Youtube bakers all seem to set their ovens to 425 degrees F. — while most of the online recipes specify 400 degrees F.  That can make a real difference (but I didn’t notice this until AFTER I finished this test pizza!)  Last but not least, baking the crust on BOTH SIDES, flipping it over mid-bake was an important step to make sure the crust is nice and crisp.  

 WHERE you bake the pizza is also important.  If you’ve got a conventional oven (not like, say, a toaster oven), cooking the pizza on the BOTTOM SHELF will help create a firmer crust, but it also going to brown a bit quicker on the bottom.  If you don’t FLIP it after about 10-15 minutes of baking, you’re likely to get an overdone bottom — and a top that is undercooked.  

In the middle of the oven, I kept getting pizza crusts that weren’t crisp on the top OR the bottom.  For my oven, cooking on the  bottom shelf and flipping the dough mid-way through was the key to getting a crisp, pizza-like crust — rather than a doughy mush. 

Other Tips

  • Oil your hands with olive oil.  I used olive oil with garlic infused in it to add a bit more flavor. 
  • Use superfine almond flour — and sift it to get out the lumps!

Getting a “Feel” for Fathead Pizza

Fathead dough HAS to be “blind baked” (that is — pre-baked) before you put on the toppings.  How long it needs to be baked is going to depend on how wet your dough is and what’s in it. 

Following the recipe to the letter got me very wet dough that was difficult to work with — and it didn’t feel like “good dough.”  I added 2/3 cup of mozzerella –AND about a third cup of shredded parmesan and that improved the dough some.  I also added another 1/3 c. of sifted almond flour.  That gave me a dough that was slightly wet and “workable.”

Look at Youtube videos for “fathead pizza’ to help you understand what “good dough” looks like.  Notice that they will use very many different ratios of flour to cheeses.  Some are making larger pizzas –I’ve seen recipe variations with more than 3 cups of cheese and two eggs. Some are making smaller pizzas–with just a cup of mozzarella. In any of these videos,  take a good look at the consistency of the dough so you can tell what the dough “should”  look like. 

Rolling out the Dough

I bought myself a good one-piece French rolling pen as part of my new “I’m a baker” gift to myself.   While the videos are full of people using their hands to finger-press the dough, I have watched so many bakers using these rolling pens — there is something fun and magical and Julia Child about using a french rolling pin. (For a quick video on rolling pin technique, escoffier school has a tutorial based on pie dough.)   Fathead pizza dough is soft and doesn’t need a heavy hand to roll it out.  I personally find the french rolling pin a bit easier to control than the usual dowel pin with the handles. 

Use what you feel comfortable with.   The finger press method did not work for me very well.  I don’t have enough experience with that method. 

Rolling out the dough between two pieces of baking parchment paper is pretty much a must.   The melty cheese base makes for sticky dough.  It gets all over your hands and sticks to the counter. It’s easy to peel off the top sheet and to work with the dough on the paper.   Save the top sheet for when you “flip” the half-baked pizza dough in the middle of the bake. 

Flaxseed Meal as a “Cornmeal” Substitution

I was concerned about the softness of the dough even after adding more cheese (including the drier parmesan) and  more almond flour.  One commenter suggested the addition of flaxmeal to the dough to improve its structural integrity — so it wouldn’t fall apart.  I put a spin on that suggestion, patting about 2 tablespoons of finely ground flax seed on the top of the pizza.  

Flipping the Pizza and Cooking the Other Side

I pricked the dough with a fork and put it in the oven at 400.  I let it cook for ten minutes. I took it out of the oven.  I put a piece of parchment on the top of the pizza, put a plate on top of the (hot) pizza.  Using oven mitts, I carefully flipped the pizza upside down onto the plate.  Now the flax-meal “top” became the bottom of the pizza, with a layer of parchment paper under it.  Then I lifted the pizza crust by the parchment paper and slid it back onto the hot pizza pan. Next, I put the crust put it back in the oven to cook for another 10-12 minutes to continue crisping up on the bottom rack.  

Preparing the Toppings

In a wheat pizza, I could make the dough, throw the sauce and toppings on the unbaked crust and let it bake it all bake together in the oven.  With this gluten-free, pre-baked crust, I was only going to have another 10 or 15 minutes of bake time after I got the toppings on it.  To get the vegetables to the desired level of doneness, I have to pre-cook them as well. 

After the pizza dough was flipped and put back in the oven, it was getting pretty brown.  I knew I didn’t want to put fresh toppings on this pizza — I like mushrooms and red peppers as well as pepperonis. Fathead pizzas do need additional help in getting to the flavor level of wheat pizza–more toppings help to compensate. 

I cut up the peppers and mushrooms and sautéed them in olive oil til they were soft. I added oregano and salt on top of them to season them while they were cooking in the pan — just a dash.  Italian seasoning would have been another good choice. 

Saucing the Pizza

Finally, the pizza crust was ready.  I took it out of the oven and covered it in a thin coating of a keto-friendly jarred sauce. If you like a lot of sauce, that’s a bit of problem. The wet sauce on top of the wet dough interferes in achieving crispness.  If you like a more doughy, “pan-style” pizza, we’ll need to look at other add-ins: baking soda and psyllium husks.  That’s on the list for the next Fathead Pizza bake (the Advanced Level). 

Final Assembly

  I added the mushrooms and pepper–and the pepperonis and finally, another layer of mozzarella cheese.  Now the whole them went back in the oven for its final bake–400 degrees for another five to ten minutes in the middle rack of the oven—-just enough to melt the cheese and give the pepperonis a little cook.  

Take it out and let it cool for about at least five to ten minutes.  I slide it out onto a plate right away so it will cool a little faster.  Wait for it to cool a little before you cut it into wedges. Remember, this is largely a cheese dough, held together with egg and almond flour.  Give it a little time to develop structural integrity. 

The Carb Count

A slice of Domino’s pizza has 25g net carbs in a slice. Fathead has about 5g net carbs per slice. The real problem is not eating the entire pizza–but hey, at 20g of carbs for the whole thing?   This is not including the carbs in the sauce and the carbs in the veggies.  Still, it is a very filling option–though probably not for every day. 

You can see by the picture up top that the results looked good. It certainly tasted good–with a texture on par with say, Domino’s.  It’s not going to win any culinary awards but it is a serviceable, edible slice. The results for all this effort was a MUCH BETTER rendition of a pizza product than anything I previously accomplished.  The crust was tasty and held together.  It was crisp but not heavy.  I’m curious to see what baking soda and psyllium husks will do to enhance the dough to a better textured, more “bready” pan pizza. .  If you have any great tips for Fathead pizza, please let me know in the comments!  

Enjoy!  Hope this is helpful `~ Lola

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