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sourdough pizza - as good as domestic oven pizzas get?

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rossnroller's picture

sourdough pizza - as good as domestic oven pizzas get?

In response to a request on another thread, here is my sourdough pizza recipe.

My pizza story goes some way back now. Masochists can access the details in the following posts on my regular blog:

Pizza - A Tale of Evolution

Making Your Own Great Pizzas At Home (I've been meaning to amend the title of this post for some time...this was written pre my sourdough revelation).

I 'graduated' from dry yeast pizzas after coming across Jeff Varasano's amazing site of obsession and instruction - see here. Until applying Jeff's sage advice, I thought I'd tweaked my dry yeast pizzas to close to optimum for a domestic oven, but have found that SD brings the flavours to a whole new level. Of course, there is simply no substitute for a wood-fired oven (or, second-best, an electric pro oven) because unless tampered with, domestic ovens cannot reach the temperatures required to bring the very best out of pizzas (around 450C, 800F).

That said, the pizzas I am turning out with this recipe are pretty damned goood - far better than those I've had from most commercial venues, and immeasurably superior to the crappy things franchises like Dominos, Pizza Hut, etc sell by the millions (how's that for lowering the bar?). Not as good as the incredible thin-crust ones I had from an old woodfired oven pizzeria near the Trevi Fountain in Rome, but not far off, either. I say this not out of boast, but as a pizza tragic (although not on Jeff's level!) who is eternally on a quest for superb pizza, and in a spirit of spreading the lurve.

I have to acknowledge that Jeff Varasano's dough mix and methods are the inspiration for this pizza. I do not have a mixer as he does, so adjusted the method to suit hand-mixing. Also, I was not prepared to mess with my oven to force it up to ideal pizza temperatures as Jeff recommends. Instead, I experimented and made some little tweaks along the way, which have improved both the convenience of the method and the final result. If you try this recipe, hope you find the same. Enough rambling...

Dough for 1 pizza - multiply ingredient weights by however many you want to make (or use bakers' % to re-scale):
Filtered water                 110g (65.5%)
Pizza flour                     168g (100%)
Salt                               6g or less (2-3.5%, according to taste)
Sourdough starter*        15g (9.0%)
Instant dry yeast            0.5g (0.25%...I just use 1 or 2 pinches, or 3 for 2 pizzas)
Olive oil                         1 tblespoon approx
*I use a 100% hydration white starter, or rye/white flour starter. With this small amount, hydration % is not crucial.

Dough Method (as stated, I do all mixing by hand):

  1. Mix all ingredients except salt, cover and rest for 20-40 mins (autolyse).

  2. Add salt, and do 20 or 30 stretch-and-folds in bowl.

  3. Pour about 1 tbls olive oil on to bench surface, scrape dough on to bench and knead/squelch between fingers/stretch until oil begins to be absorbed (2-3 minutes). Change kneading method to "air kneading" (slapping dough repeatedly on bench). 

  4. If sticking too much during air kneading, add more oil to bench surface and repeat 3. 

  5. Repeat 4 until gluten is well-developed and dough is smooth and stretchy (but it will still be quite a wet dough). This should take about 5 minutes in total, but always go by dough feel. Return dough to lightly oiled mixing bowl, cover, and rest 20 mins or so.

  6. Divide dough into however many pizzas you're making, using a scale to ensure each piece is equal in weight.

  7. Roll into balls and transfer each into its own small oiled plastic container, roll around to cover evenly with oil, and put on lid.

  8. After short rest, transfer to fridge. Retard fermentation in fridge 2 - 3 days (I prefer 3).

Making pizza:

  1. Take dough out of fridge about 1 hour before baking (pre-heat oven and pizza stone on max during this time).

  2. Empty one dough ball out on to floured surface. Gently and gradually stretch it out evenly from centre with your fingers, leaving a small rim at edges. Be firm but not rough - the dough should be very manageable and stretchy, but be careful not to stretch it so thin it tears. When at the size and thickness you want, transfer to semolina-sprinkled peel (or back of cookie sheet). This transfer process can be a bit tricky. I get my partner to lift one side of dough while I lift the other. It will distort in shape in transit, so re-shape when on peel (easy - but who cares if it ends up 'rustic' in shape, anyway?). Keep giving peel a shake to make sure the dough is not sticking. If it does stick, work a little more semolina under the sticking part. It is vital to keep checking with a little shake that it is not sticking as you put the toppings on that it is not sticking. I have made the mistake of thinking a tiny bit of sticking shouldn't matter, that the weight of the pizza would unstick it and send it sliding cleanly off the peel and on to the pizza stone - I was spectacularly wrong! IF IT STICKS AT ALL, SPRINKLE SOME SEMOLINA UNDER THE STICKING PART SO IT DOES NOT STICK ANY LONGER!!

  3. Quickly assemble your preferred toppings. KEEP TOPPINGS LIGHT! Then transfer to pizza stone in maxed-out pre-heated oven. Bake about 8 mins (note: the thicker the dough and spread of toppings, the longer it will take to bake; I like thin crust pizzas lightly topped, so mine only take 8 mins @ 250C).

  4. I like to serve mine with freshly ground black pepper, some torn basil leaves, with some chopped fresh chillies in quality extra virgin olive oil spooned over.

I don't take great pics - too impatient to start eating! These don't do justice to these pizzas, but will give some idea of the way they turn out (NB: I don't even try to char mine - that's best done in high-temp WF or pro ovens).

cacciatore sausage, zucchini, red onion, mozzarella and ricotta SD pizza


mushroom, tomato, red onion and mozzarella SD pizza


anchovies, olives, onion and mozzarella SD pizza


Cheers all


LeeYong's picture

Thanks for sharing your recipe! I gotta give this one a try! I've been searching for the "perfect pizza" dough for some time now... found one that I love but always willing to try something different.

Happy Baking!


rossnroller's picture

Hi LeeYong,

I'd never claim this is a 'perfect' pizza dough - but it's the best I've arrived at so far and yes, I'm pretty pleased with my current pizzas. I think just about anyone who is happily addicted to yeast and baking is in never-ending search of the ideal bread/pizza/whatever...and the great thing is, we're never going to attain that ideal, but the ongoing quest is so exciting and somehow nourishing on multiple levels,  you've gotta be glad of its eternally elusive nature.

I always end up sounding a bit whacko when I start going on like this, so I'll quit now!

And good on you for remaining open to trying something different. If I hadn't adopted the same attitude, I wouldn't have discovered sourdough! And that signalled a new chapter and direction in my life! Here I go again. STOP!

Cheers and may you have many fine pizza bakes ahead of you!

ques2008's picture

when you took your starter out of the fridge, did you refresh it first and wait a few days?  does your starter have to be frothy and bubbly just before mixing it with the other ingredients?  i was going to do Reinhart's recipe, but you sound so convincing i might try yours first.  i will be hand mixing as well, not having any mixer.


rossnroller's picture

My starter is always fully active when I use it for pizza. I usually take 30g for pizza (I always make two - so, double the quantity above) when I've got the starter active and ripe, ready for a bread.

Why not try Reinhart's recipe as well? It might be interesting for you to compare the difference in flavour and texture between the two doughs.

If you do end up making this one, would be most interested in your findings.

Good baking!

Doughtagnan's picture

I cannot wait to try out this recipe as I made my 1st hand stretched pizza lst month and would love to make a sourdough version. I added a bit of starter to my effort but mainly used instant yeast, the topping a simple leek & anchovy and I was lucky to get some proper buffalo mozzarella.... cheers, Steve

rossnroller's picture

Like your toppings ideas. I've got a bed of organically-grown backyard leeks ready for the plucking, and was intending to try them on a pizza - you've given me a shove along!

You're already using the finger-stretch method I use, so the SD version should be a seamless transition for you, I'd think. You may find that my dough is wetter than the dry yeast versions that require kneading (if not, it should be...sometimes the flour absorbs more water than others, so it's a good strategy to hold a little back when mixing up the dough, to assess the consistency before adding the lot).

Interested in your findings...

All the best with your baking!

Doughtagnan's picture

Hi Ross - another good topping is Leek and Rosemary, a favourite that used to be sold at the UK Pizza Express chain. I was trying to decide between that and Onion & Anchovy so......  I always think the simpler the better for toppings and definately no pineapple! Cheers, Steve

rossnroller's picture

Oh, definitely no pineapple! Best categorised as a curiousity pizza ingredient of the 70s!

Right with you on simple toppings, Steve. The most I ever do per pizza - not counting mozzarella - is 5 (ricotta, pepperoni/cacciatore, zucchini, mushroom, onion)...and with that one, I still keep it very light.

One of my favourites is the original pizza classic, margeurita.

Less is certainly more with pizza toppings!

SylviaH's picture

I love hearing about and seeing photos of pizza's...these all look very tasty!

Unfortunately with all the heavy rains here in oven had rain water run into it and now I have learned a lesson ...sheet the front with plastic during such a storm.  Looks like it'll be a while before any wfo pizza :-/


rossnroller's picture

Commiserations, Sylvia. Hope you're back in baking action reeeal soon!

ques2008's picture

i'll keep you posted!

rossnroller's picture

Looking forward to your report (and pics!), Sharon.