The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Pizza using levain vs yeast

Katnath's picture

Pizza using levain vs yeast

Hello all. Wanted to vent on my very frustrating attempts at pizza dough using my levain.   And ask - where did it all go so wrong. This is the 3rd or 4th time I've tried to make my dough this way. Build levain, make high hydration(75%) dough using ap flour with small amt (10%) spelt flour, bulk ferment 3-4 hrs, divide and store in fridge 24 hrs. The dough rises, but not dramatically after baking BUT it tends to have a hard, somewhat gummy texture. In the past, I've used a pre-ferment biga with instant yeast and the same formula. I get much better results - crispy and chewy and much airier. What am I doing wrong?

also this last attempt was an especial bust because I was trying out my new baking steel and the dough stuck to the peel and turned into an utter fiasco. Grrr!

i would like to continue to use levain because it's a good way to use excess starter since we're not big on pancakes or muffins around here. 

Thanks for any suggestions. 

DavidEF's picture

Sourdough makes for a stickier dough than store-bought yeast does. It's just something to get used to. Also, it takes longer to rise than store-bought yeast. When you take the dough out of the fridge, it needs to warm up a bit before baking. With mine, I usually try to stretch it out while it's cold, then let it rise until it shows some puffiness - not doubled - just a little puffed up. Then, I top it and bake it. At my house, this can take well over an hour, because the dough will be very sluggish until it comes up from refrigerated temp.

To keep it from sticking to the peel, flour the peel very well before placing the pizza dough on it. A lot of people use cornmeal. There is also a course ground flour for pizza, conveniently known as pizza flour. For a really great write-up about making a better pizza crust, I'd recommend you read what Jeff Varasano has to say. It's quite lengthy, but it gives great details about the process of making a great pizza crust.

MichaelLily's picture

I second what David says in recommending you to Jeff Varasano.  This guy is very detail oriented and is to pizza what Chad Robertson is to bread and what Meathead Goldwyn is to barbecue (

baybakin's picture

For a sourdough pizza dough with AP flour, I feel that 75% might be a bit high for hydration, depending on what kind of pizza you are shooting for.

For my sourdough pizza dough, I use a higher protein bread flour with a dough hydration of 66%, and it works great for a thin-ish crust pizza.

Katnath's picture

thanks for the suggestions. I did a quick look at valparaiso's site. Wow - lots of info and will go back for more in depth. 

Follow up question. Is it worth trying typo 00 flour for levain based  pizza? Or is that too slack to build sufficient structure. 

I do think now that the dough was too hydrated. It was hard to shape, almost poured out and required very little flattening. It basically made itself into an ungainly pizza round.  But I always thought the more hydrated, the bigger the holes and airier..definitely was not my experience. 

Thanks for any more help. 

Nickisafoodie's picture

is the hydration that Varasano's page speaks to.  But that is for a 900 degree over where a wet dough is needed. and his technique is to gently press the wet dough in flour as he forms.  So you have no reason to use a high hydration dough unless you are using brick oven temps.  Try 62%, no need for expensive Italian flour as Varasano discusses at length.  in the search box above type in pizza levain and you will see lots of pizza dough recipes.

I like 2 days in fridge giving better flavor development.  And recently I've added a pinch of yeast to the dough - the levain for flavor and the yeast gives a niche bit of extra rise.  you will get there, its worth the effort...  Also if your steel is not seasoned,that may be part of the sticking problem.  Use parchment paper, that should help.  Or a stone heated for one hour.  In the search box above type in pizza levain and you will see lots of posts on this topic.

good luck!




barryvabeach's picture

Katnath,  when you computed the hydration did you include the water that is in levian?  If not, when you said the only change was yeast for levian, actually the levian included extra water, especially if it was 100% hydration and that would change the overall hydration.  If you want help with the steel,  the pizzamaking forum has a board dedicated to stones and baking steels

MichaelLily's picture

I have made 500 to 1000 sourdough pizzas over the last 4 years using Varasano's technique.  He doesn't really measure the flour carefully.  I'm sure he does in his restaurant.  Excluding the hydration in the poolish, I have made my dough at 88% hydration, which is quite difficult to work with and tends to rip.  Closer to 65% or 70% is much easier to handle.  

85% can be done if the dough is sufficiently developed.  I made one of these yesterday.  No problems.

I second what Nick says about the 00 flour.  Not worth it unless your oven is over 700 degrees.  American flour is high quality.  Good luck and keep referring to Jeff's site.