THE WASHINGTON POST – I was doing it wrong.
Or rather, I was making it more complicated. Every time I made pizza dough or bread, I would feed my sourdough starter 12 to 18 hours in advance, so it would be ready for use in place of yeast.
A conversation about sourdough starter with Martin Philip, a bread baker with King Arthur Flour, turned me around. Philip mentioned a blog post he wrote about using unfed starter to bake bread – a tip he got from a reader. “So I can just throw in my starter with the dough ingredients and walk away?” I asked incredulously. “You bet,” he said.
Rather than bread, I decided to make a workhorse pizza dough. In developing the recipe, I knew that the key to building flavour and letting the starter do its yeasty magic was what bakers refer to as “long, cold bulk fermentation”, or colloquially, sticking the dough in the fridge and forgetting about it for a day or two. The lower temperatures slow down the fermentation, allowing the starches to break down into simple sugars and for gluten formation, resulting in a more satisfying crust.
But I also wanted a forgiving dough – to know what would happen if you let your dough sit in the fridge longer, because life happens, and sometimes when you think you’re making pizza for dinner, your kid has a meltdown, your cat throws up on your bed, and before you know it, you’re ordering takeout.
I want the dough to be waiting for me, not the other way around.
I let the dough ferment for up to five days, to see if its flavour and texture diminished (they didn’t). I also put the dough through its paces. I baked the dough on a pizza stone, an inverted baking sheet, in a cast-iron pan and on a grill. My preferred method was in the oven with the baking time evenly divided between baking at a high temperature and broiling. It took about six minutes for each pizza to bake.
The dough is a New York-style version, a cousin of Neapolitan-style dough made of flour, water, salt and yeast.
SOURDOUGH MARGHERITA PIZZA
Active: 35 mins Total: One hour 30 mins, plus at least 24 hours of cold bulk fermentation for the dough
Storage: The dough can be refrigerated for up to five days before baking.
Make ahead: The dough needs to rise in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours. It will need to sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before shaping and baking.
Servings: Two to four servings; makes two 12-inch pizzas
220 grammes all-purpose flour or bread flour, plus more for your hands and counter
30 grammes whole-wheat flour (may substitute with equivalent amount of all-purpose or bread flour)
Eight grammes kosher salt
150 grammes lukewarm water
Two teaspoons honey
Two teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling the pizza
One third cup sourdough discard (unfed or fed)
Semolina flour, for baking the pizza (optional)
Six tablespoons tomato sauce, divided
140 grammes fresh mozzarella cheese, torn into bite-size pieces and divided
Two tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, divided
Fresh basil leaves, for garnish
In a large bowl, whisk together the flours and salt and make a well in the centre. In a medium bowl, whisk together the water, honey and olive oil, then add the starter and combine thoroughly. Add the wet ingredients into the well of the dry ones, and start to mix with your hands, squishing the mixture through your fingers to combine until a sticky, wet dough forms, about three minutes. Set the dough aside and let it rest, uncovered, for 15 to 20 minutes.
Flour a clean, dry counter and your hands. Gently but firmly knead the mixture on the counter for three minutes. As you are kneading, reflour your hands and surface as necessary. The dough will start moist and sticky, but will become smooth and elastic. Divide the dough in half, shape into balls, and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Transfer to the refrigerator for at least 24 hours and up to five days before using.
At least 30 minutes and up to one hour before baking, position an oven rack six inches from the broiler element and place a pizza stone, an inverted large rimmed baking sheet or a large cast iron skillet in the oven. Preheat to 500 degrees.
Generously flour your work surface, as well as a wooden pizza peel or an inverted large rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle the peel or baking sheet with a little semolina flour (if using).
Working with one dough ball at a time, dust the dough with more flour. Starting in the centre, push out the dough using your fingertips, leaving the edges untouched. As you dimple and push the dough out, move it around the floured area, so it doesn’t stick to the counter. When you have pushed the dough out to about eight inches, pick it up. Use the weight of the dough as you turn it around with your hands to shape the disk to about 12 inches in diameter.
Place your shaped pizza dough onto the floured peel or baking sheet. Spread half the tomato sauce over the dough, leaving a one-inch border. Scatter half of the mozzarella and the Parmesan on top.
Pull out the baking rack from the oven halfway. Position the peel/baking sheet parallel to and in the centre of the stone/sheet/skillet and carefully but decisively slide the pizza onto the heated surface. Lightly drizzle the pie with olive oil, then slide the rack back into the oven.
Bake for three to four minutes; the pizza should look fairly baked but pale around the perimeter. Turn on the broiler and broil the pizza for three to four additional minutes, until the pizza edges are puffed and burnished.
Transfer the pizza to the cutting board, add half the basil and cut into slices.
Calories: 400; Total Fat: 10g; Saturated Fat: 4g; Cholesterol: 25mg; Sodium: 1105mg; Carbohydrates: 61g; Dietary Fibre: 3g; Sugars: 5g; Protein: 18g.