I’d heard good things about sourdough pizza bases. Let me say, I was certainly not disappointed! The Rowdy Chowgirl’s post on the subject was part of what inspired me to get my own sourdough project underway in the first place, and I followed her lead and went to The Traveller’s Lunchbox ‘The Pizza Project’ for inspiration and guidance.
It all starts with an overnight sponge, as usual. I made a full two-loaf batch of dough. I reduced the salt again, now down to 8g in the full batch (so just shy of half what I started out with for my first loaf), and had to use about 100g of wholemeal flour due to running out of white, but otherwise made up my usual dough, dividing it into two uneven halves straight after the balance of the flour and salt were incorporated. To the smaller half, destined for the pizza crusts, I added a teaspoon of sugar. I then treated the two balls of dough just the same – stretching and kneeding them every couple of hours between periods of resting – until I added cheese and sundried tomatoes to the larger half and set it on it’s way to being another gorgeous loaf.
The pizza dough was divided into two balls for its final proving. The dough remained very soft and just-handlable, which seemed ideal. After proving (and after the loaf of cheese and tomato bread had already made its passage through the oven), I gently rolled the dough and then shaped it out by hand into two rough rectangles (I have a rectangular baking tray, and am not averse to funny-shaped pizza!) on baking parchment sheets. This is a great idea – for which I can’t take the credit! – as the dough is soft and thin and would be nigh-on impossible to handle, I think, even with a peel. You’ll want quite a lot of flour on the underside of your dough to stop it sticking to the parchment while you’re shaping it.
The tomato sauce for the pizzas is simplicity itself – one finely chopped onion, sweated down with some minced garlic in olive oil until soft, then add a tin of plum tomatoes, a good shake of mixed italian herbs, big pinch of pepper and a sprinkle of dried chilli flakes, a small spoon of vegetable bouillon powder (you could substitute half a stock cube) and a glug of balsamic vinegar. Squish with a potato masher to get the required consistency, and bubble on the hob for about half an hour before allowing it to cool. You could blend it, if you prefer a completely smooth sauce, but I like mine with a bit of texture. Give it a taste, since you might find you want to add a small amount of sugar, depending on how sweet your tomatoes were to start with.
Be sparing with your toppings – don’t overload the pizza and don’t over-complicate things, you want the great simple flavours to shine through. I used some finely sliced cherry tomatoes, small pieces of my dry-cured maple bacon, a sliced mozarella ball and some crumbled goat’s cheese. Smear the sauce lightly over both pizza bases and then arrange your toppings over the top. The quantity was about perfect for two largeish rectangular pizzas. You’re not trying to plaster the pizza in cheese, since this will stop the moisture escaping from the dough and tomato sauce and turn what should be a glorious crispy crust into a disappointing soggy one.
The key to baking this pizza is a very very hot oven. I pre-heated my little non-fan top oven to its highest temperature – allegedly 270 centigrade (I’ve not checked this with an oven thermometer, but it’s certainly reasonably blistering!) with the baking sheet inside. The thicker and heavier your metal baking sheet, the better. Getting the pizzas from kitchen counter to oven safely and quickly is really a two-man job, so get your glamorous assistant – wearing the best oven gloves you have at your disposal – to snatch the baking sheet out of the oven, closing the door behind them.
Before they burn their fingers through the gloves, use the baking parchment to slide your pizza off the side and onto the baking sheet. Return it to the oven as quickly as possible, and watch the magic happen. Seriously, I was sat cross-legged on the kitchen floor staring into the oven for this bit! The edges of the pizza will start to rise and brown, and all the while the cheese first melts and then starts to go bubbly and golden. To encourage it along a little, I put the grill on, too.
The pizza cooked in less than five minutes. I didn’t remove the baking parchment half way through baking like others have suggested. The paper did start to scorch a little but didn’t burst into flames. It did come out of the oven slightly stuck to the underside of the pizza, tearing as I tried to remove it – not a disaster and easy enough to peel off – but I’d used quite lightweight baking parchment and I suspect better quality paper would solve this particular minor difficulty!
This is great pizza, and you should definitely make some. The sourdough certainly adds a distinctive quality, producing a wonderful crispy crust with holes in, but also a pleasing ‘solidity’ which avoid straying into stodginess. It’s nothing short of *amazing* fresh from the oven (we ate it standing up in the kitchen!) and is very nearly as good cold for lunch the next day. The partly wholemeal flour in the dough adds a nice extra texture to the pizza, too. There’s remarkably little ‘naughty’ here, either – certainly compared to commercial pizza offerings. Something made out of such great, simple ingredients can’t possibly be bad for you!
So, home-made sourdough pizza crust – Just Do It! I promise you will not be disappointed!
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