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Sourdough Surprises: Pizza

Friday, July 20, 2012

Sourdough Surprises decided on pizza as the theme for its fifth month of the sourdough adventure and boy, was I eager to again use the latest technique I had learnt.
Some time ago, I made a pseudo pizza Margherita in the style of the Neapolitan (pictured rightfor the newspaper column, and I was delighted with the result. By adapting recipes (from Peter Reinhart and Cook's Illustrated Cookbook) and instructions (primarily from J. Kenji Lopez-Alt's excellent tutorial at Serious Eats), I managed to produce a pizza that was as close to one cooked in a 400-degree Celsius wood oven: the bottom was crisp and chewy, the crumb was airy and the edges were charred in spots (perhaps a little too charred!). It wasn't a perfect representation, of course, but to be able to make a pizza like this at home was a revelation to me.
Sourdough Surprises recommended the recipe from Sourdough Home but I tweaked it slightly to include some cake flour. Italian '00' flour, which is the best kind of flour for pizza, is apparently softer than normal bread flour and to get that same kind of consistency, America's Test Kitchen suggests the addition of softer cake flour.
Not being an expert pizza-maker  or pizza eater, for that matter!  I couldn't really tell the difference if all bread flour was used, but in terms of look and texture, this was miles ahead of any chain-store pizza. And I didn't even have to try tossing the pizza dough over my head.
Place pizza base in a very hot cast-iron pan on the stove to cook the bottom
So what does one need to achieve that? For a start, good pizza dough of course, and everyone has their own. The other important element is a heavy-based frying pan. I use a a 20cm (8-inch) cast iron pan so my pizza is on the small side. From the amount of dough I make (recipe below), I get three pizzas.
When ready to make the pizza, crank up the oven grill and put the pan on the stove to heat up. Form the dough into a disk to fit the base of the pan. Sprinkle flour on the base of the pan and shake out the excess. Place dough circle into pan and wait a few minutes for it to puff up a little.
Now, depending on the pan that is used, the bottom of the dough will have cooked and turned brown and will not be sticking to the pan. If this happens, then the stove can be turned off. Otherwise, keep the fire on low as you move to the next stage of the cooking.
Put on the toppings, then into the oven to crisp the top
Put on the toppings (but not the fresh leaves – like the basil here), and place the pan under the oven grill. The cheese will start to melt and brown and the edges of the dough will char in spots.
When the top is cooked, place the pan back on the stove to brown the bottom of the pizza. If this had happened earlier, then the pizza is already done. If using fresh basil, for example, sprinkle the leaves on the pizza. Remove it from the pan onto a cutting board, slice and eat.
For this sourdough pizza, I think I may have left the crust on the stove for too long so the bottom was a little burnt. Although it was puffed, the crumb wasn't as open as the commercially yeasted pizza dough I had made before, but I think that was also because it had remained too long on the stove. 
This stove-and-grill method is more involved than baking completely in the oven, but I think the effort is worth it.
See who else went on the sourdough pizza adventure:

The bottom is a little burnt but none the worse for taste
Sourdough Pizza Crust
280g strong bread flour
40g cake (superfine) flour
1 tsp salt
210g (1 cup) fed sourdough starter
1 tbsp olive oil
120g tepid water

In a mixing bowl, combine the bread and cake flours and salt together well. Add the starter, olive oil and water and stir everything together with a large wooden spoon until well blended. The dough should be shaggy (coarse) and a little sticky. Rest for 5 minutes.
If using a mixer, use the dough hook and mix on medium-low speed, or continue mixing with the wooden spoon for 2-3 minutes until the dough is smoother but still soft and supple. It will be tacky but not sticky. If it is still crumbly, add a little more water; if it is sticky, add a little more flour. Rest for 5 minutes.
Continue kneading in the mixer, or if kneading by hand, spread a little oil on a work surface and on your hands. Transfer the dough to the oiled surface. Knead the dough until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. 
Form into a ball and place in a lightly oiled mixing bowl. Cover and leave to double in size. 
Alternatively, divide dough into 2 or 3 portions and place each portion in a separate bowl. Place bowls in large plastic bags and refrigerate overnight. Remove dough from the refrigerator 1½-2 hours before making the pizzas.

Pizza with Feta, Sun-dried Tomatoes and Basil Leaves
3 balls Sourdough Pizza Crust Dough
1 block of feta, crumbled
3-4 slices bottled sun-dried tomatoes (sliced into slivers) + oil
Flaky salt
1 bunch fresh basil, leaves picked
Plain or bread flour, for dusting

Put about a handful of flour in a bowl. Use some to dust the work surface. Working with one portion of dough, form it into a ball and dip the bottom into the flour. Place on the work surface and gently stretch it with your fingers to form a disk large enough to fit the fit of your pan, leaving the outer 2.5cm edge slightly thicker than the centre. It doesn’t have to be a perfect circle.
Have all the ingredients ready next to the stove top. Preheat the oven’s overhead grill to high and arrange an oven rack so that you can just fit a cast iron or heavy-bottomed oven-proof stainless steel frying pan (with metal handle) on top of it.
Heat the frying pan on the stove over high heat until lightly smoking, about 3 minutes. Dust the frying pan with flour, tap out excess (remember, the pan is hot). Transfer the dough round to the pan. It should fill up the entire bottom surface. The dough should start puffing up after about 30 seconds. Working quickly, spread some feta and sliced sun-dried tomatoes over the centre of the dough. Season with salt and drizzle with the oil from the sun-dried tomatoes. Transfer frying pan to the oven and grill until pizza is puffed and darkly charred in spots (2-4 minutes). Return the pan to the stove top and scatter a few basil leaves over the surface. Cook until the bottom is darkly charred in spots.
Transfer the pizza to a cutting board and serve immediately. Make two more pizzas the same way.
* * *
Here's the recipe for the tomato sauce I used in the Pizza "Margherita".

No-Cook Tomato Sauce

1 (400g) can whole peeled Italian tomatoes
A few grinds of freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp dried oregano
1 large clove garlic, finely minced
1 tbsp red wine vinegar or freshly squeezed
lemon juice
Salt to taste

Place tomatoes in a sieve over a bowl and drain the juice. Squeeze the tomatoes to crush them. Use the juice for another dish. Place the crushed tomatoes in a bowl with the remaining ingredients. If not using immediately, store in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.


  1. Wonderful pizza Jane! Sourdough Surprises sounds like a lot of fun. I can't wait to play with sourdough again.

  2. Wow - your pizza looks delicious! Cast iron pan, huh? Yet another reason I need to get one of those! :) I am so glad you baked along with us this month, and your pizza truly looks stunning. Can't wait to bake together next month! :)

  3. I was chasing the Neapolitan-style pizza this month as well but I had not come across that Serious Eats method - very interesting! Thanks for sharing the link. Your pizza looks beautiful and sounds totally delicious :)

  4. Oh Jane!! Beautiful looking pizza! I love how you used a combination of stove and grill to replicate a wood oven! I bet it was delicious, because it certainly looks so! I looooove that crust, even if it was a little overdone in spots (that just gives it more flavor, right? hehe). So glad you baked with us again this month! :)

  5. I like the idea of using a cast iron past to cook the bottom of the crust. I must give it a try. Your pizza looks absolutely beautiful!

  6. Your pizza looks delicious and crusty! I would love this very much, but have not learnt how to do the starter unfortunately:P


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