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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sourdough Pizza Crust

I have always loved baking bread. Nothing beats the satisfaction of seeing your bread rise, or the smell of bread baking in the oven. I usually bake two loaves at a time and then we eat toasted homebaked bread every Sunday morning for breakfast until its gone. Then I bake more, it's a viscious, kneady circle. Guffaw.

But we also love sourdough bread. LOVE. We eat a loaf a week (and that's in addition to the homemade white bread, and the countless bagels, raisin bread, rye bread, flatbread and sandwich bread that our carb-obsessed family goes through). We use the sourdough on the weekends to make yummy panini sandwiches for lunch, and then Mario will finish up the rest of the loaf, toasted with butter and molasses for his breakfast during the week. I usually just buy my sourdough from the bakery at the grocery store. But, lately I've been thinking (stand back)...if I can make my own regular bread? Why shouldn't I make my own sourdough?

So, I started to research sourdough starters. The first thing I noticed was how many different methods there are out there for getting a sourdough starter going. I am impatient, and I didn't want to devote two weeks to developping a starter that flopped and then have to start all over with a different method. So, I tried ALL the methods at once. That is how my kitchen came to be over run by little smelly, fermenting containers of sourdough starter.

(from left to right: Dudley, Cynthia, Barney, and Abigail)

These are my sourdough babies (not to be confused with sourpatch kids). I've been easily spending an hour each evening in the kitchen, mixing and feeding my little babies, tracking my actions and the reactions of the various potions like a mad scientist.

Guess what? They all took! Wow! I now have several very active and lively sourdough toddlers. And I can't decide which one to keep and which ones to give up for adoption! Seriously. These kids are going to eat me out of house and home! That is, if I can manage to keep them all alive (I don't have such a great track record with house plants...)

This pizza dough represents my first attempt at sourdough baking. For this recipe I used the sourdough starter that I named, "Abigail". Abigail was my firstborn and she holds a special place on top of my breadbox. Abigail was developped using equal parts plain white (unbleached) flour and bottled water. Everyday, I throw away all but 100g, and then feed her 50g flour and 50g water. Abigail was two weeks old, yesterday.

For a couple nights before I was going to make my pizza, I fed Abigail without dumping half (just to increase the volume of starter). On Saturday morning, I set aside 100g of Abigail to keep, in case she turns out to be "the one", and I fed the remaining portion again. When I noticed Abilgail had gotten all bubbly and foamy, I stirred her down, removed 1.5 cups and made the recipe below:

Sourdough Pizza Crust

1.5 cups active sourdough starter (300g by weight)
1 tbsp olive oil
1.5 cups flour (250g)
1 tsp salt

1. In the bowl of your stand mixer, mix the starter, flour, olive oil and salt until a nice soft dough forms. Depending on the consistency of your starter, you might need to add a little warm water, or a little more flour. Mine seemed good.

2. Knead your dough (either by hand or in the stand mixer) for about 10 minutes.

3. Set the dough in a greased bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a tea towel and set in a warmish spot (I like to let my dough rise on top of the PVR, it gets nice and warm there). My dough took about 6 hours to double in bulk (sourdough rises a lot slower than breads leavened with commercial yeast).

4. Punch the dough down, and let it rest for about 10 minutes. Roll or pat the dough out to your desired pizza size/shape. I preheated my oven to 450F with the pizza stone inside and rolled my dough out on a piece of parchment paper dusted with cornmeal. Then, I just slid the parchment right onto the pizza stone in the hot oven.

5. I prebaked the crust for 5 minutes and then pulled out the pizza stone and topped it with your favorite toppings. Then I returned it to the oven for 15 more minutes.

This was my dough, after the 5 minute "pre-bake".

Although not really relevant to this post, for anyone who is curious, the toppings on my pizza were: canned pizza sauce, mozzarella, pre-roasted vegetables (green pepper, onion, eggplant and garlic), halved grape tomatoes and parmesan cheese. Claire and Marco suggested that next time, I make the pizza EXACTLY the same, only add pepperoni and leave out the green pepper, onion, eggplant, tomatoes and garlic. So, in other words, pepperoni pizza, please.

Next weekend, I am going to try baking a loaf of classic sourdough bread using one of the other starters... right now I'm off to water my plants, the leaves are looking a little crispy...