Introduction: Sourdough Pizza (party)
I have a few obsessions that have persisted through my life. Homemade pizza is done of them. I have been trying to perfect homemade pizza since I was a child, starting with english muffin pizzas I learned to make from an Avon kids activity book (which I still have..).
The hardest part of pizza is the crust. But here's the thing. Its not really that hard, and you can have some fun with it, if you are willing to get a little messy and not take things too seriously. Invite your friends over, have them bring their favorite toppings, and be prepared to have an open mind because you never know what flavor combinations you will discover that you never thought of before.
We have had a pizza party several times, and its always fun. I prepare the dough the day before and have it ready in individual sized balls, ready to roll or toss by each guest.
One of the times we did this, our friend was recovering at home from a surgery, so we made the pizzas to order and delivered them to her. It was a great way to lift her spirits!
Today, with the quarantine in effect, we can't go anywhere and we can't have anyone over, but we did it just for our family anyway. It's always fun!
To get really authentic, it helps to have the right tools. A pizza stone will help you get your crust cooked properly. Unless of course you want a deep dish style like chicago or detroit, in which case you can press the dough into a well oiled pan of your choosing. If you go the pizza stone route, you'll also want a peel. When we do our pizza parties, everyone gets a peel they can put their crust on and then top with their favorite toppings. Then I take the peels with pizza into the kitchen to be cooked. Finally, I serve the pizza back to them on their peel.
Typically, we like to share amongst us the different pizza varieties.
- Bread flour or all purpose flour + Vital wheat gluten
- Instant yeast
- Olive oil
For optional dough conditioner:
- Powdered milk
- Potato flakes
- ground ginger
- soy lecithin
- vitafresh powder
- Can of tomato paste
- 15oz can of crushed tomatoes or fresh tomatoes
- Olive oil
- oregano, garlic, onion powder
Step 1: The Night Before
If you have a sourdough starter, you will want to get it ready by feeding it. You can use your discard for the pizza or use the fed sourdough for more sour flavor, it's up to you. Using the discard is a great way to avoid throwing it away (I never throw it away!).
If you want to do a poolish/sponge, then you will want to mix the flour and water with a pinch of yeast and let it sit out at room temperature in a covered bowl overnight. Make sure its covered because it will probably attract bugs and you don't want that in your dough. By morning you should have a bubbly "sponge". Mix 1/2 cup of water with a 1/2 cup of flour.
Step 2: The Dough Ingredients
Lets start with the crust dough, because this is the most time consuming.
There are many styles of pizza crust, and they fall into 2 main categories: thick or thin. Among these two broad types of crusts are various formulations, from very simple doughs to complex ones involving different types of flours and other ingredients.
I personally enjoy a thin crust, but not so thin the sauce soaks through it, or you can't pick it up. This is generally referred to as a New York style thin crust. I also like the flavor to be rich and complex, with a chewy "toothsome" texture to it. To get this, I use a sourdough starter combined with bread flour and semolina flour. I also use a homemade dough conditioner which makes the dough easier to roll/stretch out.
A sour dough starter is a whole subject in itself. If you don't have one, you can easily make one, but it takes some time and prep. You can just use an equal 50/50 mix of flour and water instead, or you can create a "poolish" with a 50/50 mix of water and flour with a pinch of dry yeast, and let it sit covered overnight. It should be bubbly when you are ready to use it.
Use a good quality bread flour (this is flour with a higher protein content) for your dough, or if you have all purpose flour you can add a tablespoon of vital wheat gluten per 8oz of flour. Or just use whatever flour you have! You may need to adjust the water: if the dough is too dry/hard then add a bit of water, if its too wet and sticky add some flour.
I like to combine the bread flour with semolina flour. What's the difference? Semolina flour is more coarsely ground and has an even higher protein content. This protein is what makes dough elastic and firm, because they join together like a mass of rubber bands. You might also know it by the more popular name of Gluten. Do not fear gluten, unless you actually have celiac disease! This recipe is definitely not for people who can't eat gluten. The combination of bread flour (with its smoother texture) with the semolina flour makes for a nice chewy crust.
This is just a fancy name for water. You can use any water, but you can use a bottled mineral water for extra flavor. Some people even import water from New York to get a truly authentic flavor, but I'm not that crazy.
Certain kinds of fats are good for you, and even necessary for your body. Olive oil is one of those good fats, and it tastes great. We'll use some good quality virgin olive oil in our crust, which helps to "lubricate" those gluten proteins and make the dough more pliable (and tasty).
We're not going to get far without some yeast. Any basic dry yeast will work here. Just make sure its still fresh and active, which you can do by putting it in the water first and waiting a little bit to see if it gets foamy and you can smell the yeasty goodness.
A conditioner is totally optional but it helps make the dough a little easier to work with and enhances the yeast's rising ability. You don't need it, especially if you are a purist and want to keep things simple. But I like it! The powdered milk and potato flakes act to make the gluten more slippery; while the ginger (you wont taste it), vitamin C and lecithin make the yeast more active. Happy yeast and gluten that can move around make for an elastic crust that rises well.
How much to make?
Generally, I use 20 oz of the final dough for a 16 inch pizza, 8oz for a 12 inch pizza, or 4oz for an 8 inch "personal" pizza. When I have a pizza party, I am giving each person a 4oz ball of dough.
1 cup sourdough starter or 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup flour (sponge from night before, or just measure)
10 oz flour (I like to use 3oz semolina, 7oz bread). If you use all purpose, add a tbsp of vital wheat gluten if you have it
4 oz water (1/2 cup)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dry yeast
Optional dough conditioner
1.5 Tbsp Powdered milk
1/4 cup potato flakes
1/4 Tsp ginger
1 Tsp lecithin granules
1/4 tsp vitafresh powder or apple cider vinegar
Since it is harder to get out these days, I've had to make some changes to my normal recipe. I usually use semolina flour in the dough, and also to use sprinked on the peel to keep it from sticking and slide into the oven easily. I didn't have any, so I just used all flour. Bread flour is best, but all purpose works too. You can add a tablespoon or two of vital wheat gluten to all-purpose if you have it.
I didn't have any powdered milk, or plain potato flakes, so I used a 1/4 cup of some buttered potato flakes because it also had milk solids in it.
Vitafresh powder is used to keep your apples from browning, so its mostly vitamin C. But apple cider vinegar will do the same thing if you have that.
Step 3: Proof
The day of making your dough, the first thing you'll want to do (besides checking your poolish or sour dough starter) is "proof" your yeast. This just means taking your yeast and adding it to the water. For quickest results, make your water warm (warm to the touch, but not hot! You don't want to cook your yeast) and then mix the yeast into it. You can add a pinch of sugar to get your yeast excited if you want. Let it sit and observe it getting a little foamy or bubbly and giving off a distinct bready yeast smell. We're talking maybe 10 minutes if your yeast is active.
I love the yeast smell. Not everybody does.
This isn't strictly necessary if you have fresh yeast, or instant yeast. But I like to give the yeast a good head start!
Step 4: Mix the Dough
I highly recommend a stand mixer if you have it, or like me, use a bread machine on the dough setting to mix your ingredients.
I like to add the liquids first and then add most of the dry ingredients, holding back maybe 1/2 cup of flour. Let it mix and if it seems sticky, add flour a little at a time until the dough comes together in a ball and doesn't stick much to the bowl.
If you want you can knead the dough by hand, and this is fun for the kids because they can just get messy and beat the dough and it's all good for everyone! Unfortunately my hands hurt quickly so I let the machine do the work. Or my kids. Depending on their mood.
Once it is mixed, it should be smooth and supple. I will divide this recipe into 6 portions, each of which should end up being just under 4oz in size. I use a dough scraper/bench knife to chop up the dough ball. Then for each piece, I draw up the sides to the center and pinch, forming a nice ball.
Place them on a casserole dish (or whatever you have) sprayed with oil. Leave some space between them for rising, and place saran wrap over the top so they don't dry out.
They should double in size after an hour or so. Note that this doesn't mean they twice as tall or twice as wide, but you should definitely see that are bigger all around. Remember volume increases faster than the outside size.
When I am planning on having people over, I can place the balls in the fridge and they will rise much slower, so I can make them the night before and bring them out an hour before the party to warm up. This can also make the flavor even more pronounced.
Step 5: Don't Forget Sauce
You can by all means use your favorite pizza sauce but why not make it fresh if you've gone this far to make the dough?
Recently, I wondered what really is the difference between pizza sauce and pasta sauce. I always knew that pizza sauce is clearly thicker, because you don't want a wet soggy pizza. But something not so obvious came to my attention. Pizza sauce doesn't need to be cooked before hand! I mean really, you are cooking the crust, cooking the toppings, why would you put already cooked sauce on it? Right? So a good pizza sauce is thick, strong in flavor, and doesn't need to be already cooked because its getting cooked on the pizza!
So pizza sauce is really simple, just blend up the following:
6 oz can of tomato paste
15 oz can (drain the water) of crushed or diced tomatoes.
Tbsp olive oil
1/2 Tsp garlic powder
1/2 Tsp onion powder
Oddly enough, I didn't have any canned crushed tomatoes, so I used fresh tomatoes - romas work nice. You'll get a stronger tomato flavor. I used some organic vine ripened because that's what I had. It was a strong flavor but everybody loved it!
You can use fresh garlic, or whatever other seasoning you like. Italian or Herbs De Provence work good here.
Put it all in a blender or food processor and blend till smooth.
Step 6: Shape Your Crusts
Before you and / or your guests shape and top the pizzas, turn on the oven and put your pizza stone in. You want to get it really hot before baking. This is crucial to get the right crispness and "oven pop" from your crust. Too cold and it won't puff up quickly.
Sprinkle some corn meal or semolina flour or regular flour on the peel to keep the dough from sticking. You can roll out your crust, there's no shame in that. You will get a more uniform thickness and it's much easier. But you can try your hand at stretching and shaping the dough in the air too. Makes you like a pro if you can pull it off.
The dough conditioner makes the dough more easy to stretch out. Start by flattening it a little on the peel, but then drape it over your fists and pull it apart gently, turning it frequently. Don't try throwing it in the air unless you really feel comfortable. Thats hard!
Once you have the shape you want, lay it on a sprinkle of your flour/cornmeal and make sure it can slide around on the peel. You want to make it easy to slide into the oven.
Step 7: Top and Bake - Get Creative
Spread a generous amount of sauce on your crust, and top with whatever you like. Or don't, you can certainly use other things like BBQ sauce, etc. We're mostly purists here, so tomato pizza sauce rules.
My daughter always makes hers into a calzone.
My son likes to fold cheese into the crust edge.
My wife had salame instead of spicier peperoni.
When we had our friends over, one of them made a pizza with spoonfuls of ricotta, parmesan and then baked but afterwards put arugula and a drizzle of olive oil on top. It seemed weird but it was amazing!
Step 8: Enjoy With Your Friends and Family.
Stay home, but enjoy with your family! And plan a party when its safe to get together. Pizza is best shared with friends and family!
Participated in the
Pizza Speed Challenge 2020