Naturally leavened pizza dough

famous original a pizza

'The Famous Original A': mozzarella, pizza sauce, Italian fennel sausage, shaved red onions, and a post-bake drizzle of Mike's Hot Honey.

Pizza Night tonight. It’s been a while. Tried a naturally leavened dough this time. That is, a dough made with starter only — no instant dry yeast, no cake yeast, nothing. Just my super starter, Cavanagh.

Made the poolish last night and mixed up the dough this morning. All based on the Tartine Bread cookbook that I’ve been working from lately. It’s basically just the Basic Country Bread dough shaped into six ~300-gram balls instead of two 900-gram boules. It’s a 75% hydration dough. I used 100% all-purpose white flour, since that’s whatI had on hand. I didn’t do the 10% whole wheat that the bread recipe calls for, because I am not a fan of whole wheat pizza dough.

pizza dough

The dough, after two hours bulk rise.

Working with 75% hydration dough is a bitch. I’ve only recently gotten OK at working with it to shape the boules for the book’s Basic Country Bread. At least with the big dough, I can quickly rotate it between cupped hands and along the countertop to help develop surface tension and seal the sphere. But this trick is difficult with the small 300-gram dough balls. Trying to create surface tension by picking up the dough and turning it in upon itself is near impossible, because it sticks to my fingers something fierce.

I managed with a fair amount of bench flour, my bench scraper, and some fast tuck and folds. The dough balls weren’t perfect, but they worked OK.

pizza crust

The first couple of pies out of the oven were a little pale, but by the time the temperature ramped up, I got some decent color along the edge.

After balling the dough, I put it in individual Gladware bowls and threw it in the fridge. I was afraid letting it rise at room temperature would allow it to get too sour.

I was also afraid the coldness of the fridge would make it hard to stretch the dough, but the rounds were as extensible as ever. Not as much as they would have been warm, but for a cold dough, they stretched as easily as my usual 65–67% hydration dough that I normally have to work with at room temp.

In fact, it almost stretched too much. I was worried it was going to break at a couple points.


On 'Slice,' we moved away from the term 'upskirt' for this kind of shot, but here I can use that term with impunity. Ha ha.

I think the bottom looks pretty nice. The end crust, though, probably had a little too much bench flour on it.

Hole structure was only OK. It didn’t get as much oven spring as I would have hoped. I’m chalking it up to the coldness of the dough. In the future I’m going to try some of this formulation at room temperature.

I’m also going to let it do a 3-day cold ferment. The wife said she didn’t think the crust had much flavor to it.

I would agree. But it still had enough flavor to register, and it didn’t offend with blandness.

homemade Italian sausage

Homemade Italian fennel sausage, according to the recipe given me by Mark Bello at Pizza a Casa.

The first two pies were simple plain pies. Jarred pizza sauce (yeah, I was lazy), Polly-O whole milk mozzarella, fresh-grated Parmesan cheese, and a little olive oil and salt.

For my third and final I did the Famous Original A — mozzarella, sauce, Parmesan, homemade sausage, and shaved red onion — with a post-bake drizzle of Mike’s Hot Honey. I love the pizza sausage recipe from Pizza a Casa‘s Mark Bello. And now I’ve got half three-quarters of a pound of it sitting in the freezer. It’ll go on my next round of naturally leavened pies.

Hasta la pizza,

3 thoughts on “Naturally leavened pizza dough

  1. Sounds like you didn’t proof it very long/long enough. Levain is definitely much slower than comm yeast, so that’s probably the reason for the low spring, lack of flavor, and stickiness.

    I’m about to start testing this again myself, thinking I might do 3-day ferment, with maybe 1% levain as a starting point.

  2. Thanks, Andrew. I think that might be the case. The refrigeration — I’m guessing that retarded the proofing and that it might have been fine if I had left it out on the counter to rise for 2 to 4 hours, since that would have been the life cycle of the recipe as written for the bread loaves (which come out with great hole structure and great flavor). Will try a 3-day cold ferment as well as a room-temperature rise as further tests.

    As it was, the hole structure was maybe akin to a typical MOR NYC slice. Not horrible, and actually something most people eat from a corner slice joint every day.

  3. What % of starter are you using? I’ve only done a couple experiments with completely naturally leavened dough, and maybe it’s just my yeast culture, but I need a pretty good amount to get much of a rise. I think the last time I tried it was near 20%.

    Also: stickiness—clearly related to your hydration level, but does the sourdough’s acidity also contribute? It seems like when I’ve messed with my % of sourdough starter, the more I use, the tackier the dough is. I thought it might’ve just been all in my head, but maybe not?

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