Now that you’ve cultivated your sourdough starter, and have been building its strength by feeding it every twelve hours for the last few days, it’s time to try it out. This whole wheat sourdough pizza crust is a great way to use your new sourdough starter. I’ve included lots of pictures for reference, and I hope the visual tutorial makes it easier as you follow the recipe, which is an adapted version of the whole wheat bread formula from Tartine Bread. Though I’ve previously posted a quicker version of a whole wheat pizza crust made with commercial yeast, I think you’ll really like the depth of flavor that this naturally-leavened dough has in comparison.
If you love making your own homemade pizza, it’s completely worth the extra time and effort, and in the process you will have learned a valuable bread-making skill. This recipe makes two large 14-inch crusts that you can pre-bake and store in a medium plastic bag in the refrigerator, where it will keep for a week. You can also wrap and freeze the crusts. Whenever you feel like having pizza, the pre-baked crusts are ready to top, heat, and eat. Who needs to order in when homemade is so much better?
(adapted from Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson and Eric Wolfinger)
20 grams sourdough starter
50 grams whole white wheat flour
50 grams spring water, room temperature, around 76 to 78 degrees
100 grams leaven
400 grams (if using store-bought flour) or 412 grams spring water (if using home-ground flour), room temperature, around 76 to 78 degrees
500 grams whole white wheat flour
10 grams kosher salt
a digital scale with a zero/tare function
a stainless steel bench knife or plastic dough scraper
Please read the following important information before you begin:
If you keep your sourdough starter at room temperature and feed it on a twice daily basis, then you can use it to make the leaven anytime from 4 to 12 hours after its last feeding. If you refrigerate your sourdough starter and feed it once a week, you’ll need to feed the starter two times to increase its strength before you use it to make the leaven. Remove the starter from the refrigerator and leave it at room temperature, feeding it once right after you remove it from the refrigerator, and again in another 12 hours. You can use the starter anytime from 4 to 12 hours after its second feeding.
The entire process of making this pizza crust is roughly 24 to 48 hours, depending on if your starter is kept at room temperature or refrigerated and whether you make the leaven in the early morning or start it the night before. It’s important to figure out a baking schedule that works for you. Once the starter is ready to use for the leaven, the leaven takes about 8 hours to develop. Once you mix the dough, it sits for an hour to autolyse, and then you will do stretch and fold turns every thirty minutes for the next four hours. Next you divide and shape the dough, and then let it bench rest for 30 minutes. Then you shape the dough again and put it into its containers. At this point, depending on what time of day you started, you can let the dough rise at room temperature for another 2 to 3 hours and then bake it, or you can refrigerate it overnight and bake it in the morning. For example, if you mix the leaven the evening before you go to bed around 10 p.m., and mix the dough the next morning around 6 a.m., you can be baking your pizza crusts by 2 or 3 p.m., depending on how long you allow for the second rise. If you mix your leaven in the morning around 6 a.m., you will begin mixing the dough around 2 p.m., refrigerate the dough for a slow overnight rise around 8 p.m., and bake it the next morning around 8 a.m.
Stir down your starter and remove a generous tablespoon, about 20 grams, and place into a small glass bowl. Add 50 grams of spring water and 50 grams of whole white wheat flour to the same bowl, and stir vigorously until well-mixed. Cover loosely and place in an warm area where it won’t be disturbed for about eight hours. This is the leaven you will use to develop the dough. At the end of the eight hours, the leaven should have expanded slightly, becoming filled with gas bubbles that you can see throughout the leaven and on its surface, as in picture A, below.
Once the leaven is ready, you are ready to mix the dough. In a 2 quart container, add either 400 or 412 grams of spring water, depending on whether you are using store-bought or home-ground flour. (I use a plastic container because it insulates the dough better than glass or metal, and keeping the dough at a warm temperature during the bulk fermentation is important for it to develop properly). Before you use the leaven, test a small amount of it to make sure it is fully developed. Scoop a small spoonful of the leaven and lightly drop it on the surface of the water. If the leaven floats, it is ready. Add 100 grams of the leaven to the water, and stir to disperse it in the water. Add the 500 grams of whole white wheat flour, and stir until no dry flour remains. It will look something like example B. Cover and let rest for an hour; this is an autolyse period that allows the dough to fully hydrate.
After one hour, stir in the salt, working it into the dough with your hand, squeezing the dough to distribute the salt. You’ll notice the dough becoming slightly smoother as you mix it, and in example C. Cover and set the timer for thirty minutes.
After thirty minutes, you’ll perform about four stretch and fold turns with the dough while its still in the container. To do this, wet your hand with a little water so the dough won’t stick to your hand, and reach into the container on one side of the dough and lift some of the dough from the bottom so that it folds over onto the top of the dough. Do this in three or four places so you have stretched and folded the entire piece of dough while it is in the container. This counts as one complete stretch and fold turn. This action helps develop the gluten and aerate the dough so that it has appropriate structure and texture when it is baked. Repeat one complete stretch and fold turn of the entire dough every thirty minutes for a total of four hours during the bulk fermentation. By hour three and four, use a lighter touch when doing the stretch and fold turn so you don’t deflate the dough. By the end of the four hours, the dough should have increased in volume compared to when you first mixed it, as seen in example D and E.
After four hours of bulk fermentation, carefully turn the dough out onto a floured surface. It will be very loose and sticky but should be well-aerated and slightly puffy. Using your bench knife or plastic dough scraper, divide the dough in half. Lightly flour the tops of each piece of dough, as you see below in example F. Working with one piece of dough at a time, use your bench knife or dough scraper to lift the dough and gently flip it over so the top is now the bottom.
After you have flipped the dough over, pick up the end closest to you and fold it over so the dough is folded in half, as you see below in example G.
Sprinkle a little more flour over the dough. Use your bench knife and your other hand to shape the dough into a round, tucking the edges under by cupping one side of the dough with your hand, and pushing the other side towards the center with the bench knife or dough scraper. Turn the dough in this manner until it forms into a rounded shape, as below in example H. Be gentle and quick in your motions, use a little more flour if you need to keep the dough from sticking to the bench knife or plastic scraper, and try not to overwork or deflate the dough. Repeat the same process with the other piece of dough, lightly flour the tops of each, and then cover both with a towel or cloth napkin. Let rest for 30 minutes. The rounds will spread out a bit as they relax. While the dough rests, lightly flour two containers that you’ll put the dough into after it has been shaped a second time, as described below.
After 30 minutes, remove the towel and sprinkle the top of each round with flour again. Working with one round at a time, use your bench knife or scraper to gently flip the dough so the top is now the bottom. Next you will shape the dough again with a series of folds. Lift and stretch the end closest to you up and fold it over to the middle or center of the dough. Lift and stretch the left side up and fold it to the middle or center of the dough. Lift and stretch the top edge of the dough up and fold it to the middle or center of the dough. Then lift and stretch the right side or edge up and fold it over towards the center of the dough. As you can see below in example I, you have a puffy little package at this point. You have one more fold left. Lift the end closest to you up and fold the dough in half, as you see in example J below.
I) dough, folded to middle from bottom, side, top, side…
After you fold the dough in half, flour it a little more and shape it into a plump round, using the same cupping and pushing technique with your hand and bench knife or plastic scraper and tucking the edges under as described above. Again, use a light and quick hand. Once the dough is shaped, place it into the container you have prepared and cover. Repeat the same process for the other piece of dough. At this point, depending on what time it is, you can let the dough rise in a warm place for another 2 to 3 hours before baking, or you can cover each container tightly, place in the refrigerator overnight, and bake the next morning.
Preheat the oven about 45 minutes to an hour before you intend to bake the dough. If you’ve refrigerated the dough overnight, take it out about 30 minutes before you start to shape it. To prepare the oven, place your pizza stone on a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 500ºF. Measure out a 16-inch x 16-inch piece of parchment paper and take out your pizza peel so it is ready to use.
Begin shaping the dough into a larger circle when the oven has been heating for at least 45 minutes. To shape the dough, flour the top of the dough in the container, and flip the container, covering the opening with your hand to catch the dough as it releases, and support the dough as it releases from the bottom of the container, placing it onto the very well-floured piece of parchment paper. Flour the top of the dough and begin to enlarge the dough into a 14-inch circle by lifting and stretching and pulling, as evenly as possible, until the dough is 14 inches around. The dough is very pliable and relaxed, so it’s easier to stretch it out while it is lying flat on a well-floured surface. Use more flour in the process if the dough becomes too sticky. Using your hands to stretch out the dough keeps the texture more uneven and rustic, without deflating the aeration you’ve worked so hard to achieve, and the finished crust has lots of peaks and valleys when it’s done baking.
To bake, slide the pizza peel underneath the parchment paper with the shaped dough, and then slide the dough with the parchment paper onto the pizza stone. Bake for 4 minutes. Slide the pizza peel underneath the parchment paper and pizza crust to remove, and place the paper and crust on a cooling rack. Carefully remove the paper from underneath the crust, let cool and dry out a little, and then repeat the entire shaping and baking process again for the second piece of dough. Let both finished crusts cool, and place in a large plastic bag, separated by a piece of wax paper; seal and store in the refrigerator for a week. You can also freeze the pizza crusts; just double wrap securely in plastic and store for up to three months.
Makes two 14-inch whole white wheat pizza crusts