The Sourdough Experiment

Sourdough pizza can claim to be the new hipster artisan food thing, but apparently it’s the way Neapolitan have been “doing dough” for yonks, and sourdough itself is a lot older than that.  It’s the traditional way of creating wild yeast with just flour and water used by bakers way before little packets of yeast hit supermarket shelves and simplified and arguably took the soul out of the whole bread-making process.  Sourdough pizza is pretty special; Sunny took me to Franco Manca in Brixton for the first time last summer and I don’t think I was really prepared for what was in store.  The toppings were fresh and simple, but the dough – light and chewy and… I was spoiled.  All other pizza from that moment on just didn’t cut it.  So last week I set about reliving pizza heaven by trying out the whole sourdough thing for myself.

Creating a Sourdough Starter: The ingredients for creating a sourdough starter are incredibly simple, purely water (with a minimal chlorine content as chlorine kills bacteria) and flour.  I followed a recipe that called for a ratio of 1 cup of flour and 1/4 cup of water.  But don’t let the foolproof ingredients fool you now!  What you’re actually doing here when you mix that flour and water together is bringing a living, breathing baby into the kitchen.  You’re going to have to look after it and feed it every single day, and when someone wrinkles their nose and tells you to toss your baby because it stinks, you’re going to want to protect it with the ferocity of a lioness!
On day one I added the ingredients to my plastic bowl, mixed them together and then covered it with clingfilm.  On day two I tossed half the mixture and then “fed” my starter another cup of flour and a quarter cup of water.  By day three, I was amazed to see that little bubbles had started to spring up all over the surface of my starter.  This meant that the magic was working!  The scent of magic wasn’t exactly pleasant though, the whole pot smelt a little bit “off”, like sour milk, but assured by various websites that this was normal, I followed the fling and feed process again.  By day four Sunny complained that the kitchen was smelling of athlete’s foot and that he didn’t care for my little experiment. But I couldn’t stop now, I’d made a commitment and I told him that he’d be eating his words – literally – when we feasted on glorious sourdough pizza by the end of the week.  By day six, the smell was worse and Sunny said I had to choose.  It was either him or the dough.  No, not really, but it did stink!  It had a sweet, hoppy sort of aroma which in small sniffs wasn’t that offensive, but it was strong!  Since the starter had doubled in size and was doing everything the recipe said that it should, I decided it was time to give it a try out…

I put 250g of strong bread flour in a bowl and added a tablespoon of olive oil, one teaspoon of salt, half a tablespoon of sugar, a teaspoon of nutmeg and cracked in a little black pepper.  Next I mixed in 250g of the starter with my hand until it was combined.  At this point I cling-filmed the bowl and walked away.  A couple of hours later I was disappointed to see that the dough ball hadn’t changed at all; no rise, no bubbles.  Still, I persevered.  I kneaded it for a little while and immediately noticed a difference to my usual, non sourdough pizza dough.  The dough was far easier to work and smelt really nice.
I rolled out the dough until it was nice and thin and then heated it on a skillet for a few minutes on each side.  This is a cool trick to prevent your pizza getting a soggy base.  Unless you’ve got a wood fired oven handy (pfft!) then this tip will help you get the effect.  Once the dough starts to bubble up in places and get a few scorch marks you can add the toppings.  Finish it off under the grill or in the oven for around seven minutes and bingo!

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4 thoughts on “The Sourdough Experiment

    1. Could be that there are various types. I think sourdough bread and loaves are done a little differently. Since I’m a pizza fiend I wanted to try the Italian sourdough starter method for pizza dough 🙂

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