Cheat's Sourdough Pizza

Mamma mia! No more faffing around with sourdough starters – just soft and chewy (and scoffable) pizza in a snap…
Cheat's Sourdough Pizza - The Cardiff Cwtch

Look, you can chuck whatever the hell you want on top of a pizza – pineapples, mushrooms or just plain old cheese and tomato, it doesn’t bother me – it’s the base that’s always been the deal breaker for me. It’s got to be thin and slightly crisp underneath (if you’re one of those people who are partial to deep dish then you can just go ahead and let yourself out right now). It’s got to be evenly cooked all the way through (how many times have I made pizza at home only to end up with a soggy middle?). And lastly, the crust has got to be soft and chewy – the archetype for a good sourdough pizza. The best sourdough pizza I’ve ever eaten was at Franco Manca back when I lived in London. Sunny dragged me to this tiny canteen in Brixton, shoved a menu under my nose and then quietly informed me that no other pizza would ever compare to what I was about to eat. And he was right. If you’ve ever been to Franco Manca then you’ll know they’ve got quite a small and specific menu; it’s all about stripping pizza back, using only top quality ingredients and instead of doing lots of different flavours and toppings pretty well – they do only three or four, but do them to perfection. And the sourdough base? Oh lordy.

Since then (and since moving far away from Franco Manca…) I’ve been desperately trying to come up with a sourdough pizza dupe that I can make at home. Trouble is, it’s near impossible to replicate that soft and chewy texture and crisp underside without a proper pizza oven. Still, I wanted to see if I could find a way around that slight handicap. I’ve tried sourdough starters (too much faff), I’ve tried pizza stones, I’ve tried about fifty different doughs, and I have stretched and tossed (behave) until my arms have ached… Have I ever come anywhere close to replicating that pillowy soft vehicle for cheese and tomato? Have I heck. Until now! It’s pretty damn close, and pretty damn good. Even better, it doesn’t involve keeping a jar of flour, water and yeast alive for at least a week beforehand (I mean I have a dog, I don’t need another pet to feed), nor does it require any vigorous stretching or acrobatic throwing. Just some light kneading, an hour to prove and that’s it. Part cook it on a hot skillet to crisp up the base, and then finish it off under the grill. Easy. 🙂

Sourdough Pizza without a Sourdough Starter - The Cardiff Cwtch

Cheat’s Sourdough Pizza


For the dough:

  • 1 tsp dried active yeast*
  • 1 tbsp runny honey
  • 75ml warm water
  • 200ml warm semi skimmed milk
  • 150ml plain yogurt
  • 50ml sour cream
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 500g strong bread flour
  • olive oil

*make sure you use dried active yeast instead of instant yeast for this recipe – it creates a softer, chewier dough with a better rise.

For the toppings:

  • Tomato Passata
  • Mozzarella
  • Handful of chopped basil leaves
Easy Sourdough Pizza - No Sourdough Starter - The Cardiff Cwtch - Chewy Pizza Base
  1. Pour the warm water and honey into a large mixing bowl, and then stir in the yeast. Leave the yeast to activate for ten minutes (you should start to see tiny pin-prick bubbles across the surface of the water or a slight brown foam when it’s ready).
  2. Next, stir in the warm milk, yogurt, sour cream, salt and flour. Stir together to create a sticky (very sticky!) dough. Oil your hands with some of the olive oil, then turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. It’ll be sticky, it’ll be messy – but persevere with it, it’ll be worth it in the end!
  3. Pop the dough into a lightly oil bowl, cover with clingfilm, and then leave somewhere warm for an hour until doubled in size.
  4. Split the dough (this recipe creates plenty of it, so wrap tightly whatever you’re not going to use with clingfilm and stick it in the fridge) and then turn it out onto a floured surface. No need to stretch it or work it, just roll it out thinly into whatever shape of pizza you’re going for.
  5. Heat up a frying pan, or flat skillet until it’s burning hot. Lightly brush one side of the pizza with olive oil, then place face down onto the frying pan. Heat for a couple of minutes on one side, and then lightly brush with oil and flip it. You’ll know when to flip because bubbles will start to rise on the surface of the dough as it cooks. Cook for no more than a minute and then take it off the heat.
  6. Spread the tomato passata across the bubbled side of the pizza, followed by the mozzarella (as well as whatever other toppings you fancy), then cook it under the grill in the oven for about 3-5 minutes until the cheese starts to bubble. Sprinkle with basil, then scoff!

Have a lovely week! 🍕🍕🍕

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!