This pizza dough is based on the Tartine country dough. It is a little drier for easier handling, but shares the same principles and methods. I have made a lot of other doughs, with olive oil and without, with yeast, with different pre-ferments. This is the Occam’s Razor of pizza dough. The simplest path to the best results.
Two days in the fridge really do make a difference in the end result. The long, cold rest period ensures that the gluten is well developed but also very relaxed and extensible. I like to make it on Wednesday so I’ll be prepped for Friday night pizza. Feel free to sub whole wheat flour for some or all of the bread flour.
Yield: 4 pizzas doughs, at 250 grams each (Neapolitan size)
380 ml (1 2/3 cups) warm water (about 85°F)
80 grams ripe levain (sourdough starter)
530 grams (3 3/4 cups) high-protein flour (bread flour), plus more for dusting
12 grams (1 Tbs + 1 tsp) sea salt (kosher or other medium-coarse flake salt)
1. In a medium mixing bowl combine the warm water, levain and bread flour. Mix until all the ingredients are combined. Cover and set aside in a warm spot to rest for 30 minutes.
2. After 30 minutes, build some strength in the dough by giving it a series of turns in the bowl for 2-3 minutes. To do the turns, lift up the dough from one side of the bowl and fold it over the middle. Turn the bowl roughly 90° and lift and fold again. Keep doing this until the dough is smoother and forms a cohesive ball. Let the dough rest for about 3 minutes.
3. Add the salt. Incorporate it into the dough by squeezing it with your fingers and using the folding motion until it feels like most of the salt has been worked in. Let rest for 3 minutes again.
4. After 3 minutes, check to see if the dough needs any more water. To do so, pinch a little between your fingers and stretch it. If it is very difficult to stretch, you may need to add 10-20 ml additional water. If it is strong but yields to being pulled, you probably don’t need to add any extra. This largely depends on what flour you are using and how you like your dough to feel. I like mine to stretch easily when I shape it and feel a little softer after baking, so I tend to add a little extra water. If this is your first time making pizza, it may be easier to handle if you don’t add any extra. This is up to you, and it get easier to determine if you practice the recipe a few times. If you do add the extra water, squeeze it in the same way you did the salt, and fold until the dough comes back together. If you don’t add any extra water, you still want to fold the dough a few more times until you’re sure all the salt is well incorporated and the dough is a strong, cohesive ball.
5. After the final mixing stage, cover the bowl with the dough in it and let it rest in a warm spot for 1 hour. Ideally the dough stays around 80°F. After an hour, give in a few turns to make sure that the temperature of the dough and the pockets of fermentation are evenly distributed and to build a little more strength. Let rest for another hour.
6. Give the dough one more turn, lifting and stretching a little more gently this time so you don’t deflate it if it has started to get some air bubbles. Let rest one more hour.
7. About 3 hours after you’ve mixed it, it should be ready to divide and shape into balls. To check and make sure that it is ready, perform a float test. To perform a float test, get a quart or so of cold water. Gently pinch off a golf-ball sized piece of dough, trying not to deflate it. Place the dough gently in the water. If it floats in the cold water, it is ready to divide. If it sinks, it isn’t ready. If it sinks, return the piece of dough to the bulk of the dough and wait 15 minutes. Check every 15 minutes until the dough floats. Sometimes, this can take a lot longer than 3 hours (up to 5) depending on the temperature of your dough and the strength of your sourdough starter. Colder dough takes exponentially longer to ferment- just wait for it.
8. Prepare a few pint-sized deli cups or other small containers for holding the dough balls after you have shaped them. To do so, coat the insides with olive oil. Alternatively, prepare a sheet pan by lining it with a non-stick liner or oiling it lightly with olive oil.
9. When the dough is ready to divide, scoop it out of the bowl and onto a work surface. Divide it into four equal parts, using a large kitchen knife or a bench knife. Roll each piece into a ball by gently but firmly pressing it into the table with the palm of your hand and rotating until the ball shape is formed. Use a very light dusting of flour if needed to keep it from sticking, but try to use a minimal amount. This also takes a little practice. If the dough starts to tear, stop, let it rest for a few minutes, then try again.
10. When the dough balls are shaped, place them in the cups or on the pan. If they’re going in cups, cover them with the lids. If they’re on a pan, gently place it in a re-used plastic bag or cover with beeswax wrap or other similar covering to keep them from drying out.
11. Refrigerate the doughs at least overnight and ideally for 48 hours. The longer cold rest period helps the gluten become even more stretchy and relaxed for a more fluffy, open crust.
12. When you are ready to make the pizza, remove the doughs from the fridge and let them warm up for about an hour. Preheat a pizza stone or steel, either in an oven, a barbecue or a pizza oven. The best temperature for baking these pizzas is at least 550°F and up to 800°
13. Set up all the ingredients you want to top your pizza with so that they are all ready to go and at hand. Once you start topping your pizza you’re going to want to get it topped and onto the baking surface quickly, so it helps to have everything ready to go. Have a pizza peel and some peel-dusting flour ready. You can use regular or semolina flour for dusting the peel. I like semolina, but it’s a matter of personal preference. Have a small bowl of all-purpose or bread flour ready to dust the doughs, too.
14. To stretch the pizzas, take the dough out of the cup and dredge it in the flour bowl so it is well-covered. Flour your work surface too- you can be generous with the flour here.
15. Place the dough ball on the work surface and use your fingertips to gently press it into a disc. Keep pressing, turning the dough in a circle as needed to keep it even. Press more in the middle, leaving a lip around the edge for the crust. Press the dough out to about 8-10 inches in diameter. You can drape it over the backs of your knuckles to help it stretch if you like. Gently place the dough over loosely arched fingers and slowly spread them apart, rotating the dough and gently stretching again as needed until it is evenly round and thin.
16. Very generously dust your pizza peel with regular or semolina flour. Place the round onto the peel. Top the pizza as desired, with sauce, cheese, olives, meats, greens, or whatever else you desire.
17. Wiggle the peel a little to make sure the pizza isn’t sticking. If it is, try to sneak a little more flour in the sticky spots.
18. Gently wiggle the pizza off of the peel and onto the baking surface. Bake until the crust is irregularly dark golden brown in spots and the bottom is colored. I like to bake mine pretty hot and dark.
19. When it’s done, remove from the baking surface and set aside to cool for just a moment. Repeat with the other pizzas. Slice and eat while hot.