Those of you following us on Twitter may have noticed frequent updates on my bread starter. You may have read this post where I detailed my grandiose plan to cultivate my own bread baking yeast for making a superior pizza dough…and for world domination. Pizza dough first, though.
So I began. I found some instructions on the web, including Slice’s Starter-Along blog series, and I commandeered a Tupperware container festooned with candy canes from my friend Stacey. I mixed my flour and water together and I waited.
And then stuff started to happen. Bubbles mostly. And then some foam. And then both! Take a look at the progress in the images below:
By photo #5, thinks looked like they were really cooking. Not only were there bubbles and foam throughout, but the consistency had changed. It was almost like it had been whipped – less cake-batter-like and more foamy throughout. Fascinating, no? Exactly.
Soliciting no professional opinions but my own (non)sense, I decided it was time to make bread. I harvested some of the yeast for pizza dough, and then another batch for some bread. The pizza dough needed to chill in the fridge for a few days and I was keen to see if this whole thing was going to work, so I jumped right into the bread making process.
Also, if you recall, it snowed about a million and two feet on Sunday the 26th of December into Monday the 27th, and I needed something to do between carrying my dog Toby out to the street to pee (he is too short to climb the snow drifts).
So I made the bread. I used this recipe. Let me just say I’ve made bread before. Quite successfully, thank you very much. But this was a miserable failure. I’m not blaming the recipe. I blame John. No, I’m kidding, he wasn’t even there! In hindsight, one of a few things went wrong:
1. My starter really wasn’t ready, even though I thought it was: the bread refused to rise.
2. I didn’t weigh my ingredients because I don’t have a kitchen scale, so the proportions were incorrect.
3. The planet alignment was all off that day, and I should really try this again when Neptune is in a more favorable house.
Even knowing that something was terribly wrong, I decided to put the non-risen bread in the oven anyway. What resulted was the densest, least attractive brick of a loaf of bread that I have ever seen. It was difficult to cut with a serrated knife. I could have hammered nails with it. The loaf was about 2″ high.
I began to laugh. A lot. And then I tasted it, and I stopped laughing because it wasn’t very good. How could it be?
HOWEVER! As I was failing miserably in the regular bread department, there was something happenin’ in the fridge with the pizza dough. Magic, that’s what.
Days later, as instructed by Slice’s recipe here, I removed my pizza dough from the fridge and it’s olive oil coated Ziploc bag. It was surprisingly easy to stretch out. And the cold from the refrigeration made it easier to handle. It even gave me the ability to stretch it a little thinner without breaking the dough.
Needless to say, I was intrigued. With unnecessary amounts of glee, I ran around the kitchen assembling sauce and collecting toppings (mozzarella cheese and basil). I fired up the ol’ oven and pizza stone and made this:
This is, hands down, the crispiest, tastiest crust I have ever managed. In addition to being crispy, the outer crust retained the characteristic chewiness of Neopolitan style pies. And there was flavor! Hot damn and hallelujah!
Why was the pizza dough a success and the sourdough loaf a failure? I have a few educated guesses:
1. Proper planet alignment.
2. The extended rise time of 48 hours (even slowed down due to refrigeration) was actually needed. My starter wasn’t broken, it was just slow! It needed some extra time.
3. The additional fermentation time also added flavor, because the yeast was hanging around for a longer period of time (2 days).
A few things to note:
While cold, oiled pizza dough is MUCH easier to handle and shape, it tends to stick to the pizza peel a bit more. I would recommend dusting the bottom of the dough with a little semolina flour and making sure you can easily slide it on and off the peel before assembling everything and then getting it stuck on there. Not that that happened to me or anything…
The cold dough took a bit longer to cook. This just makes sense, but I’m telling you anyway. You could always take your dough ball out of the fridge a few hours beforehand so you can bring it to room temperature. Either way, keep a sharp eye on things while they’re cooking.
Here are some detail photos:
A few other tips:
I used La Valle cherry tomatoes for the sauce with a splash of red wine vinegar (as instructed by the most recent edition of Cooks Illustrated Magazine). I blended the tomatoes and vinegar in the food processor with garlic, salt, pepper and a dash of cayenne (for fun). The red wine vinegar gave the sauce that kick that I have been trying to achieve for a while.
For cheese, I used mini mozzarella balls. I cut them in half so they melted into little blobs.
And don’t forget the FRESH BASIL!!!