Sourdough Pizza

I finally bought a pizza stone a couple of months ago after restraining myself for years. I had never cooked with one but they are supposed to make your pizza better and I had been having issues with a soggy and undercooked pizza crust for quite some time. The result? Crispy crust, quick cooking time, all round better pizza in my opinion.

Question: what is a pizza stone? Answer: it is a relatively simple way of recreating the conditions found inside a pizza oven without having to go out and build yourself a new, extraordinarily expensive piece of kit. The moment the dough hits the stone, it is exposed to a huge amount of heat which makes the yeast go crazy giving a super puffy, air-filled crust. The pizza stone retains its heat well so the addition of a (comparatively) cold pizza on top of it does little to lower its overall temperature. This causes the base of the pizza to cook fully and quickly, giving a solid, crisp base that will not be soggy. Any sections of dough which may be a little wet quickly dry, as the pizza stone is porous and thus pulls moisture out of the base of the crust again leading to a crispier base… I think there may be a pattern here. Basically, this can all be summed up as: the pizza stone ensures the crust is cooked quickly and properly and – most importantly – fully before the toppings begin to burn.

I have used metal trays for baking pizza and, while they do work, the best method I know still involves preheating the tray and then transferring the pizza onto it. Unlike the stone, metal is not porous, so any steam which may escape through the base of the pizza is trapped against the dough – causing it to be reabsorbed and softening the dough. Some methods of cooking use both a pizza stone and a metal sheet. The pizza goes on the preheated sheet and the stone rests on a wire rack directly above the pizza. Again, this is recreating the conditions of a pizza oven where extreme heat is being blasted at the pizza from all directions, the base of the oven, the roof, even the walls all help cook the pizza.

When it comes to hand stretching dough, I have found that the best way to learn is watching online tutorials. Written instructions are ok but it is so much easier when you can see what is going on. It may split the first time… or the second… or even once you think you know what is going on but this is fine – I just stitch it all back together and after the cheese is added, no one will be able to tell. Stretching the dough by hand, in my experience, is the best way to get a puffy crust on the pizza. When you stretch it, the dough from the centre of the pizza is slowly transferred to the outside. This can weaken the centre of the pizza though so make sure to keep an eye on it and if any bits seem dangerously thin, try and avoid stretching them any more than necessary.

Sourdough pizza (like normal sourdough bread) takes time and you need to plan ahead if you want to eat it. Luckily, the majority of the time needed is resting and proving so it is not too time consuming when you are actually making it. I prefer the taste of sourdough bases but let me know what you think if you try it. If you don’t have a sourdough starter, you can always make your own or you could get some from a friend. I am sure there will be someone in your local area with one who would be happy to donate a little to you.

 

 

Sourdough pizza:

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Rest time: 16 hours

 

To reactivate the starter:

½ cup sour dough starter

1 cup strong white flour

1 cup water

 

For the dough:

75ml water

500g flour

2 tbsp olive oil

10g salt

 

For toppings: tomato passata, mozzarella, any other toppings of your choice

 

Mix the starter with one cup of flour and one cup of water. Cover and leave overnight. You can use the starter straight from the fridge, no need to warm it up as that is what this step will do.

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After sitting overnight, the starter should be very bubbly.

 

In the morning, add the flour for the dough, 25ml water and oil to the reactivated starter. Mix until it forms a shaggy mess – it need not all stick together at this point. Cover and leave to rest for 30 minutes to an hour.

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Sprinkle over the salt and the rest of the water and knead to combine.

Knead the dough for five to ten minutes until it is smooth and elastic.

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Cover and leave to rise for six or seven hours. I would set this up before work and leave it in a cool place throughout the day.

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About an hour before making the pizzas, split the dough into four and shape each quarter into a ball. Cover and leave again for half an hour to let the gluten relax.

 

Place a pizza stone into the oven and turn your oven to the highest setting (mine is gas mark 9 at around 250°C). ALLOW THIS TO HEAT UP FOR AT LEAST HALF TO THREE-QUARTERS OF AN HOUR.

Take one of the balls of dough and flatten it using your fingertips. Stretch the dough until it is the same size as your stone. This can be done by picking it up at the edge and rotating the dough so its own weight stretches it. This ensures the dough in the middle of the pizza is nice and thin and the edges are a bit thicker so you get a good crust. You could also use a rolling pin if it is easier for you.

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Spread the tomato paste out from the centre until it is half an inch from the outside of the dough.

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Grate/thinly slice the mozzarella and sprinkle it over the pizza. Top with your favourite toppings.

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Using a single, swift motion slide a peel underneath the pizza. (A peel is just a large, flat paddle. It might be worth practicing getting the pizza onto and off of the peel before you add the toppings (as in when it is just the base)). You cannot build the pizza on the peel as it will stick if it is left there too long. If you do not have a peel (like me) you could use a cake lifter or even make the pizza on baking parchment and slide this parchment from a normal baking tray onto the pizza stone.

By gently shaking the peel, slide the pizza onto the pizza stone and bake for five to ten minutes (depending on your oven temperature). When the pizza is done, it should be able to be tilted by lifting up one side as the base will be cooked and a little crispy.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you would like to have a go at normal, non-sourdough pizza, check out my recipe. The crust is super light and fluffy and it tastes amazing. I have been known to lightly brush the outer crust (without the toppings) with garlic oil and give it a sprinkle of sea salt for extra flavour.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a delicious sweet treat.

H

 

 

Chocolate Rugelach

Rugelach are one of those foods that have come on a serious journey. Originating in Poland with a standard yeasted dough, they are now eaten all around the world in Jewish communities and have evolved to include ingredients such as sour cream, cream cheese, laminated pastry and fillings such as halva and Nutella. These are quite a different beast to the original basic dough filled with dried fruit and jams.

A big question when it comes to making rugelach is whether or not to add dairy. In orthodox Judaism, milk and meat are not to be eaten in the same meal so by including butter or sour cream in your dough, you are preventing yourself from eating the rugelach as a dessert after a meaty meal. The obvious choice would be to leave it out but of course the dairy adds a large fat content to your dough which softens it dramatically. You could always add oil to replace the fat from the dairy but that still will not solve the tricky problem of laminating the pastry. One solution is that you could use some sort of margarine instead of the butter – after all, the pasty is a soft lamination, you are not required to keep the butter cold at all times like in puff pastry – but the flavour wouldn’t be the same (although with enough added sugar, I am certain that this would not be a problem).

This dough takes a relatively long time to rise. Both milk and sour cream have a non-neutral pH (they are both slightly acidic) and their pHs both lie outside the range at which yeast ferments best. The eggs and the dairy constituents contain fats which coat the flour during the mixing stage. This slows down the rate at which the yeast can break down the carbohydrates into fermentable sugar. With eggs, butter, milk and sour cream in this recipe you should not be worried if your dough rises slowly but you will have to be patient. Rugelach which are under proved – especially during the second rise – will not cook through in the oven, resulting in a doughy interior.

The sugars in the milk (as well as the sugar added to the dough) will result in the rugelach browning in the oven faster than normal bread but you have to hold your nerve about this. Make sure you know the temperature your oven is working at and, if you have a fan oven, adjust it down a little to ensure perfectly cooked, unburnt pastries.

The recipe I use for rugelach includes chocolate in the soft lamination. The cocoa butter in the chocolate helps to separate the layers and it also ensures you have a huge quantity of chocolate in the final pasty (which is never a bad thing). You are of course welcome to laminate just with butter – I can assure you this works very well as it is the technique I use when making Pastéis de Nata. You could even use a flavoured butter – cinnamon or why not give it a savoury twist and infuse your butter with herbs or garlic and stuff the rugelach with cheese? Go wild!

These things will make your house smell delicious – forget baking bread when someone is coming over for a viewing, make rugelach! Hopefully you will enjoy these as much as I did and let me know how they go if you try them at home.

 

 

 

Rugelach (the sour cream variety)

Work time: 1 hour

Proving time: 8 hours

Cook time: 30 minutes

 

Ingredients:

Dough:

650g plain white flour

1 ½ tbsp yeast

150g white sugar

1 egg and 3 egg yolks

200ml sour cream

80g very soft butter

160ml warm milk

1tsp salt

 

Filling:

200g dark chocolate

100g butter

50g sugar

 

Glaze:

1 egg + 1 tbsp water

300g sugar

200ml water

 

 

Tip the dough ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attached.

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Mix until combined and then knead on a medium to low speed for five to ten minutes – until the dough is stretchy and bounces back a little when a finger is pressed into it.

Cover the dough and leave in a warm place for about four hours (or until doubled in size). Alternatively, you could leave this overnight at room temperature (providing the room is not too hot).

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Melt the chocolate and butter together and leave to cool until the mixture begins to thicken to a spreadable paste.

Flour a surface and roll out the dough to a twenty by twenty five-inch rectangle.

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Spread a quarter of the chocolate filling over two thirds of the rectangle. Fold the uncovered third over the middle third and the final third over them both (this is a letter fold – when the dough is folded in three, like a letter).

Pat out any air bubbles and seal the edges.

Roll this log back out again into a twenty by twenty five-inch rectangle but the other way from the first time. This will ensure that the folds are perpendicular to before.

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Repeat the spreading and folding again with one third of the remaining filling.

Mix the sugar into the filling that remains.

Roll out the dough back into its rectangle and square off the edges.

Spread the remaining filling over the dough.

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Cut the dough in half lengthwise.

Cut each rectangle into triangles with bases around three inches long.

Line two baking sheets with baking parchment.

Roll each triangle up into a little croissant like shape and place it on the baking sheet with the tip underneath the body – this will prevent any unrolling during rising and baking.

Cover the rugelach and leave for one to two hours or until they are visibly risen and they wobble a little when the tray is jiggled.

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Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (200°C).

Whisk the egg in a bowl with 1 tbsp water.

Egg wash the rugelach and bake for 25-30 minutes.

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While the rugelach are baking, pour the sugar and water into a saucepan. Bring to the boil and stir until all the sugar has dissolved. Continue to boil for another minute and then remove from the heat.

 

The moment the rugelach come out of the oven, glaze them with the sugar syrup. This might sizzle a little when it hits the rugelach or the baking tray but that is fine.

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After glazing, move the rugelach to a wire rack and leave to cool.

Pile up on a platter to serve

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These rugelach really are amazing and I would say they are 100% worth the effort it takes to make them. If you are a fan of laminated doughs, why not try making some puff pastry to bake with or maybe you could have a go at croissants!

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a delicious savoury treat.

H