· Crust or Bust?

Who doesn’t look forward to pizza night? I sure do.

There are some foods that many of us take for granted. I would consider pizza to be one of them. To be honest, I often forget that pizza is actually bread with a bunch of stuff on top, though perhaps that is an oversimplification. But still, what do so many of us love dearly about pizza? The crust.


Over the years, I’ve found myself eating pizza loaded with things like twice-baked potatoes, bacon, and some sort of cream sauce that could be a meal on it’s own. Don’t get me wrong – potato on pizza is delicious, but what we’re dealing with here is in an different food group.

Until very recently, my pizza making experience had been limited to naan bread pizzas. Don’t get me wrong, naan pizza is delicious (especially when grilled), but making hand-tossed pies just wasn’t something that I explored until I picked up Flour Water Salt Yeast.

Allowing dough to proof overnight gives the yeast more time to develop complex flavors. If you really want great crust, forgo commercial yeast entirely and make the dough using your sourdough starter.

In fact, we will be “baking two loaves with one starter” (no idioms involving bird killing  necessary). Making this pizza dough uses the same basic bread method that I used in a previous post, Meet Sam, the Sourdough Man.

To begin, feed your 100% hydration starter around 9 AM the day before you plan to bake:

  • 20g starter
  • 100g flour (50/30/20 ratio, or whatever flour you are using)
  • 100g water, 90-95F (32-35C)

At around 6 PM, the starter should be ready.

The dough flow
  • 910g all-purpose flour
  • 610g water, 90-95F (32-35C)
  • 20g fine sea salt
  • 180g ripe levain (you may need to use 30-40 g more in winter)

Mix everything except the salt until incorporated and let rest for one hour to autolyse. After the autolyse, add the salt and mix the dough using the “pincer” method – cutting the dough with your thumb and index finger, and gently folding it over itself.


Repeat until a ball is formed. Pick the dough up and spread some olive oil in the bottom of the container, then cover for bulk fermentation.

After 30 minutes, pick up the edge of the dough with your finger tips and fold it over itself. Repeat three more times, rotating the container a quarter turn each time. Give one more round of turns after 30 more minutes.

IMG_7448 IMG_7451

Cover and let the dough continue to ferment for about 11 more hours, or until it has slightly more than doubled in size. I kept the dough in my furnace room, which is about 70F. If your room is cool it will likely need a couple more hours.


At this point it is ready to be divided. Flour the top of the dough. Use a dough scraper to divide the dough into five equal-sized pieces. Shape each piece into a round using the scraper, or by gently pulling the dough toward you with your hands. Take care not to press the gases out of the dough.

Flour a baking sheet and place the rounds a couple inches apart. Lightly flour the tops of each round, cover with plastic wrap, and put them into the fridge for the final proof – at least seven or eight hours. You could skip the extended proof for a shorter one at room temperature, but remember, it’s crust or bust.


toppings and Assembly
  • 1 28 oz can San Marzano tomatoes
  • Fresh thyme sprigs
  • Mozzarella
  • Fresh basil
  • Olive oil
  • Garlic (optional, but not really)

90 minutes before bake time, preheat the oven to 350F. Tear the tomatoes in half and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place a small sprig of thyme on each tomato.


Roast the tomatoes for 20 minutes. This gives them a nice flavor and removes some of the moisture.


Take out the tomatoes and move the oven rack so that it is about 8 inches from the top heating element. Then put your favorite pizza stone in the oven. I use an Emile Henry ceramic and it works very well. Crank up the oven as high as it will go – ideally 550F or more. For the stone to be sufficiently heated, you need to preheat it for a full hour.

Liberally flour your pizza peel. I find that the coarse texture of white whole wheat flour works nicely.


Grab a round from the refrigerator and place it on a floured surface. Use your fists to gently spread the dough into a circle.


Now give it a few tosses. I am still working on my technique, but Ken gives some good advice description in his book: put your fists under the dough and spin them like you’re turning the wheel of a car. Do this until the dough is thin, until the point where you can almost see through it. If you have a dog, he/she will likely be near by!


Put the dough on the peel and assemble the toppings in any way you like. In general, I find that less is more with the toppings, as it yields pizza that isn’t too heavy and is easier to eat.


Now it’s time to put the pizza in the oven. This is a bit tricky the first time around. With your pizza ready to go, put the leading edge of the peel on the middle of the stone. Push the peel forward and then quickly jerk it back towards you as if you were pulling a table cloth from underneath the table setting. If you have enough flour on the peel the pizza, it should slide right off.

As for the bake time: I can get my oven up to 600F. At this temperature, bake the pizza for 8-9 minutes, then set the broiler on high to let the crust brown for a minute or two if you like a well-browned crust. I prefer mine with some very dark, even black spots. IMG_7585 IMG_7587 IMG_7599 Depending on the thickness of your crust at the outer edge, you can either get a breadstick with your pizza: IMG_6691 Or the result is more like a flatbread:


It might seem like a lot of hands-on work to make this crust, but time does the heavy lifting here. Earlier, we agreed that the flavor and texture of the crust is crucial, and this method produces a crust that is absolutely delicious. The use of wild yeast as the leavening agent combined with an overnight proof produces a crust with a zing and complexity that really can’t be achieved using commercial yeast ·


10 thoughts on “· Crust or Bust?

  1. Christina N. March 18, 2015 / 12:09 am

    Sounds delish! I, too, am a huge fan of Ken Forkish’s book but I have yet to try his pizza dough. I love your tip about pre-roasting the tomatoes! I usually leave them off because they carry too much water, but now that problem is solved 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • liveandletrise March 18, 2015 / 1:58 am

      It’s great to hear from another Forkish fan! But yes, the first time that I made pizza from FWSY I did not cook the tomatoes enough. This resulted in a lot of liquid pooled on top of the pizza. When you do try it, don’t forget the thyme!


  2. Carol Hoag March 18, 2015 / 12:01 pm

    Can’t wait to try your poolish crusts. Tomorrow night. I’ll try tossing them per your blog description. You did a great job discussing use of the pizza peel. It’s critical to successful home pizzas.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. bill March 18, 2015 / 12:12 pm

    thank you for the detailed instructions on hydration and the dough flow
    I was pretty happy with a simple slow-rising semolina/bread flour mix, but now I am looking forward to a new transcendental pizza experience!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • liveandletrise March 21, 2015 / 2:39 pm

      You’re welcome Bill. I was intrigued when you told me about the slow-rise/semolina the other week, and I’m sure it is also a transcendental pizza experience!


  4. Lissy Tropea March 20, 2015 / 11:24 pm

    hi Ian! great meeting you this week at SFBI. I look forward to reading more of your blog/eating pizza (but really, when am I not trying to eat pizza?)



    • liveandletrise March 21, 2015 / 2:41 pm

      Hi Lissy! Likewise. It was great to meet you and hear about your amazing pie baking business. Keep in touch!


  5. Sarah April 20, 2015 / 3:30 pm

    Nom Nom Nom 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s