Sourdough Pizza Crust: new life for a sleepy starter

You know when you feed your sourdough starter and you start by getting rid of most of it, saving just a little bit? It always irritates you to throw away that excess starter, doesn’t it? You’ve fed it and kept it warm (or cool) and watched it grow and loved it and… well, throwing away any starter feels like ditching one of your kids! So what’s the solution?

Don't ditch that excess sourdough starter! Turn it into sourdough pizza crust. Click To Tweet

In fact, there are quite a few ways you can use your “discard” sourdough starter — and none of them involves surreptitiously scraping it into a hole out back where the critters won’t find it. Pancakes or waffles. Biscuits. Soft pretzels. Even carrot cake makes good use of “unfed” sourdough starter.

But we particularly like it in sourdough pizza crust, where its flavor beautifully complements both tomato sauce and cheese, while helping to ramp up the taste of milder toppings like peppers and mushrooms.

Now, I know some of you are wonderful sourdough “parents,” and some of you… well, not so much. I’m the same way; I have one starter I feed regularly, and another (an emergency backup) that tends to get lost in the chaos at the back of the fridge.

I decided to use both of them in pizza crust, to see if the pampered starter responds better than the one suffering from neglect.

Sourdough Pizza Crust via @kingarthurflour

Our Sourdough Pizza Crust recipe calls for using starter right from the fridge — no feeding necessary. The starter on the left had been fed within the past couple of days. The one on the right — well, I’ll bet it’s been at least two months since it had had any attention; there was quite a bit of grayish liquid on top (alcohol), which I stirred back in.

Let’s make sourdough pizza crust

Here’s the recipe:

1 cup sourdough starter, unfed (straight from the fridge)*
1/2 cup hot tap water
2 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
4 teaspoons Pizza Dough Flavor, optional but delicious

*Need sourdough starter? Read how to make your own.

Mix the dough

I mix two batches of dough, one using the more active starter, one the sleepier. I end up using an extra 2 tablespoons water in each batch of dough, since it’s winter and my flour is quite dry. Your goal is dough that’s soft, but not unbearably sticky.

Let the dough rise

I put each ball of dough in a bowl, cover the bowl, and let the dough rise.

Sourdough Pizza Crust via @kingarthurflour

After 2 hours, the dough made from the more recently fed starter (left) has definitely shown more growth.

I decide to track their respective growth more closely, and put the dough into measuring cups.

Sourdough Pizza Crust via @kingarthurflour

After another hour, the happier starter dough is still ahead, but the neglected starter dough is starting to catch up. Both are showing good activity, as you can see from the air bubbles.

Sourdough Pizza Crust via @kingarthurflour

Shape the dough into a crust

After a total of four hours rising, I pat each crust into a half-sheet pan — which I’ve first greased with non-stick spray, and then drizzled with olive oil.

I’m making thick Sicilian-style pizza here. You can make two 12″ round thin-crust pizzas out of each batch of crust, if you prefer.

Sourdough Pizza Crust via @kingarthurflour

This is the crust made from the regularly fed starter.

Sourdough Pizza Crust via @kingarthurflourAnd here’s what it looks like two hours later. It’s not a frenetic riser, but the dough does puff up and spread into the corners of the pan.

At this point, there’s no need to take a comparison photo of the dough made from the neglected starter; it’s totally caught up. Lesson learned: making your sourdough pizza crust with a neglected rather than happy starter is just fine.

OK, we’re about ready to bake. Let’s preheat the oven to 450°F. I’ll set my pan of dough on a pizza stone, which lives full time on the bottom of my oven. If you don’t want to use a stone, that’s fine, too — you’ll just set the pan on your oven’s middle shelf.

I like to bake my thick-crust pizzas partway before topping. This partial bake accomplishes several things:

The crust becomes stable, since its rise is stopped and set. I can choose to top and bake the pizza immediately, or come back and finish it hours (or days) later. It’s also easier to move to a baking stone in the oven.
The crust will be baked all the way through, no matter how quickly the toppings bake.
The crust won’t collapse under the weight of potentially heavy toppings, as it might if it were topped before baking.

Thin-crust pizzas don’t need pre-baking, but if you’re making a thicker sourdough pizza crust, bake it for about 8 to 10 minutes without toppings, until it’s set. It’ll lose its raw-dough “shine,” and will appear solid, not fragile.

Sourdough Pizza Crust via @kingarthurflour

Notice the crust is baked all the way through, but not browned. Sourdough crusts don’t generally brown as readily, so don’t panic; it’ll look fine by the time you’ve topped and finished baking it.

Sourdough Pizza Crust via @kingarthurflour

Add your favorite toppings

I’m going with red toppings here: tomato sauce, followed by cheese, red peppers, and turkey pepperoni.

Sourdough Pizza Crust via @kingarthurflour

Finish baking

I bake the topped pizza for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, then take it out of the oven and sprinkle with thinly sliced red onion — to complete the red theme.

So, “discard” sourdough starter? Put to good use.

Dinner? Made.

Everybody? Happy.

Sounds like a win-win-WIN.

For complete instructions, see our Sourdough Pizza Crust recipe.

And tell us your favorite thing to do with “discard” sourdough starter — please share in comments,  below.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. sandy

    PJ- Thanks to all of the pizza help from KAF blogs, I think I make pretty good pizza. This looks really different and I will try this. But I do have a slightly off topic question. My crust is good, my sauce is good, but I am never very satisfied with the way the cheese turns out. I’ve experimented – fresh or not, different types of cheese, more cheese versus less cheese and I feel like I am not getting that nice stretchy bubbly outcome I want. Any suggestions?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Sandy, I’ve heard that the cheese you buy at the supermarket, already grated in a bag, has something added to it that increases its “plasticity,” making it less likely to melt well. I’ve noticed this seems to be true if you just use a little bit of pre-grated cheese; but when added in mounds, it does melt OK. I’m thinking, though, that your best bet might be making your own Velveeta-style cheese, and using that. Cheese with Velveeta’s consistency is supremely meltable. See our blog post on making your own cheese; and use a combination of mozzarella (for meltability) and sharp cheddar (for flavor) as your base. Let us know how that works for you, OK? Cheers — PJH

    2. Wanda White

      I always buy fresh cheese from the deli at the store, preferably, Boars Head. I use a mixture of provolone, brick, and mozarella. Keep in mind the provolone is more salty than the other two so I don’t use quite as much of it. I am told you can grate the cheese and put it in the freezer and it melts better although I never tried it. I like fresh. Mine also browns perfectly!

    3. Julie Kostick

      I but a cheese combo from gfs that is a mix of provolone and mozzarella. It looks like pellets and comes in a five pound bag. No additives to keep from sticking together. It freezes beautifully! Just take out enough for your pizzas du jour, reseal the bag and toss it bag in the freezer. I love the provolone.

  2. Anne

    One of my favorites! A question about pre-baking the crust (I don’t usually, since I prefer a very thin crust, but I’m curious): fully baking a thicker crust makes lots of sense, but does pre-baking end up missing both that wonderful shiny-topped junction between sauce and sauce-topped dough, and the difference between the sauce-covered middle and the higher-rising, crunchy edge? If so, would a higher oven temperature be a best-of-both-worlds strategy, or would the bottom burn or some other calamity occur?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Anne, yeah, I think pre-baking would eliminate both of those, so if that’s part of the pizza experience you love — bake topping and crust together from the get-go. If you mean a higher temperature for an un-topped crust, then I don’t think that would solve anything; the outside would get crusty, the middle would stay soft, then the moisture in the middle would migrate outwards as the crust cooled and soften it, and as you say the bottom might get overdone… BTW, have you seen our post on artisan pizza? I think you’d love it (the post AND the pizza!) — PJH

    2. Julie Kostick

      I don’t bother with the pre-bake. I crank the oven up to max at 550 degrees, preheating my baking steel on the top rack. I divide the kaf recipe into 2 12″ crusts that I spread out on oiled parchment. Then let them do the final rise, covered by oiled plastic wrap. Top the unbaked crust directly with all your toppings, then slide the pizza with parchment onto the baking steel using a pizza peel. Baked 8-12 min depending on how brown you like the cheese/bottom. I also sub some white whole wheat in for part of the AP and add 1T vital wheat gluten.

    3. PJ Hamel , post author

      Sounds good, Julie — thanks for sharing your own favorite technique here! PJH

  3. Susan Williamson

    This is my go-to for pizza crust! Last night I made it as usual…except that I replaced 1/2 cup of the AP flour with KAF Semolina flour. Oh, wow, it was one of our best crusts ever!
    By the way, I always pre-cook my thin crusts. Last night I didn’t have pizza sauce so I covered the crust with thinly-sliced Compari tomatoes, so I also did a second pre-bake for the tomatoes, then added the remainder of the toppings. Wish I could post a picture–it was a wonderful pizza for Saturday night supper!

    Reply
  4. Liz

    Ok I grew up in the Bay Area of California. I’m Italian and Sourdough​ runs in my veins and I carry both every I go. Needless to say people call some bread sourdough…go to San Francisco and have sourdough then you know what I call sourdough.
    This my friends is the best sourdough pizza crust recipe I have found. I didn’t​ have to use the pizza dough flavor my starter is very thick and very sour, my starter worked perfectly adjusting the flour for the drier starter.

    Thank you for sharing your recipe. I am moving to the Northwest I will be taking classes with KAF. I’ve been baking and cooking for 55 years and I believe you can always learn new techniques and as ingredients changed over the many years recipes must adjust as well.

    Again thank you.

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Thanks for sharing, Liz! We can’t wait to have you come to WA and meet some of the KAF family. MJR@KAF

  5. Sue Short

    I’ve done this recipe several times. I love the taste and texture of this crust. I’m going to try something a little different with it this time. Instead of the traditional pizza toppings. I’m planning to seal the crust with butter, then sprinkle cinnamon/sugar on it. For cheese I think a ricotta would be nice. When it comes out of the oven topping it with fresh fruit. Say blueberries or peaches.

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Hi Sue,
      The ricotta and peaches is one we’ve made before in our pizza class. It’s absolutely divine! MJR@KAF

  6. Sergei

    Sourdough does make the best pizza crust. I never use regular yeast anymore for pizza dough but pre-baked crust sounds kinda bad for every true pizza aficionado. It might take a while to adjust pre-heating time, temperature and crust thickness but with good pizza stone you’ll never need to pre-bake pizza crust. I recommend to divide, shape your dough in balls and keep 12-24 hours well covered in refrigerator for best result.

    Reply
  7. Marion T.

    My favourite thing to make out of leftover sourdough starter, is sourdough pancakes . The recipe I use makes the absolute lightest pancakes ever.

    Reply
  8. Elmo

    I’m going to admit to cheating. I often have hit the bread machine product aisle and picked up a mix – sourdough, tomato basil, etc. (due to time constraints) and made some very excellent pizzas from those doughs. (Oh, and no I don’t have a bread machine.) I will give this recipe a try, and encourage everyone to think outside the box and DO flavor up your pizza dough – why serve all those goodies on a slice of plain toast, after all!

    Reply
  9. Mo-Kit

    Should I steam my oven when baking the sourdough pizza? I usually steam my oven using a baguette recipe for other forms as well.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      You certainly could do that, prior to adding the toppings. Once the toppings are on it won’t make much difference, but steam will help your crust rise higher — if that’s the effect you want. PJH

  10. Dee Hulen

    I`ve a lot to learn about sourdough. I made some pancakes with my leftover starter, and they were ok, but the sour flavor was not as nice as I had expected. The starter smelled good, but I think the pancakes were too sour. Is it just me, or does the starter actually make a big difference in the taste of the product? I love San Francisco sourdough bread but my pancakes did not taste anything like the flavor I know.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      The flavor of your starter will indeed carry over to the flavor of your baked goods. For those of us who live far from San Francisco, the only way to duplicate that distinctive flavor is to bake (and maintain our starters) in San Francisco! Happy Baking – from our Vermont kitchen to your home kitchen. Irene@KAF

  11. RaceViewB&B

    Thank you for the support! I’ve been trying to develop a couple of solid sourdough recipes where I can feel successful. I followed this pizza blog and made one with leftover chicken/artichokes in olive oil/fresh mozzarella, and, a second one with pears/blue cheese/maple candied walnuts. Both were fabulous. I baked the crust as directed then added the toppings and baked again.
    I’m discovering that my sourdough pizza base can yield a ‘thin crust’ or a ‘dense crust’. They’re all delicious.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      YAY! So glad you’re having success with the crust — and your toppings sound absolutely delicious… PJH

  12. Lucy

    Love finding new ways to use up discard starter and can’t wait to try this!
    Quick question: what temperature is “hot tap water”? I don’t feel very comfortable using hot water from the tap for cooking or baking, so I’ll make some with a mix of boiled and cold tap water, but a ballpark temp to aim for would be great. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Lucy, it doesn’t need to be an exact temperature—you’re just trying to warm up some of the starter that’s cold from the fridge. You can shoot for 120°F and if you want extra insurance, mix it with the starter a bit before adding the instant yeast (which can die at 135-140°F). Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  13. Lucy

    Yum! You really sold me on the pre-bake and I’m glad I tried it. I finished it on the stone after topping it and it came out perfect. Nice to learn something new 🙂
    (And always nice to use up that unfed starter.)

    Reply

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