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. Wilma Ashby

    Hi PJ
    I have this dough currently rising and want to make 2 thin round pizza bases because I have a benchtop electric pizza oven. I want to make and freeze a whole bunch of them because we are having a lot of people over on Christmas Eve for drinks and… well… Pizza! You mention there is no need to partly bake the thick crust but with the two thin ones you mention to top and bake right away. Can you advise part cooking with the round ones so I can freeze them. Many thanks Wilma

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Wilma, we like your idea of getting ahead for the holidays. It’s best to par-bake your pizza crusts just slightly before freezing. Cook them until they are firm enough to pick up by an edge without them flopping over; you don’t want to cook them to the point where they develop any color, but there shouldn’t be any visible doughy spots in the center. Let the par-baked crusts cool completely on a cooling rack. You might want to put parchment squares between the crusts to ensure they don’t stick upon thawing. Freeze for 1 to 2 months in advance. Let them thaw at room temperature and then top with sauce and toppings as you usually would and then bake. Happy pizza baking! Kye@KAF

  2. Courtney Cook

    Would doubling this recipe work? I’m not sure if the starter or yeast amounts would need to be adjusted….thanks! Courtney

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Good question, Courtney. Feel free to go ahead and double all of the ingredients in the recipe, including the starter. As for the amount of yeast, you can use anywhere from 1-2x the amount; more yeast will result in a faster rise but less flavor development, and less yeast leading to more flavor development but a longer rise. Choose whatever makes sense for your schedule and flavor preferences. Happy pizza baking! Kye@KAF

  3. Ward

    The addition of instant yeast seems to negate the excitement of using sourdough starter discards to make pizza crust. If the author was just using the starter discard to impart taste, I would understand. While the author does write about the flavor a sourdough starter adds to a pizza dough, she makes it clear that the article is about experimenting with the rise of the dough…to which instant yeast has been added.
    This leaves me with no confidence that sourdough starter discards can be used to make pizza dough, as the article title clearly states. What am I missing?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Ward, sometimes we’re looking for the excitement, the “pure” approach, of using sourdough starter in place of yeast; sometimes, we just want to use up discard starter and/or add a bit of sourdough flavor, without relying on it for the dough’s rise — as in this pizza crust. Even dormant sourdough starter, when combined with flour and liquid in a recipe, will raise the dough — eventually. But if your starter hasn’t been fed in awhile, it might take so long to get going that the whole process of making pizza would stretch over a couple of days; probably not optimal, from most readers’ point of view. Thus the addition of yeast. Thanks for your questions, though; I’ve rewritten the recipe’s headnotes, and tweaked some of the directions, to make it more clear that the older and more neglected your starter, the longer it would take to work and the less rise it’ll add to this crust— which, again, is exactly why we add yeast. Do you want to make this crust with o yeast? Totally fine. Just realize that your rising times will be increased; and that you’ll have best results with a fairly healthy starter, as opposed to one that’s sat in the fridge for a couple of months without being fed. Good luck — PJH@KAF

  4. Ruth Maas

    At what point can you put the dough in the rig to use the next day. I never have enough time to make it and have it for lunch too.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Let the dough rise once at room temperature, and then divide it into the number of pizzas you’d like to make and refrigerate the dough balls. (We like to store them in plastic bread bags, but large zip-lock bags or a bowl covered with plastic also works well.) The next day, take them out and let them warm up slightly before trying to roll them out. Let them rest until they’re as puffy as you like — more time for thicker pizza, less time for thin-crust pizza. (This may take anywhere from 2-4 hours, depending on the temperature of your kitchen and the vigor of your starter.) We hope this helps, and happy baking! Kye@KAF

  5. Joan

    I’m wondering how these pizza crusts would freeze to have ready for a quick lunch or snack. Thinking it could be brought out of freezer, thawed and topped.
    Any thoughts?
    Thanks

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Great question, John. We’d recommend partially baking the plain crust for about 7 minutes, let it cool, wrap it well, and it will freeze for 2-3 months. Then when you’re ready for pizza, just pull it out of the freezer (no need to thaw it) add toppings, and bake away. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

  6. Binh

    Curious about using parchment for pizza making. I’ve read parchment starts to leak out its Silicone at 500 degrees. How true is that? Is it a concern to use it on a baking steel with oven temp of 450 degrees (baking steel presumably will be much hotter than 450 degrees)? I’ve used your other pizza recipes on the baking steel with great results but it gets my oven so messy using a peel and flour. Thanks in advance!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Binh, the parchment paper we carry can safely be used up to 500°. It will no longer be reusable when it’s used above 450°, but it will not leach silicone at 500°. Parchment papers do vary in quality, however, so we’d recommend checking the manufacturer’s guidelines if using another brand. Hope this helps! Mollie@KAF

  7. 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
  8. 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

  9. 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

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