Disaster struck on Saturday morning this weekend. I got up as usual at 8 am and went down to the kitchen. I knew what I had to do. We were planning to eat pizza that evening, and I wanted to mix the dough as early as possible. Pizza dough always becomes better with long fermentation time in the refrigerator. So the first thing I did was to check my sourdough starter. I had fed it before I went to bed, so I expected a lively, bubbling starter.
To my dismay, I saw that unlike me, it hadn’t woken up yet. And that’s bad. Very bad. Because as most of you know, it can take some time to wake up a sleepy starter. I didn’t have time for that.
I swore about lazy, ungrateful, useless and grumpy sourdough starters while I furiously glared down into the glass jar. A puny little bubble rose up to the surface and burst in front of my eyes.
I got the message.
“That’s all you will get, asshole, so why don’t you let me go back to sleep?”
I have been baking with a sourdough starter for many years now, and I know how to get my starter in a perfect, good, mature mood. Most of the time I should add. These things happen, I know. It happens even to professional bakers. Still, there are few things that make me more frustrated. You have planned everything in detail, but when it’s time for action, everything is ruined by a starter that makes a mummy appear like a playful foal.
I realized that there was only one thing left to do. I had to use commercial yeast. Now, before anyone starts to feel offended, I would like to point out that there is absolutely nothing wrong with using commercial yeast. I do it sometimes, depending on what kind of bread I want to bake. It’s just that we sourdough nerds are a bit special (or weird). If we have decided to bake something with a sourdough starter, it feels like a failure if we have to use commercial yeast.
And it was thoughts like that that ran through my head that morning. But then I remembered something. A few weeks ago I watched a cooking show about how they bake real Neapolitan pizza. A Swedish chef went down to Napoli to try to learn how to bake the famous dish. I remembered that he failed most of the time. But I also remembered that they used fresh, regular yeast.
“If the Italiens can use it, so can I,” I said to myself.
“You hear that you son of a mold-infested, hooch overfilled jar of shit” I shouted in triumph to my starter. “I don’t need you.”
My starter responded with silence.
Now I only had to find a decent recipe for Pizza dough with yeast. I remembered that I had seen one in a book by another Swedish sourdough nerd named Martin Johansson. I decided to follow that, even if I was a little bit thoughtful about the sugar that was included. Was it really necessary? Finally, I decide to go for it, so the recipe for the dough is a copy of the one that can be found in “Bröd och Pizza” (Bread and Pizza) by Martin Johansson.
My family had ordered a seafood pizza. What distinguishes my version of a seafood pizza from a regular pizza is the sauce. Instead of a tomato-based sauce, I use a sauce based on basil. You mix fresh basil with juice and zest from half a lemon, garlic and olive oil. That’s it. With a minimum of effort, you get a sauce full of flavor from basil and garlic, but also with some tangy notes. Perfect for seafood. I have tried to replace the sauce with Pesto Genovese. It also tastes great, but I think you lose some of the crisp freshness that the lemon provides.
Now, I will admit that I’m not an expert when it comes to shaping a pizza. Therefore I will not try to teach you how to do it. But there are tons of excellent videos on YouTube. Here is one where a stretching technique is used. This is my favorite where a traditional technique for Neapolitan pizza is shown.
One trick I can share with you is to place the pizza crust on a piece of parchment paper. It will make it easier to slide it into the oven without any risk that it will stick to the reel. I always use that trick when I’m baking bread as well.
What kind of seafood you use for topping is totally up to you. This time, I used shrimp, scallops, and mussels. Next time I may use octopus, prawns, and salmon. That’s the great thing about pizza. You can put whatever you want on it.
You can also replace the paprika with some cherry tomatoes, but don’t exclude the Feta cheese. Trust me. It’s a vital ingredient with it’s tangy, salty taste. It lifts the milder scallops and mussels to another level. And of course, you must add Mozzarella. It’s impossible to call it pizza if you don’t add Mozzarella. It’s probably also illegal. It must be.
A mistake that many people make is to overload with toppings. I used to do it. It may sound great with extra everything, but it’s not a good idea. Too much topping will make it hard for the crust to get that crispiness you want. It doesn’t matter how delicious all that topping tastes. A pizza with a soggy crust is a disgrace.
If you have a baking stone, use it. The crust will be crispier. Just be sure to pre-heat it in the oven for at least 30 minutes before you place your pizza on it. If you don’t have a baking stone, you can preheat the oven together with the baking sheet you’re going to bake your pizza on. Turn up the heat as much as possible by the way. Your pizza won’t burn if you keep an eye on it. The taste, however, will improve significantly.
The seafood pizza tasted great, although I had to use commercial yeast. Since I’m a sourdough nerd, I will of course never admit that it tasted as good as my sourdough pizza. But I wouldn’t pay much attention to that if I were you.
My sourdough starter erupted in a volcano-like activity late that evening, by the way. It overflowed the jar and made a complete mess on the counter. By then the last pizza slice was eaten, and there were no plans for any more baking activities. I’m sure it did that on purpose.