Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese. ~ CK Chesterton

Howdy Yall! It's time to lick your lips and drool as we discuss yummy vittles and Texas testaments to taste!

I hope you enjoy your time with us. Please be sure to drop by and leave a message or a hello. We want to know how to better serve you!

~Blue Zebra

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Friday Pizza Club - The Dough (Part 1)

It was Friday in the Zebra Pen yesterday and that can only mean one thing, Pizza Club. What is Pizza Club? Pizza Club began with my niece and my sissy and brother-in-law back in Dallas. It was a fun celebration of the end of the week and featured my niece and one of her friends and the neighborhood pizza hangout named Slider and Blues. It was a great, family place with games for the kiddos and ice cold beer for the adults - loud, bright and hoppin’ with people. It wasn’t your basic Chuckie Cheese, although Lord knows, we’ve had our share of outings there as well.

Slider and Blues made the most fantastic pizzas. The crust was super thin and crunchy, almost cracker like, with excellent flavor. Toppings ranged from routine to exotic and everywhere in between and it was the perfect food to end a crazy week, especially when you threw in the ice cold brews to wash it down.

Since that time, Sliders is long gone and my niece is now a lovely young lady, all grown up and graduating from college. She moves to Atlanta this month and begins a new job and a new life and although I am so proud of her, the part of me that holds onto the past still treasures the memory of that precious little girl and her best friend sitting there eating pizza with us. Time passes so quickly, so don’t forget to enjoy the moment now, while you can because it will be long gone before you know it.

I’ve tried replacing the pizza from Pizza Club night in an effort to stem nostalgic waves and so far, have been spectacularly unsuccessful in my attempts. I’ve found no pizza places in Houston who can compare (with the exception of Fuzzy's Pizza) and all the national chain suspects fail dismally with ice cold, cardboard pizzas delivered with congealed cheese in pools of fat. Hardly appetizing and sadly not in keeping with the fun spirit that was Pizza Club!

Six months ago, out of desperation I threw out our last piece of ratty, cardboard, look-alike pizza and made the dreaded statement, “I can do better than this!” These are fightin’ words in our house. This statement is usually followed by, “This place is on my black list and I will never eat at ‘x’ place, again…as God is my witness!”

Well get down Scarlett! No one ever wants to be included on my black list. And so it began - my desperate experimentation into pizza, which actually initiated my forays into baking and sourdough. First, let me introduce my starter, Sir Stinksalot, aka Stinky, for short. He is much maligned, but a sure trooper. He’s endured abuse and neglect and kept on growin’ despite my feeble inconsistency as a nurturer and care-giver. He deserves a medal.

Over the last months, I’ve tried about ten different dough recipes from heavy-hitters such as Peter Reinhardt to Jeff Varasano, the obsessed Pizza guy from New York. None of the doughs produced what I was looking for when made by me. I don’t know if it’s the fact that my doughs are hand-made and I’m still not fully developing the dough or that I’m doggedly using All-Purpose flour instead of high gluten flour or bread flour or what. But I don’t get the oven spring with the crusts that I expect. Maybe I’m under-proofing them?

Anyway, I found a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated for Grilled Pizza to serve as inspiration for the latest evolution of dough. But I couldn’t just “make it as written”. Oh no, that would be way too simple, right? Yeah, sheesh! So I translated it to a sourdough version. So far, this has been the best recipe for my thin, cracker crust. I would give this a 9, in a scale of 1-10 (10 being the highest). B says that he likes this pizza dough when made into pan pizza, his preference, and gives it 9 out of 10. I made an “original crust” which is similar to a hand tossed and I think I must still continue to work on technique. The crust was not thick and fluffy on the outer edge.

Well, each Friday, I hope you will experiment with me as we continue our quest for the perfect pizza. Here are the pictures of this weeks supplicants (can you tell I’m Catholic?) :D. I included the current crust recipe. I apologize for the length of the recipe. There really is no easy or short-winded way to discuss all the variations of this dough. It's simple to make but complex to explain.

In next week’s Pizza Club installment, we will discuss tomato sauce or sauce options for Pizza. Mangia!

Blue Zebra Pizza Crust

Based on the recipe from Cook’s Illustrated
Make 4 (12") original or thin crusts or 1 (10-1/2") Pan Pizza + 2 (10-12") original or thin crusts

7.33 oz All-Purpose Flour
1 cup Starter by volume (1:4:4 ratio = 1 part starter: 4 parts flour: 4parts water)
1 cup Water by volume

Remaining Recipe:
6oz of All-Purpose Flour, +/- 3oz or All-Purpose Flour
1 Tbsp Whole Wheat Flour
2 tsp Sugar
1-1/4 tsp Iodized Salt
½ tsp Instant Yeast
2 Tbsp Olive Oil


Combine Starter and water and mix to incorporate into a thin slurry. Add flour and mix with a sturdy spatula or dough whisk until mixture forms a doughy paste, similar in texture to “glumpy oatmeal”. Stir it vigorously for about 2 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to ferment. Mixture should sit until doubled (that takes about 4-5 hours for mine at 80 degrees but it will vary depending on the strength of each starter). Once preferment has doubled, place in fridge to retard or immediately mix into the remaining dough ingredients. **See note below to discuss why this is important.

Fit food processor with the plastic dough blade. Don’t use the metal one, because of the heat build up. Add remaining flours and starter and pulse to combine. Allow this to sit for 20 minutes in the bowl with the lid in place to autolyse, this is a time when gluten structure really begins forming and where the liquid from the water will completely hydrate the flour grains. Once the 20 minutes are up, add the yeast and sugar and pulse to incorporate. Add the remaining ingredients and pulse to mix well.
(Note: All the water for this recipe was added during the preferment. You will want to add water because logic tells you, that you don't see any in the bulk of the dough recipe but trust. Wait. Mix. If the dough is too dry, then add water a tablespoon at a time...but it won't be. Trust.)

Once all the ingredients have been incorporated using a brief, pulsing technique, you will be looking for the dough to “come to together” or “clear the sides of the bowl”. Depending on humidity and your flour that day, it may or may not be too wet. Using 15 second pulses, spin the blade in the dough and watch to see the dough condition.

If it does not come together, measure out ¼ cup of flour and add it by tablespoons until dough forms a very moist ball that sits on top of the blade. This could take you as much as ½ cup of flour added incrementally. When you’ve made this recipe once, make a note of how much additional flour you had to add, that way you will know within limits the next time you make the dough and it will be an easier recipe to recreate.

Transfer dough to the counter and knead a couple of times to form a ball. Dough should be smooth and elastic but still be wet and a good deal sticky. When in doubt, err on the side of wet. Place dough ball into a lightly oiled bowl and coat dough on both sides. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and allow dough to double in size. This could take 1-2 hours, more or less!

When dough has doubled, gently deflate dough and cut into portions. I get 3 crusts from this recipe: 1 thick crust/pan pizza (10-1/2”) which uses almost ½ of the dough volume and 2 thin crust pizzas (12”) splitting the remaining dough volume.

If making dough for later in the week, place dough in lightly oiled plastic baggies and place in fridge. These will keep up to six days in the fridge because it’s sourdough. If needed, you can freeze the dough at this point. Move dough from the freezer to the fridge the day prior to using.

Forming the Pizzas:
Allow dived dough to rest on a lightly floured counter for about 15 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent crust from forming. Resting allows the gluten “to relax” so that the dough becomes extensible (able to be gently stretched).

For pan pizza:
Gently coax dough to fill a 10-1/2 cast iron skillet that has been liberally sprinkled with cornmeal or semolina, leaving thicker edges. Cover skillet with plastic wrap and allow dough to rise for 45 minutes. Top and bake at 550 for 20 minutes.

For hand tossed pizza:
Flour your hands and wrists well. Form dough into a disk and gently start working your fingers around the edges of the dough, letting the dough suspend in the air and letting gravity help pull the disk bigger. Once big enough, put both fists underneath the dough and use them to gently pull the dough into a larger circle. You are trying to uniformly thin the dough out in the middle while keeping the outermost edges of the dough built up and thicker. If the dough fights you and resists stretching, set it on a lightly floured counter, cover with plastic and allow dough to rest for 5 minutes. Come back and continue stretching until dough is about 10-12” in diameter. Place dough on parchment paper, sprinkled with cornmeal. Cover with plastic wrap and an inverted baking sheet with 1” sides and allow dough to rise for 45 minutes. Top and bake at 550 for 8-10 minutes.

For cracker thin crust:
Lightly flour disk of dough and roll out to 1/8” thickness using a rolling pin. Dust top of dough very lightly with flour and gently rub into dough to make it less sticky. Dock dough with tines of a fork to prevent crust from rising during baking. Top with cornmeal. Multiple doughs on parchment can be stacked on top of each other until ready to bake. To blind bake thin crust dough, place the parchment with one dough round into 550 degree oven for 3 minutes. Dough will set and be just at the point of browning on the bottom. Remove from oven and gently flip dough upside down onto parchment. Dough will now have the cornmeal side “down”.

If parchment has browned, pull off browned edges or use a new sheet of paper. Top newly exposed and slightly browned surface and bake at 550 for 6-8 minutes or until cheese is melted and edges are brown and crisp.

** Blue Zebra NOTE:
Sourdough is a natural levain. That means, there are natural yeasts that eat the sugars available in the dough and create the by-products of carbon dioxide and alcohol. Carbon dioxide causes the dough to rise when the gluten strands trap it and contain it within the dough. Alcohol just adds a little bit to the flavor.

The primary taste producing agents are the undercover buddies of natural yeast, lactobacilli, which are naturally occurring pro-biotic bacteria. These guys are good guys. They are great for your digestion and are found in a healthy human gut. They are also found in naturally fermented foods like yogurts, etc. and help you by helping to break down food and keeping the unhealthy gut flora in check (from over running your body). These guys love yeast because yeast produce the food the lactobacilli eat. LBs (lactobacilli abbrev.) in turn, digest this food and give off their own bi-products, acetic acid and lactic acid.

These acids flavor the bread, reduce the pH, making it resistant to spoilage and mold, and generally make a very pleasant sour taste distinctive of sourdough.The down side of LBs is that they cause an acid environment so if you use too much of a starter, it can sometimes cause the gluten strands to fail because the acid tears down the gluten structure and releases the CO2, resulting in dense hockey pucks and door stops.

That is why in this recipe where I use a large amount of starter, I want to retard (or put the guys into a sleep) as soon as the preferment has doubled. You could use a smaller portion of starter in the preferment and let it ferment longer. Either way will produce more flavor components in your crust.These pizzas are sooo good, you will never buy take-out pizza again. So says Scarlett and God who were our witnesses ;) !


Dianne said...


I love your sourdough pizza recipe. I love all different pizza's as I'm sure you and everyone does.
If you don't mind I'd like to post to totally different recipe's for pizza.

1) My mother made this one up it's called :

Preheat oven according to biscuit can temperature


1 lb ground beef, browned (cleaned and rinsed)
1 packet sloppy joe seasoning
1 can tomato sauce
1 can biscuit (8 or 10 count)
1 15oz shredded mozzarella cheese

Hint: can use pizza sauce in lieu of tomato sauce or can use Prego spaghetti sauce, or can eliminate ground beef.


Season to taste:

Parmesan cheese

Step 1

Brown ground beef, rinse clean, set aside.

Step 2

Grease (use vegetable spray or few drops of olive oil to coat bottom of pan) a 13 x 9 x 2 rectangular pan (can use a round cake pan). Take biscuits out of can, place on counter. Roll biscuits out flat-but rounded, flat-but not too thin. Line flattened biscuits at the bottom of greased pan, biscuits can overlap each other.

Step 3

In a bowl, add ground beef, sloppy joe seasoning and mix together. Add tomato sauce, mix. Add spices to ground beef mixture. Blend well together.

Step 4

Spoon ground beef mixture over biscuits (don’t have to use all of mixture) Use as much as needed, to your taste. Add shredded mozzarella cheese over mixture. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Place in oven

Step 5

Cook biscuit pizza for the amount of time it takes to cook the biscuits, make sure the oven is preheated to the temperature for cooking biscuits.

Step 6

Serve hot.

2) My son Joe created this one:


1 teaspoon RAPID-RISE yeast
¼ cup warm water, microwave water 15 seconds
1 TABLESPOON olive oil, plus extra for greasing & sprinkling on top of completed pizza
11/4 cups all purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon salt

Step 1
In measuring cup, put ¼ cup of water and microwave for 15 seconds. Add RAPID RISE yeast. Stir yeast (with whisk) set aside. Let the yeast mixture rest in a warm place for 10 to 15 minutes, until frothy on the surface. Stir in 1 TABLESPOON of olive oil. Set aside.

Step 2
In a large bowl, sift flour. Make a well in the center of sifted flour and then pour in the yeast liquid mixture.

Step 3
Using either flour hands or a wood spoon, mix together to form dough. * May use a drop or two of extra water if mixture is too dry. Knead dough (either in the bowl or on a floured surface) for about 5 minutes or until pizza dough is smooth and elastic.

Step 4
Place the dough in a large grease (with olive oil) plastic bag (don’t squeeze out the air) and leave in a warm place for 1 hour & 30 minutes, and/or until the dough doubled in size.

Step 5
Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and “knock back” by punching the dough. This releases any air bubbles which would make the pizza uneven. Knead the dough 4 or 5 times. The dough is now ready to use.

After the dough has risen for 1 hour, 30 minutes before you make the pizza, you need to make the pizza sauce.



¼ teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons olive oil
141/2 oz can diced tomato’s, place in blender (add tomato paste before blending together)
2 TABLESPOONS tomato paste, add to blender, with diced tomato’s, liquefy
1 teaspoon packed brown sugar
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried basil
salt & pepper to taste

Step 1
In a 3qt pot, add the liquefied diced tomato’s & paste, brown sugar, olive oil, garlic powder, dried oregano, dried basil and seasonings. Stir well. Bring to a boil, cover the pot and simmer gently for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until you have a thickish sauce. Let sauce cool before using.

Preheat oven 375◦


23/4 oz mozzarella cheese, grated

Step 1
Roll out or press the dough on a lightly floured counter, using a rolling pin or your hands, to form a 10-inch circle.

Step 2
Place the dough circle on a large greased pizza pan and push up the edge slightly. Cover and let rise for 10 minutes in a warm place

Step 3
Spread the tomato sauce almost to the edge of the dough circle. Arrange the mozzarella cheese on top of the pizza sauce. Sprinkle a pinch of basil on top of the cheese. Sprinkle olive oil on completed pizza. Bake in preheated 375◦ oven for 18 to 20 minutes. Cut and serve.

Blue Zebra said...

Hi dianne, both of those recipes look very awesome! Thanks so much for including them. I'm trying to figure out how to do a recipe file right now before we get bogged down with so many recipes that it would make it harder! So cross your fingers and say prayers!

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