I experimented with sourdough starter in this weekend's bake. The mixed results cam from a MAJOR "oh crap" operator error.
I tried two different methods for the dough, with the variable being the amount of starter used, and the temperature of the ferment (I guess that's two interlinked variables).
One was a slight variation on Pete-zza's from http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php/topic,576.msg11774.html#msg11774
17.5% Ischia starter (100% hydration)... I couldn't make myself go to the 20% level that Peter used
Combined all the starter with 1/3 of the water and 1/3 of the starter and did a 30 minute autolyse. Added the rest of the water and flour and mixed for 2 minutes, added the oil and mixed for another minute, and finally added the salt and kneaded for on speed 1 on my Bosch compact mixer for 5 minutes. The dough was soft and smooth. The final temperature was 72 degrees (I was working in a 65 degree kitchen with cold water and flour stored at 65 degrees). I then let the dough rest for 15 minutes before balling it and refrigerating it at 40 degrees).
The other dough was:
4% Ischia starter
Mixed the same way, and placed into a cooler that was at 63 degrees.
I kept on checking both dough balls, and noticed that the refrigerated ball didn't rise very much, while the one in the cooler had doubled by 18 hours, and kept on going (estimated 5x by the 48 hour mark). At 40 hours, I put the refrigerated dough into the cooler, figuring that it could do with a little higher temperature, and the other could stand a little slowing down). Took the refrigerated dough out of the cooler and let it rise at 75 degrees for the final 2 hours. It ended up around 1.5x the original volume, and I figured that it would be dense and hard to open.
Opened the dough that had gone to 5x, and it was obvious that it was over-fermented (I should have used 2-3% starter). Slack and I got thin spots, with one tear. I sauced the pie, and that's where the "oh crap" moment came. Where's the cheese?!? Scrambled to shred the cheese, thinking "this is going to be a disaster". Into the oven on a stone at 575 degrees for 5 minutes (the last 2 with broiler), and I was right. The sauce had soaked through the dough in the thin spots, and it stuck to the stone like it was superglued in those places
I muttered a lot under my breath and the 12-year-old critic said "that's a mess, Dad" (which caused a lot more muttering). While it certainly wasn't pretty, I thought the crust tasted really good (probably could have pulled it out at 4:45), a little too crispy. The 12-year-old critic proclaimed the crust to be tasty, but a little sour (shouldn't have told him that I was experimenting with sourdough), and that the sauce was too tomato-ey (I thought it was fabulous, but I like tomatoes a lot more than he does).
The second dough ball (the modified Pete-zza) opened more easily and more evenly than anything that I have ever worked with. I did a white pie topped with garlic, broccoli, cheese, and EVOO. 5 minute bake, with the stone at 545 degrees, with the last 2 minutes on broil. To my surprise (OK shock), the cornicione puffed up beautifully! It ended up being a beautiful crust, with a crunch on the exterior and a soft, chewy interior, with some complexity in the flavor, but no pronounced sourdough taste. It was very close to the characteristics of my 4-minute steel plate bake (heresy, I know, Scott), without the bottom burning issues that I struggled with. Could have used a little more top browning. I may add a little sugar next time. The 12-year-old critic pronounced it the "best ever" and told me to stop eating, so that he could take some for lunch on Monday. I reluctantly obeyed
Thanks, Peter! This is a keeper (and next time I'll try 20% starter... OK maybe 17.5% on one and 20% on another, for the sake of comparison).