The funny thing is that this discovery came about from baguette testing. After mixing up my millionth batch of whole grain baguette dough — planning to try a more nuanced scoring technique — I changed my mind and decided enough was enough, and the prior batch was perfect. But I still had this nicely fermenting dough, so I decided to repurpose it for a pizza dinner. (Baguette recipe here.)
My first whole grain pizzas came out fantastic right off the bat, with an airy crust and a light wheat flavor that enhanced the pizza but didn’t compete with the sauce and cheese. I didn’t want to change anything about the formula but I did want to test a few more things (cold retard of the dough and baking approaches) and confirm that the success wasn’t a fluke.
First whole grain sourdough pizzas
With my second pizza bake, I looked at how the whole grain dough held up to 24 hours of refrigerating. People love to refrigerate pizza dough balls to use later, but whole grain flour can have more enzymatic activity and ferment faster, so I wondered if it would over-ferment. Not at all. This dough felt great after a 24-hour retard and I suspect more days would be fine too.
I refrigerated the shaped dough for 24 hours and it held up great, with plenty of gluten strength and fermentation oomph.
I also wanted to compare baking the pizzas in a very hot specialty pizza oven (Ooni), which can get to and beyond the oft-quoted ideal pizza baking temp of 752°F, and baking the pizzas in a kitchen oven with a pizza stone preheated to 500°F.
I usually use my Ooni in warm months since it’s an outdoor oven, and I use my kitchen oven in cold months. Until these pizzas, I’d never actually compared the two ovens using the same batch of dough. The higher temp Ooni yielded a pizza with bigger crust bubbles and some pretty char spots, while the kitchen oven/stone pizza was still very bubbly and nicely baked, but not quite as poofy.
Pizza on the left was baked for a few minutes at over 700°F; pizza on the right was baked for 8 minutes at 500°F and broiled for 1 minute. Same fermentation, dough weight, toppings, etc.
Short bake over 700°F resulted in a more poofy crust, while 9 minutes at 500°F resulted in a more crispy base
Formula and Technique
To help ensure good crust bubbles, this whole grain dough is wetter than my usual pizza dough, which ranges from 15% to 33% whole grain flour. These “individual pizza” dough balls are also heavier at 320g, compared with my usual 285g dough balls, but some of this weight is water, and the final pizza size is actually about the same.
320g dough for these pizzas
I also do a brief saltolyse with this dough, a term coined by Breadtopia community member @benito for when you pre-mix the flour, water, and salt. This hydrating of the flour softens the bran and gets a head start on gluten development, while the presence of salt slows the amylase activity that would usually begin when the flour is hydrated. I also find that there’s less breaking up of the dough when you’re only adding starter later on versus starter and salt.
Adding starter after a 1-hour saltolyse
For this whole grain dough, I suggest more active and spread out gluten development compared with my usual hand kneading of pizza dough. This dough is too wet to hand knead, and multiple coil folds as well as lamination get the dough strong and aerated instead.
Laminating the dough
You can see how the aeration of the dough actually made the dough level in the bucket at the end of the bulk fermentation as high as the dough level in the aliquot jar, which had no de-gassing but also no gluten development.
End of the bulk fermentation
Finally, the bake time is longer with this whole grain pizza dough because of the hydration. I found a longer bake time necessary with both my lightly and heavily topped pizzas, though more so with the heavily topped ones, of course. Bake time is always going to depend on how thin you stretch the dough, how much sauce and toppings you layer onto it, and how much time you allow your stone to re-heat between pizzas.
Stretched into a round and topped
This whole grain sourdough pizza recipe is written to make four individual pizzas, but you might want more or less grams per dough ball (or you might prefer to make fewer, larger shared pizzas). Fortunately you can scale the dough as much or as little as you want, without changing the proportions. Simply divide or multiply the ingredients as needed. For example, with my family of five, I would multiply all the ingredients by 1.25 to get 5 individual pizzas.
Whole Grain Sourdough Pizza
This whole grain sourdough pizza is nothing less than amazing. The hard red winter wheat flour yields a fiber-full nutritious pizza with a lovely, airy texture and a richer, fuller, less generic flavor than most white flour pizzas.
27% sourdough starter
Prepare your 160g of starter by mixing 30g starter with 65g water and 65g flour. This is approximately a 1:2:2 starter preparation, but other builds are fine too. Mark your jar with a rubberband and let it sit overnight or until at least doubled.
Mix the flour, water, and salt together in a bowl. Cover and let sit about 1 hour.
Fermentation and Gluten Development
Add the ripe starter to the dough, stretching, folding, and gently squishing the starter into the dough.
Cover and let the dough rest for about a half hour. Then do two rounds of coil folding or dough rolling, one lamination, and one final round of coil folding. Separate each of the four rounds of gluten development with a 20-30 minute covered rest. Here are videos showing how to coil, roll, and laminate dough.
When the dough has expanded by 50-75%, end the bulk fermentation. For my warm ambient temperature, this was four hours after adding the starter to the dough.
Preshape and Second Rise
Lightly oil a baking pan, or several small bowls, or several 16-ounce round takeout containers (photo above) to hold the dough balls during the final proof.
Scrape the fermented dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and divide the dough into four pieces of about 320g each. (You can make the pieces larger or smaller if you want.)
Roll each dough piece into a ball, place it in your proofing container(s), and cover. If using a pan, you can put the entire pan in a plastic bag.
The final proof can be at room temperature for 1-3 hours or in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours (possibly longer). Various combinations of room temperature and cold proofing work too, and duration depends on the dough and room temperatures.
Oven Preheat and Topping Prep
Set your oven and pizza stone to preheat at 500°F for at least 30 minutes. I use an infrared thermometer to confirm my stone’s temperature before baking and sometimes between pizzas too.
If your dough is refrigerated, you can bring it out to room temperature to start warming up for easier stretching. After a 24-hour refrigeration, I got good results with both warmed up dough and with the one dough I left in the refrigerator until the last minute.
Set up your toppings, sauce, cheese etc. and the area where you will be forming your pizzas.
Prep a small bowl of flour or cornmeal to put on your pizza peel, or several 14×14-inch sheets of parchment paper. I like to run coarse cornmeal through my Mockmill on a medium-fine setting to make the chunks a little smaller.
Sprinkle flour and cornmeal on your pizza peel or lay out a square of parchment paper.
Lightly flour your countertop. Remove a dough ball from your proofing container and lay it on the flour.
Place your fingers in the center of the dough and gently push the edges outward.
Flour your hands, and then grasp one side of the dough circle with both hands and lift the dough off the counter. Holding the top edges of the circle (10 o’clock and 2 o’clock), let the dough stretch downward while you rotate and re-grab the dough like you’re turning a steering wheel. This will develop about a 1-inch crust edge and stretch the middle of the circle. Try not to let any part of the dough get thin enough to see through or you may end up with a hole. If you do tear the dough, re-roll it and move on to another ball while the gluten in the re-rolled ball relaxes for a minimum of 15 minutes.
Lay the stretched out dough on your pizza peel or parchment. If using a peel, check that the pizza can move by jerking the peel forward and backward to see if the dough slides. If it doesn’t slide, lift the stuck area of dough and flour underneath it, Do this until you have an easy slide. It’s fine if the dough sticks to the parchment paper. If you need to adjust the dough on the parchment, reach under the dough with one hand and pull it outward.
Now top your pizza dough to your liking. Try not to take a long time doing this, because the longer the dough is on the peel, the more likely it is to begin to stick. (Use parchment paper if you expect to top your pizza very slowly.)
Before approaching your oven with the pizza, check again with the quick forward and backward motion of the peel that your pizza can still slide.
Slide your pizza onto the hot pizza stone and bake for 8 minutes, then switch the oven to broil for 1 minute more.
While this pizza is baking, shape the next ball of dough and put toppings on it.
Remove the pizza from the oven with a peel or metal spatula, or even by tugging on a corner of the parchment paper. Put the pizza on a cooling rack if you’re not eating right away to keep the bottom from getting damp.
Leave the empty oven on broil for one minute to reheat the stone, then switch back to bake mode and load the next pizza.