Sourdough Sicilian Pizza

Sourdough Sicilian Pizza #19

This Sourdough Sicilian Pizza began as a birthday dinner and evolved into a quest for excellence. I wanted to make thick-cut pizza as good as anything I could fly across the country for. After gently tinkering with a recipe from Perfect Pan Pizza, I'm pleased to say the pictured New York-style Sicilian meets expectations and has become a Friday tradition.

My ideal Sicilian pizza has a buttery and deeply golden crust, springy crumb, absolutely no soggy bits, and a punchy herby sauce. After several iterations, I've managed to check all of these qualities off the list. You can make this recipe using a hybrid leaven (sourdough starter plus commercial yeast) or with just sourdough starter. I prefer the flavor of naturally-leavened dough but commercial yeast is a solid insurance policy since it gives the dough an extra boost. Included are notes for both approaches.

Original vs. Adapted

Take It Easy

I tried the strengthening routine in Perfect Pan Pizza and found that the dough was tricky to handle. After experimenting with a couple of methods, I ultimately settled on spreading the day 1 strengthening out over a longer period of time than the book suggests. It's a similar routine to strengthening a country sourdough loaf. The upside of this method is you can skip the mixer entirely in favor of your two hands and a bowl.

Commercial Yeast

The original Sicilian recipe in Perfect Pan Pizza includes 1 teaspoon (0.11 ounces / 3 grams) of instant yeast along with the sourdough starter. As mentioned in the intro, I included commercial yeast the first time I made the pizza since it boosts activity and adds some stability. After a successful initial bake, I dropped the commercial yeast and found the flavor of 100% naturally-leavened dough was preferable. If you choose to use commercial yeast, the final proofing will be reduced by about half depending on your environment (1 1/2 hours instead of approximately 3).

How Many Days?

From pizza to Sycamore Kitchen's Cookies, dough performs and tastes better when you give it time. With that said, most of the process leading up to the final bake doesn't require much active work. Day 1 strengthening is a handful of stretch/folds and day 2 is a 5-minute step.

Full disclosure is that I've baked the pizza off on day 2 and it was still excellent. The dough is tighter so you have to take care not to overwork it during the dimpling steps or it can stick to the pan. Other than that, if you're pressed for time you can cut the process short and still have great results. You should not deflate or stretch/fod the dough on day 2 if you plan to try the shorter timeframe.

Feeling Stuck

Expanding the above note, on one occasion the baked pizza partially stuck to the pan but ultimately came free with some coaxing. The dough was a bit tight that day so my hunch is that I overworked it during the dimpling steps which created some sort of issue with the oiled pan. Maybe the dough absorbed the olive oil? All the movement/dimpling pushed the oil away from the center? The moral of this uncertain tale is to give the dough extra resting time if it's fighting you.

Final Dimple - Sourdough Sicilian Pizza #1

Recipe Tips

The Art of Dimpling

Also known as the most fun part of making a pan pizza. Once the dough is in the pan, it takes 60 minutes (in 20-minute increments) to dimple the dough into the right shape and size. There are a number of focaccia videos online that show the cook pulling or stretching the dough as well as dimpling it. My instinct is to avoid tugging or pulling once the dough is in the pan since the texture is easy to work with. Extended notes under Instructions.

Flour Types

  • Regular bread flour can be substituted for Central Milling's ABC Plus and High Mountain though I highly recommend CM's products.
  • In terms of whole grain, I've used Camas Country Bread Blend, Camas Country Edison, Grist & Toll Hard White, and Grist & Toll Red Fife. The latter is delicious but lower in protein so I probably wouldn't recommend that flour right out of the gate. Generally speaking, protein = strength = structure.

Sourdough Starter Hydration

I maintain my sourdough starter at 85% hydration so that's what I call for in this recipe. Even if you normally maintain a 100% hydration starter (1:1 ratio of flour and water), it's easy to build your leaven with the correct hydration in as little as one feeding and those instructions are below.

"Shear" Genius

I've tried cutting my Sicilian with a pizza wheel, carbon-steel knife, and cooking shears. Shears are consistently the best way to preserve the integrity of your pizza's structure and toppings - credit and thanks to King Arthur for that tip. I would rather use the ubiquitous orange-handle scissors than a pizza wheel (I've done it in a pinch with a relatively new and sharp pair). Shun's cooking shears have been in my kitchen for years and are excellent.

Barley Malt Syrup

I recommend picking up a jar of barley malt syrup if you plan to make pizza or bagels more than once. Barley malt syrup has a long shelf life and can be added to other baked goods such as rolls, bread, and cookies. Honey works as a substitute but lacks that something special.

Parchment Paper

The cookbook suggests lining the entire pan with parchment cut to lay perfectly flat. Over the course of several pizzas, I cut the parchment smaller and smaller until I eventually ditched it completely. I trust my oven and pan at this point and know how far the crust can be pushed. With that said, I believe parchment is helpful when first making this pizza since different ovens and pans may cook the bottom differently. With or without parchment, I've always enjoyed my Sicilian pizza (though none of them ever burned...so there's that). If you find the bottom isn't quite as golden as you would prefer after the pizza is finished baking, placing the slices on a pizza stone for a minute or two will crisp things up nicely. Additional notes under Instructions.

Winter is Coming

I've made this pizza on both coasts and found the final day 3 proof needed more time in colder weather. Keep that in mind if there isn't a warm room in the house. Turning the light on in the oven can also work as a cozy proofing box, just make sure it doesn't get too warm.

Mise en Place

From topping the hot par-baked crust to transferring the finished (also surface of the sun) pizza to the cooling rack, it pays to be prepared. I prep all of my ingredients (other than the chopped herbs), put them in the refrigerator, and then set out my tools. Don't go scampering off in search of this or that when there's a 500°F pan to deal with.

Leftovers

The leftovers are just about as good as the day-of pizza so don't be shy about making this for a party of two or cutting the recipe in half and making it for a party of one. Quarter pans for a half recipe can be found here. Reheating instructions at the end.

Farmers | Artisans

I make an effort to source my food from California artisans with a special focus on the Santa Monica Farmers Market. Below is a list of the folks who contributed to this dish.

Par-Baked Sourdough Sicilian Pizza #8

Tools

  • Mini Measuring Cup - I’ve purchased five of these little guys for home and the Airstream. They’re handy for everything from the ubiquitous "2 tablespoons of olive oil in the pan" to Scratch Margaritas.
  • Chicago Baking Pan - I have always used a dark pan and find that everything I roast, toast, and bake comes out with just the right color and char. Biscuits, cookies, vegetables, and this Sicilian pizza all have the perfect golden hue. If you're in the market I recommend buying a dark pan based on experience and the handful of articles I've read on the subject. The linked Chicago brand is what has been in my kitchen for years.
  • Shun Cooking Shears - These shears were part of a knife set that I received over 10 years ago. Lucky for me that they work great and also happen to be highly rated. The handle has a helpful texture and the blades come apart for easy cleaning. An essential tool for Sicilian Pizza.
  • OXO Pizza Wheel - I've found this to be the most effective tool for quickly separating the pizza's edge from the pan. A pizza wheel is also great for cutting the edge of pie/galette dough.
  • Cooling Rack - Though I have both wire and mesh cooling racks, I'm partial to the wired since there are less nooks and crannies to clean.
  • Sturdy Spatula - I've had the same metal spatula for as long as I've been cooking and have no idea how it ended up in my kitchen. The key with whatever spatula you use is that it's sturdy (some are thinner and meant for delicate food like fish). If I ever buy my spatula a sibling, it will likely be the one that's linked.
  • Silicone Gloves - I have multiple pairs of these and they work well for everything from pizza to Sourdough Bread. Fabric gloves don't cut it with a 500°F pan.

Ingredients (Adapted from Perfect Pan Pizza)

Note: The % listed at the end of each line is the baker's percentage for folks out there who may want it. There's no need to worry about those numbers otherwise.

85% Hydration Feeding

  • 60 grams mature starter || 50% inoculation
  • 100 grams room temperature (70-74°F) filtered water || 85% hydration
  • 57 grams Grist & Toll Sonora (or whole wheat of choice)
  • 60 grams Central Milling Organic Beehive (or unbleached all-purpose)

Pizza Dough

  • 420 grams filtered water || 82% Note: This assumes the starter has been built with a hydration of 85% - those ratios/instructions below. If you prefer to use a 100% hydration starter, reduce the water to 405 grams.
  • 170 grams mature 85% hydration levain/leaven || 33%
  • 10 grams (approximately 2 teaspoons) barley malt syrup or honey (See Recipe Tips) || 2%
  • 50 grams Central Milling High Mountain || 9.8%
  • 76 grams whole grain of choice (See Flour Types) || 15%
  • 384 grams Central Milling ABC Plus || 75%
  • 13 grams fine sea salt || 2.5%
  • (Optional) 3 grams/0.11 ounces (1 teaspoon) instant yeast || 0.60%

Toppings

  • 12 ounces Pizza Sauce
  • 17-20 grams minced garlic, divided
  • 3/4-1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 100 grams freshly grated provolone or caciocavallo, divided
  • 410 grams freshly grated low moisture mozzarella, divided
  • 4 ounces thinly sliced pepperoni (natural casing), divided
  • Maldon sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

(Optional) Sourdough Starter Maintenance/Build

Note: The following is my feeding schedule leading up to the day 1 mix. You don't have to follow this if you're happy with your routine and already have a vibrant sourdough starter.

Starter Creation and Maintenance

My post "How to Build and Maintain a Sourdough Starter" covers this topic. You should have a healthy starter that is being fed twice a day, preferably at the same time of day. If you feed once every 24 hours and your starter is vibrant, give the recipe a go. A secondary post on Dave Miller's Starter Maintenance can be found here and is great for people who bake infrequently or want long-term storage with less feedings.

11:00 a.m. - Feeding (Sometimes performed in the early afternoon depending on my schedule so there's flexibility.)

Combine the following ingredients, mix thoroughly, and place in a warm area (preferably 73-76°F). I stir the mixture down about halfway through the feeding/doubling process.

  • 20 grams mature starter || 50% inoculation
  • 34 grams room temperature (70-74°F) filtered water || 85% hydration
  • 20 grams Grist & Toll Sonora (or whole wheat of choice)
  • 20 grams Central Milling Organic Beehive (or unbleached all-purpose)

11:00 p.m. - Feeding

Combine the following ingredients, mix thoroughly, and place in a warm area (preferably 73-76°F). If I remember, I stir the mixture once more before going to sleep.

    • 15 grams mature starter || 15% inoculation
    • 85 grams room temperature (70-74°F) filtered water || 85% hydration
    • 60 grams Grist & Toll Sonora (or whole wheat of choice)
    • 40 grams Central Milling Organic Beehive (or unbleached all-purpose)

    Day 1 - 85% Hydration Feeding, Mix, Strengthen

    12:00 p.m. - Feeding

    Combine the following ingredients, mix thoroughly, and place in a warm area (preferably 73-76°F). I stir the mixture down about halfway through the feeding/doubling process.

      • 60 grams mature starter || 50% inoculation
      • 100 grams room temperature (70-74°F) filtered water || 85% hydration
      • 57 grams Grist & Toll Sonora (or whole wheat of choice)
      • 60 grams Central Milling Organic Beehive (or unbleached all-purpose)

      Mix

      • Once the leaven/sourdough starter has matured (doubled or reached the float stage), proceed with the mix.
      • Measure out 2 tablespoons of olive oil and set aside.
      • In a large glass or transparent bowl, combine 10 grams barley malt syrup and 420 grams filtered room temperature water. Stir until the syrup is dissolved, then add 170 grams of 85% hydration sourdough starter. Continue stirring to break up the sourdough starter - there will be some small bits floating around and that's fine.
      • Whisk together the salt and flour (and instant yeast if using). Add the flour to the water mixture and squeeze, mix, and flip until combined. Once combined, add the 2 tablespoons of olive oil and squeeze, mix, and flip some more. The dough will have some shiny spots so keep mixing until those are incorporated. The process takes about 1-2 minutes.
      • Once you're done mixing, the dough will be sloppy and sticky which is exactly what you want. Continuing with your Franken-hand, reach under the dough, grab a handful, pull up and just flop it down. It's not like a normal stretch/fold (if you're a bread baker) since there isn't enough strength yet. Spin the bowl a quarter turn and scoop/flop again. Repeat two revolutions (8 stretches). That was stretch/fold #1.
      • Scrape down your hand and the sides of the bowl, cover with a reusable shower cap or similar, and set a timer for 30 minutes.

      Strengthen

      Note: Always lightly dampen your hands when strengthening sticky dough.

      • Reach a damp hand under the dough, grab a quarter of it, then stretch up and over. Do this on all four sides then repeat (a total of 8 stretches). Stretch/fold #2 is complete. Set a timer for 30 minutes.
      • Repeat the stretch/fold but only perform one revolution (a total of 4 stretches). Stretch/fold #3 is complete. Set a timer for 30 minutes.
      • Repeat the stretch/fold (a total of 4 stretches). Stretch/fold #4 is complete. Set a timer for 30 minutes.
      • Repeat the stretch/fold (a total of 4 stretches). Stretch/fold #5 is complete.
      • Cover with a reusable shower cap or similar and refrigerate.

      The dough will still be raggedy but the powerful duo of salt and time are going to work their magic. Tomorrow is a new day.

      Day 2 - Deflate, Stretch, Flip

      Note: The timing for this is flexible since it only takes about 5 minutes. I generally complete these steps before/after dinner when I'm in the kitchen.

      • Remove the bowl from the refrigerator and observe the activity. On the west coast (average temperature 70-75°F), I find the dough is pretty inflated at this point including a number of large bubbles. When making this pizza on cold east coast days, the dough is less active with some bubbles but not the same level of puffiness. If your dough is on the less active side, it may need a little more time for the final proof so keep that in mind.
      • Gently work a damp hand around the edge of the dough to make sure it isn't sticking. Dampen your hands again (if needed) and pull a small window. This step isn't necessary as much as it's educational. I never cease to take pleasure in how dough transforms overnight from a raggedy mass to something with real potential.
      • Gently press down on the dough to deflate it. As I understand it, extended periods of excessive gas aren't good for dough strength.
      • Perform a stretch/fold - pull one quarter up and over and then repeat on the other three sides. Flip the dough over so it's seam-side down, then lift and tuck the dough onto itself 2-3 times just to smooth out the top. You will likely see several small bubbles on the surface - that's great.
      • Cover and refrigerate.

      Day 3 - Dimple & Bake

      Note: Keep in mind that the proofing time is reduced by about half if you include instant yeast - approximately 1 1/2 hours instead of 3 depending on ambient temperature. The timeline below is just an example and is for naturally-leavened dough (no instant yeast). The elasticity of the dough can vary from batch to batch so your dimpling may go a little slower or faster based on your dough's mood. The goal is to always be patient. I've found that when I "overwork" the dimpling the dough ends up sticking slightly to the pan. If the dough is fighting you or snapping back, let it rest.

      3:15 p.m. (approximately) - Dimpling

      Dimple 1

      • Take the dough out of the refrigerator and set aside.
      • Optional: If using parchment paper (see Recipe Tips), cut a piece to fit the pan leaving a 1-inch gap around the edge. Place it on the pan.
      • Drizzle 4 tablespoons of olive oil on the pan (pour it on top of the parchment paper if using) and then use your fingers to spread it around evenly.
      • Rub your hands together so both are oiled, then work your fingers around the edge of the dough to ensure it isn't sticking. Using both hands, scoop underneath the dough, lift the dough out, and then place it on the pan taking care not to let the mass double over on itself. The dough will be an oval so orient it lengthwise in the pan.
      • Drizzle 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil in your hand, rub your hands together, then gently pat the dough so it glistens.
      • Using the tips of your fingers, dimple the dough so that it begins to stretch out into the shape of the pan. The dough may have some large bubbles - if they're larger than about an inch, just dimple those down. The rest will get worked into the dough throughout the next hour.
      • You'll develop your own style for dimpling but here's my process for reference.
        • Position the pan so that the long side is in front of your body.
        • Starting at the center, dimple towards your body a few times. Return to the center and dimple a few times away from your body. The dough will just about reach the long side of the pan.
        • Spin the pan so the short side is in front of your body. Starting at the center, spread your fingers and dimple a few times towards your body. Return to center and dimple a few times towards each corner nearest your body. If the dough is particularly elastic (i.e. it snaps or springs back after being dimpled), I place one hand gently on the dough to secure it and then dimple with the free hand. The dough is always a bit tight right out of the refrigerator so be patient.
        • Spin the pan 180° and repeat.
        • Pause and make sure the dough is centered in the pan.
        • At the end of round 1, I find the dough is just about to the long edges and 2-3 inches from the short ends and corners. This is not an exact science so don't worry if your dough behaves is a little differently.
        • Set a timer for 20 minutes.

      Dimple 2

      • Oil your hands. The dough has about reached the long edge so the focus is dimpling towards the short ends and the corners.
      • Starting at the center, spread your fingers and dimple about 4-5 times towards the short end.
      • Spin the pan 180° and repeat.
      • Starting at the center or at a thick area along the long edge, dimple a few times towards each corner. At this point, I find the dough just about reaches the long and short edges but still needs a bit to reach the corners.
      • The dough should still be glistening. Pat it lightly with a little more olive oil if needed.
      • Set a timer for 20 minutes.

      Dimple 3

      • Gently feel around the dough and you will notice uneven or thicker areas. Focus on evening those sections out by dimpling towards a corner or side that needs to be filled in. I usually find the center and/or long edges need to be thinned.
      • Set a timer for 20 minutes.

      Dimple 4

      • Similar to the 3rd round of dimpling, focus on fixing any uneven by dimpling towards a corner or side that needs to be filled in.
      • Set a timer for an hour.

      Note: Including some redundant information here in the event that it was missed. If you used instant yeast, your proofing time will be reduced by about half so adjust accordingly.

      5:30 p.m. - Dough Check

      • After an hour, I assess how the dough is progressing and sometimes move it to a warmer room for the last hour and a half to give it a pop of energy. The dough is ready when it's about 1/2-inch from the top of my baking sheet and the bubbles look almost transparent (see photo above). I don't have a better way to describe it, but you'll notice when the dough transitions. The ambient temperature in my house is 72-77°F and from the time the dough comes out of the refrigerator to the par-bake is about 3 hours. As mentioned earlier in the post, that time will be cut in half if you're using a hybrid leaven (commercial yeast plus sourdough starter).

      6:15 p.m - Go Time

      • Move the oven rack to the middle position and heat to 500°F. Place a pizza stone on the lowest rack or, if possible, on the bottom of the oven (I prefer the latter option).
      • While the oven is pre-heating, set up your pizza station. Hot pans and pizza wait for no one. Situate all of your tools, pull the ingredients out of the refrigerator, chill the wine (if applicable), and get psyched. Here's a checklist:

      6:45 p.m. - Par-Bake

      • Once the oven is pre-heated, use oiled fingers to dimple the dough one more time making sure to avoid the 2" edge. Don't dimple repeatedly in the same place - press, lift, and move to a different spot. See photo above for what my dough looks like after the final dimpling.
      • Dip the pastry brush in the sauce and gently dab/barely brush the dough, repeating until the entire surface has a light coating. Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and a pinch of crumbled Maldon sea salt. Note: I use about 1/4 cup of sauce (mostly sauce - not as many tomato pieces) for this step. Also, I have savory and sweet pastry brushes. I've found that using silicone pastry brushes aren't great for sweet applications once they've come into contact with acidic food like pizza sauce.
      • Bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating halfway through - the tops of some of the larger bubbles will brown (see photo above). When you rotate the pan, the dough will have risen to the top of the pan. The smell at roughly the 7-minute mark is excellent.
      • Tidy up your pizza station.

      Toppings

      • Remove the pan from the oven and place it on something heat-safe and sturdy .
      • Scoop a bit of sauce around the edge and then use a pastry brush to spread it around. Brush the sauce towards the center but don't allow it to pool anywhere. Continue scooping and brushing the rest of the sauce - it takes a minute or two to get an even coat.
      • Add the fresh oregano and half of the minced garlic.
      • Add half of the cheese blend.
      • Add half of the pepperoni.
      • Add the rest of the cheese followed by the remaining minced garlic and pepperoni.
      • Promptly return the pan to the oven and bake for 12-14 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. The cheese will develop some brown spots and the pepperoni will be nicely crisped around the edge.

      Dismount

      The next step can be tricky since it's performed right after the pizza comes out of the oven. In my experience, the crust steams and loses its snap when left in the pan to cool. Immediately removing the pizza from the pan preserves the crispness of the crust and prevents it from getting chewy. You'll get the hang of things after doing it once.

      • Remove the pizza from the oven and place it on something heat-safe and sturdy.
      • Put a silicone glove on one hand and use it to steady the pan. Take the pizza wheel in the other hand and scrape between the crust's edge and the pan, holding the wheel on a bit of an angle so as to separate the edge but not cut into the pizza. The crust should cleanly break away from the pan.
      • Spin the pan a quarter turn and continue to do this on all four sides.
      • Nudge your spatula under the pizza and then slide it all the way around the pan to make sure there aren't any sneaky bits still sticking - usually it's a corner which is easy to free up.
      • Place the cooling rack right next to the hot pan. Hold the pan with your gloved hand, then slide the spatula underneath the pizza (you should not meet any resistance with all of that olive oil), gently tip the pan towards the wire rack, and then slide the pizza on to the rack using the spatula to guide and gently "pull". If you're nervous the first time you do this, have a spotter who can help you slow the pizza's roll if things move too quickly. I almost slid the pizza into the sink the first time I did this.
      • If using parchment, promptly remove and discard if it hitched a ride.
      • Grate some Parmigiano Reggianno on the hot pizza.
      • I like to eat the pizza warm but not surface of the sun hot since that gives the cheese time to set up - about 10 minutes of resting. Once ready to serve, cut with scissors. See Shear Genius under Recipe Tips.

      Crisp It Up

      • Lower the oven temperature to 400°F if you plan to reheat slices throughout dinner. (Sometimes I just turn the oven off and use the residual heat.)
      • If the bottom of your pizza didn't turn out as crispy as you would prefer, place a piece of foil on the pizza stone and then heat the slices for 30 seconds to a minute or so. Watch them closely as the bottom quickly goes from golden to burned.
      • If the pizza is completely cool/cold, heat it on foil on the middle rack until the cheese is melty, then move it to the pizza stone for a minute or so to crisp up the bottom.

      Leftovers

      • Refrigerate leftover slices in an airtight container for up to 1 day (maybe 2?...our pizza is always gone the next day).
      • To reheat, let the pizza sit at room temperature while the oven comes up to temperature. Move the oven rack to the middle position and heat to 400°F. Place a pizza stone on the lowest rack or, if possible, on the bottom of the oven (I prefer the latter option).
      • Line a baking sheet with foil and then place a piece of parchment paper on top of that. Slick the parchment with olive oil and then slide the slices of pizza around to ensure the bottoms are lightly coated.
      • Bake on the middle shelf for about 10 minutes until the cheese is melty. Transfer just the foil and slices to the pizza stone for about a minute to finish crisping the bottom. Don't turn your back on this process or the bottom may burn.

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      Sourdough Sicilian Pizza #19

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