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I can consistently make a nice, well-blistered, chewy pizza crust in my wood-fired oven. My recipe is Caputo flour (the red bag), 60% hydration, 2.5% salt, 0.25% instant yeast; knead until smooth; form into balls; age at 9 C for four days.

I've tried to expand into sourdough, and I can't get satisfactory results. My best approach has been to use the starter (also at 60% hydration, doubled every day and kept at room temperature) for 1/4 of the dough volume. This produces a reasonably okay dough, but without much sour tang, and with less elasticity (difficult to keep the thickness consistent, and stretches out of shape when pulled onto the peel). I've also tried fermenting at 35 C initially and reducing the fermentation time, as well as a long ferment at 100% hydration and adding flour to bring it down to 60% hydration an hour before forming.

In all cases, whenever the dough develops significant sourness, it also becomes completely unworkable for forming and transferring to the oven floor. I assume that the acidity is simply destroying the gluten structure, which wouldn't be a big problem in a pan but is impractical for baking on the oven floor.

Any secret technique, for getting a pronounced sourdough taste in a pizza crust without it turning into goo?

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    For me, yeast behaves more predictably in this application than sour dough...and yes, I agree that acidity is a significant factor. Acidity is probably a main component of the flavor you are looking for, so that is working against you. Doesn't the 4 day rest impact flavor? Have you experienced a tasty and successful sourdough pizza anywhere? (I have not).
    – moscafj
    Jul 4 at 11:49
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    @moscafj The four day rest produces a reasonably nice flavor, but it’s not hugely distinct from the instant yeast with the same length ferment. I’ve definitely had great sourdough pizza, but it all came out of pans in a deck oven. The WFO factor seems to present unique problems.
    – Sneftel
    Jul 4 at 12:33
  • @Sneftel WFO = wood fired oven?
    – Stephie
    Jul 4 at 12:35
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    My 20-year-old sourdough culture originated from a CheeseBoard sample, so I'm familiar. I've done many sourdough pizzas in the regular oven, but I haven't tried making one in my pizza oven yet, or I'd have advice for the OP. Oh, and yeah -- 410 cookbooks, including the CheeseBoard one.
    – FuzzyChef
    Jul 7 at 18:17
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I have done some experimentation very similar to yours and ended up with the same observations. I also can confirm your assumption that the acidity breaks down the gluten is right. Creating a sourdough pizza with good taste that is still good to stretch is an art that is not easy to master but it can be done (though I have given up this path for me at least for now).

A 4-day rise at 9°C seems to be very long and warm to me, which probably also contributes to the transformation to goo.

I suspect that most folks doing sourdough pizza are maintaining their starters at rather warm conditions, which should result in a milder, more lievito madre (LM) like composition, which is more on the yeast/lacto-acidic side, than on the acetic. But given that you are striving for a pronounced sourdough taste, this also seems not to be the right approach for you. Maybe it is possible to use a regular yeast dough as base and work in sourdough for the tase just before the final ball rise.

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    Sorry, what’s ’LM’?
    – Spagirl
    Jul 5 at 6:29
  • LM, means Lievito Madre, it is a mild italian sourdough made from wheat flour.
    – J. Mueller
    Jul 6 at 22:20
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I have the same experience. Did you try using a preferment that is half yeast preferment and half sourdough preferment? It is a technique used in Tartine and I have had some promising results with this.

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At the Bavarian bakery where I apprenticed long ago, sour doughs were only stretched and rolled tighly before proofing.

Mostly round wooden baskets, some batton shapes too, they were jiggled-hopped onto baking stone directly or via floured belt contraption.

They didn't like being flipped upside down. I know because some that got too stuck in forms were gently inverted; those I got to eat. Bit compacted.

So, if you have a flat plate size form to proof in and a nice flick of the wrist... wouldn't be thin neopolitan but poking a few spots like foccacia may be worthwhile

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  • The problem is, you can’t jiggle the dough into the baking surface in a wood-fired oven at pizza temperature. At that temperature, the basket might catch fire while you were doing it. As would your hands, while you were adding the toppings.
    – Sneftel
    Jul 7 at 21:14
  • Ah. now I see what you’re getting at. The issue here is, pulling the dough into a uniformly thin circle is impractical once the dough has lost its stretchiness. It doesn’t really need to proof, but I can’t shape it in the first place in a way that keeps it transferable.
    – Sneftel
    Jul 7 at 21:32

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