I've read about differing techniques for getting the best flavor, texture, and chewiness in my pizza crust. One of the commonly suggested routes is to include a sourdough starter as part of the process, but I also find suggestions to use a poolish pre-ferment. From what I understand the main difference in technique is that a sourdough starter typically uses simply flour and water(introducting natural lactobacillus), where as poolish you would also include off the shelf bakers yeast. The sourdough starter also seems to be an ingredient that you build up over days, or even longer, where as the poolish you make in less than a day.

What I haven't been able to determine, is what if any differences will I find in my pizza dough using one product over the other? Would the pizza crust taste different, look different, rise different, or exhibit other differing characteristics between the two processes? My ultimate goal is Neapolitan margherita pizza in a home oven).

  • 1
    Since I live in SF, I frequently make sourdough pizza. Here's the other cautions about it: the dough is stickier than conventional, making it hard to roll out. Also, it's difficult to make a sourdough with short gluten strands, something you want for pizza baked in a home oven. So sourdough pizza will be rather chewy, especially after it cools. Tastes good, though. Just not classic Neopolitan.
    – FuzzyChef
    Commented Apr 9, 2015 at 22:51
  • Also, building up a proper sourdough culture takes a minimum of 3 weeks.
    – FuzzyChef
    Commented Apr 9, 2015 at 22:51

3 Answers 3


Three things:

  1. Most traditional Neapolitan pizza dough does not use a pre-ferment - poolish, biga, or sourdough starter. Not to say it may not be good, but it wouldn't the way most are made.

  2. Sourdough starters change their flavor profiles by age and by geographical region. In general, I would expect a bit more of a 'tang' from the sourdough starter than from the poolish.

  3. Sourdough starters usually don't rise as much - commercial yeast is just in general stronger than its wild counterparts. So a dough made with a sourdough starter may not rise as well.

Between the two, I would prefer poolish over sourdough for a more traditional taste. However, I'd be more likely to try something like a cold starter and super slow rise like a Pain à l'Ancienne in order to promote more natural sugars in the bread which would result in better browning. The primary challenge with Neapolitan pizza dough is the lack of heat in a home oven. Part of the thing that heat does is the browning - hence the recipe that promotes better browning but with traditional ingredients.

  • 1
    79% hydration? I wish my skills would allow! Also, everything always leads to Peter Reinhart! And finally, I've been using the cold ferment basis of that method, except also including a 1 day rise on the counter at first. Thanks I will read into this recipe more! I don't know why I keep reading about people using pre-ferments for Neapolitan... I want to start with the "traditional" and vary once I understand it.
    – dpollitt
    Commented Jan 10, 2015 at 4:37
  • He's the man ;)
    – rfusca
    Commented Jan 10, 2015 at 4:39
  • @dpollitt - Amylase is in flour, which breaks down some of the starch into maltose. Yeast has the enzyme maltase which breaks that maltose down into glucose. More glucose = better browning. Give more time for that reaction to happen and you get better browning because more sugar is produced. One of the reason that long, slow rises give more flavor.
    – rfusca
    Commented Jan 10, 2015 at 4:50
  • @dpollitt - what problem are you having with your Neapolitan dough that you're trying to resolve?
    – rfusca
    Commented Jan 10, 2015 at 4:55
  • Nothing in particular at the moment. I'm more interested in study of the craft(and eating). I picked up Tony Gemignani's "The Pizza Bible" and am experimenting and learning from that text. This question came out of reading that.
    – dpollitt
    Commented Jan 10, 2015 at 5:05

Thought I'd chime in here. I was in a similar spot a few months ago. I came across Jeff Varasanos website, http://www.varasanos.com/PizzaRecipe.htm. I read his entire page (it's long) then bought and read the recommended book, "Classic Sourdoughs" by Ed Wood. I then bought and activated these cultures: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B006TMLF98/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o05_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1.

It ended up being a lot more effort than I originally thought. See my review on that same Amazon page for details.

So now I've made pizza dough with both pre-ferments as well as sourdough cultures. In both cases I lacked super-high heat (eg. my oven only goes up to about 525F), which Jeff Varasano sites as one of the 3 most important elements. With that said, the pizza's made with the sourdough culture were crispier, lighter and chewier. I also think they tasted better. I would call it my most successful attempt at Pizza Napoletana and worth the effort. It has also been an interesting learning experience.

I hope this helps you.


  • 1
    Bobby - I appreciate the comments. Crisper, lighted, and chewier all sound wonderful. I'll have to give the sourdough starter a try. If you are struggling with high heat, I highly recommend the baking steel. It is a game changer for home oven Neapolitan pizza.
    – dpollitt
    Commented Jan 26, 2015 at 21:10

Sourdough sounds nice. I use the cold rise and a blend of white, semolina, wheat flours and at least 8 hr cold rise. The sour dough flavor increases over time in the fridge. I do not mix oils or salt directly into the dough while it is in a cold rise. Instead it is kneaded into the dough afterward and the salt is allowed to diffuse from the outside in while in the fridge.

I use 500 degree F at top shelf in oven to get the reflection from the top of the oven while my cast iron pizza pan cooks on the bottom. I get a thin 1mm crust, light inside, and gently brown/orange spotted whole milk mozzarella.

The Iron pan Lodge Mfg P14P3 Cast Iron Pizza Pan, 14 In

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