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Pizza Crusts

People ask me what to do with Our Denali Pizza excess sourdough starter, and here's one of my answers. Make pizza shells. If I'm not planning on using them at once, I'll freeze them after the first baking, and they are ready to be topped and baked at the drop of a hat. It makes you ready for unexpected company - especially kids - dropping in.

If you are going to use the pizza shells right away, A pre-baked pizza shell, ready for topping you may either partially pre-bake the the shells, top them, and then finish baking them or top them and bake them in one step.

If you pre-bake the shells, they will tend to stay more fluffy. If you just top them and bake them, they will tend to be flatter. Fix 'em the way you prefer them.

1 1/2 c mature Sourdough starter
1 T olive oil
1 t Salt
1 1/2 c Flour

Preheat oven to 450F. (Some people prefer hotter. Try 550F if your oven will take you there.)

Mix ingredients, working in the flour until you have a soft dough. If the dough gets too dry, add some more starter. If you've used all the starter, add a bit of water.

Once you've kneaded the dough, cover it and let rest for 1/2 hour. This lets the dough relax, so forming the pizza is easier. This recipe does not require the rising capabilities of sourdough, it just uses the taste of the starter.

Once the dough has rested, roll out into a flat round pie-like shape. I prefer to roll the dough on baker's parchment, turning the dough 1/8 turn between rolls and only rolling the dough away from me. This makes it easier to make something similar to a circle. How large a circle? In class, we usually get about a 10 to 12 inch pie. It depends on your taste and how many people you have to feed. It also depends on the day. Some days you can go further. Other days, not so far - the condition of the start has a bit impact here. Fresher is better. However, if you get much past a 12 inch diameter, you'll have trouble finding freezer bags large enough to hold the pre-baked shells.

Once you have a nice round pie shell, you may pre-bake it or top it and bake it. To pre-bake it, slide the parchment and pie onto a baker's peel, and then into the oven. It will work better if you use quarry tiles or baking stones. Bake about 5 minutes. It doesn't take long, so watch carefully.

Once the shell is pre-baked, you may cool it and then freeze it, or top it and finish baking it.

When you're ready to top the pizza, rub a bit of olive oil on the surface, as this helps keep the crust from getting soggy. Then top with your ingredients. There is some argument about what order to put ingredients on the pizza. I prefer to put the cheese on as the final layer. If you don't, the cheese doesn't brown and it just doesn't look like a pizza to me.

Many people over do their pizzas. When I was a teenager, I preferred the "everything but the kitchen-sink, no holds barred, savage, gonzo all-the-way" pizza. Now I prefer just a few well chosen ingredients. Whatever you prefer, play with your toppings until you create the pie you prefer.

Whatever your favorite topping, you want to balance the cooking time so the crust is nicely browned and the cheese topping has browned a bit. It is a balancing act. Anywhere from 15 to 25 minutes, depending on your temperature and toppings should do the trick.

I usually use about 8 ounces of mozzarella cheese for a 12 inch pizza. Of course, the toppings are up to you. Here are some possibilities:

Denali Pizza We like this pizza so much, it's picture is at the top of this page! We had this at the Denali lodge at Denali National Park and Preserve. We were tired after a long day and weren't hungry. All we wanted was a beer and a bed. Until we saw this pizza being served to another guest. And then we had to have one. Now we make it at home, and it's a favorite! Smoked salmon, marscapone, thinly sliced red onion and capers. Mike's usually not a caper fan, but even he agrees they help balance this pizza. Bake as described above.

Shrimp and Asparagus Pizza This started as a way to get rid of some leftovers, and has become our current favorite. It works MUCH better with fresh asparagus than the canned variety. Top the pizza with about 1/2 a pound of cleaned and cooked shrimp and a similar amount of steamed asparagus. Top with mozzarella cheese. Enjoy!

Basil pesto pizza Our Pesto Pizza Top the pizza with about 3 ounces of basil pesto, and then the cheese. We use bottled pesto from the grocery store - it tastes great and you can keep it in your pantry waiting for your next pizza emergency.

Spinach, bacon, and red onion pizza. Top the pizza with about 4 ounces of chopped fresh spinach, 4 slices of cooked bacon, and a number of rounds of red onion. Top with cheese and bake. Some people prefer to pre-cook the spinach and drain it.

Classic pepperoni, sausage, and cheese pizza. Top with pizza sauce, pepperoni, cooked sausage, and cheese. Bake as described above.

If you liked this recipe, several more pizza recipes, including a Chicago Double-Stuffed Pizza, are in our newly revised "Introduction to Sourdough".