|The classic Margherita Pizza: sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil. Sometimes simple is best.|
I have tried many, many whole wheat pizza crust recipes. I have always been disappointed. Like this recipe, they were 50-50 white/whole wheat. Even at that ratio, they didn’t have the right texture for a pizza crust. Though this one isn’t as chewy as a 100% white flour crust, it is a very good crust. It stretches out well because of good gluten development. The flavor is first rate. This recipe is from Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads, which you must obtain if you are serious about baking exceptional whole grain breads. Peter Reinhart has done an enormous amount of research and testing to develop his whole grain bread recipes and techniques. Really, this is ground-breaking stuff.
Since this was my first go at this recipe, I opted for the 50-50 recipe. He has one that uses a whole wheat biga (that’s what Italian bakers call their starter) but he says you can make it with a white flour biga, which is what I used.
The interesting part of Reinhart’s recipes is his combination of whole grain soaks, yeast starters, and yeast added to the final dough for oven spring. This technique produces rich flavor from both the grains and the yeast without the problems of over-proofing that come with long rises. Though there are lots of steps, it’s a fairly simple combination of flour, water, and yeast. But, it makes something really special. One thing to remember: flavor takes time. You need to start the soaker and biga the day before you want to make pizza. The final dough requires almost no rise time once mixed (just long enough to heat up your stone, about an hour).
I have given measurements in weight, as most bakers do it this way. Volume is a poor way to measure things like flour, so if you are serious about bread baking, get yourself a scale.
Whole Wheat Pizza Dough
(makes enough dough for 5 personal pizzas)
Whole Wheat Soaker
8 oz. whole wheat flour, preferably fine ground (I used King Arthur Flour White Wheat)
½ teaspoon salt
7 oz. water
Mix everything together in a medium bowl for about 1 minute until flour has absorbed all the water and the dough starts to form a ball. Cover with plastic wrap. Leave at room temperature at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours. If you need to hold it longer, it can be refrigerated up to 3 days. That’s what I did because I went out for dinner unexpectedly the first 2 nights!
8 oz. unbleached bread flour
¼ teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
5 oz. filtered or spring water, at room temperature
Mix everything in a large bowl until it forms a ball. Using wet hands (it’s very sticky), knead in the bowl for 2 minutes until the flour has fully absorbed the water and there are no lumps. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes. Knead for another minute with wet hands. Transfer to a clean bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to 3 days.
1 Whole Wheat Soaker recipe
1 White Biga recipe
2 oz. whole wheat flour + plus more for rolling/shaping
⅝ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast
2 ¼ teaspoons honey
2 ½ Tablespoons olive oil
Make sure to remove the biga (and soaker if it was refrigerated) from the fridge 2 hours before mixing the final dough. Using a metal bench scraper or knife dipped in flour, cut the soaker and biga into 12 chunks each. Toss in flour to keep from sticking back into one blob – they are both fairly sticky. Toss chunks into the bowl of a stand mixer (or if doing by hand, a large bowl). Add 2 oz. flour, salt, yeast, honey, and 2 Tablespoons olive oil. Using a large spoon, mix to combine all the ingredients (I found it didn’t mix well initially using the paddle on my stand mixer). When the dough is combined, knead for 2 minutes with the dough hook on medium-low speed (or using wet hands, knead by hand). Add more flour if the dough seems very wet – it should be slightly sticky so resist the temptation to add too much. I found the dough to be quite sticky and added a bit of flour, which is unusual in Colorado where everything is very dry. If your dough seems too dry, add more water.
Dust the counter with flour and roll the dough in the flour. Knead for 3-4 minutes, using more flour to prevent sticking, if needed. The dough should be soft and “tacky,” on the verge of sticky. This is where experience with bread dough comes in handy. There’s a fine line between too wet and just sticky enough and you only know it by playing with dough enough. I encourage you to work with pizza dough to get the feel of it. Given that the ingredients for dough are really cheap, it comes down to spending some time to learn how it should feel. Form the dough into a ball and let it rest for 5 minutes on the counter. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicon mat, and drizzle the remaining ½ Tablespoon oil on the parchment or mat.
Knead the dough for another minute, adding flour (or water) to prevent sticking or if it seems too dry. You know you have developed the gluten sufficiently when it passes the windowpane test, but it should still be soft and slightly sticky. Divide the dough into 5 equal pieces (between 6 ¼ oz. and 6 ¾ oz. each) and form into tight balls. Place on the prepared sheet plan and roll in the olive oil. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let sit while you get your pizza stone hot, about 1 hour. If you can’t use all the dough at that time, you can refrigerate it, well wrapped to prevent drying out, for up to 24 hours before it must be used*.
Turn on the oven as hot as it will go on bake (usually 550°F). If you have a pizza stone, put it in the oven and let it heat up for an hour. If you don’t have a pizza stone, put a flat sheet pan (or an upside down rimmed pan) in the oven for about 10 minutes to get it really hot. Roll out a ball of dough until it is about 12″ in diameter. It will be quite thin. Place on a floured peel or another flat sheet pan. Give it a shake to make sure it isn’t sticking. Top with your preferred toppings but don’t load it up too much. If there is too much stuff on the pizza, it will stick and will self-destruct when you try to slide it off the peel. Slide the pizza onto the hot sheet pan or stone in the oven. Bake for about 7 minutes. The bottom and edges should be nicely browned. A small bit of char is OK. Underbaking is a crime in pizza baking. Remove it with the peel or by sliding it off onto a plate.
Allow pizza to sit for a few minutes before cutting to allow the cheese to set up. Repeat process with the rest of the dough balls. Enjoy and marvel at what you created – a pizza that will impress everyone you know.
*If you have refrigerated the final dough, allow it to warm up for 2 hours before rolling out. When you take it out of the fridge, smusch it down to remove the bubbles that formed in the dough, and cover it with plastic again so it doesn’t dry out.