Sourdough and pizza are two very trendy things. Bakeries and pizzerias can be seen popping up everywhere selling these two delights. When it comes down to the underlying dough, what is the difference between pizza dough and sourdough?
Some pizza dough is made with sourdough but most uses commercial baker’s yeast. Pizza dough needs a rising agent, so either wild yeast found in sourdough or commercial baker’s yeast can be used. Sourdough pizza is more tangy, chewy, and has a smaller crust.
In this article, I’ve got some comparisons between these two types of doughs and when you can spot a sourdough pizza. And of course, I’ll let you know what I think is best
Pizza Dough, Yeast And Sourdough
Pizza dough needs a leavening agent (an ingredient that will make it rise) so that it can become airy and form the crust. Without it, the dough would stay completely flat and tough. Yeast is the typical ingredient in bread and pizza dough, and this also ferments which makes the pizza crust taste good.
Yeast comes in a few different forms.
Wild yeast is in the air and in the flour, and this can be used to form a culture which is known as a sourdough “starter”. This is basically a small mixture of flour and water that has fermented over a week or so to contain a culture of wild yeast and bacteria.
To make sourdough, this starter is mixed with more flour, water, and salt and starts fermenting and rising. This is how sourdough bread is made, and the process is the same with pizza. With pizza, you don’t have to let the dough rise as much because we don’t need as much height in pizza as in a loaf of bread.
Commercial yeast (aka baker’s yeast) is the alternative method. It’s produced with a specific strain of yeast and comes fresh or dried. It’s easier and more convenient because you don’t need to look after a live culture of yeast like the sourdough. Commercial yeast, especially dried yeast, hasn’t been around for very long – historically only wild yeast would have been available.
Most pizzas are made using dried yeast as it’s the easiest to use and still gives great results. Most restaurants and pizzerias which are using sourdough starters will advertise it as sourdough pizza.
How Is Sourdough Pizza Different?
Sourdough pizza has strong flavors and a hint of sourness. Time builds up the depth of flavor with dough, and sourdough takes a long time to make. This means it is complex from all the acids and fermentation byproducts. It can range from being slightly sour to very sour depending on how long it fermented.
A dough with baker’s yeast takes on a more “bready” taste. If it has had time to develop flavors then it can be very tasty too, but you never really get the sourness that comes from acidic fermentation in sourdough. Personally, I prefer a yeasted pizza dough and eat more sourdough toast for brunch. However, some people swear by sourdough pizza.
If you’ve ever had sourdough bread then you are familiar with its distinct flavor. I think sourdough pizza isn’t usually as strong as sourdough bread. That might be because it has less volume and gases inside which give flavor. It might be because you are eating only a small amount compared to bread. Or because you ferment it a little less.
Sourdough pizza is usually a thinner, denser crust than regular yeasted dough. This is because wild yeast has less activity than commercial yeast. It usually has a chewier crust, a bit like sourdough bread compared to white bread.
Sourdough is a slow-moving dough and will be as active as the starter that made it. If you feed the starter regularly and keep it warmer, it will be very lively and bubbly. A less maintained starter will give a smaller rise when fermenting and baking.
Sourdough takes a lot more planning, preparation, and time. You need to activate the starter by feeding it flour the day before, then mix it up and give it a long rise to allow the natural yeast to do its work.
Packaged yeast is a lot more flexible. If you need pizza tonight, you can use more yeast and speed up the process. If you want a better-tasting pizza, use less yeast and let it ferment overnight.
The preparation is very similar for both doughs. Just substitute the yeast type but the sourdough pizza will take longer as the yeast is less active.
Is Sourdough Pizza Better?
Personally, I prefer the taste and texture of yeasted pizza dough. It rises up nicely on the crust and gives that toasted white bread type flavor which goes perfectly with toppings. That’s not to say I don’t like sourdough pizza, because I do – it’s just different. Maybe it’s just harder to come by a good sourdough pizza. I also love eating and making sourdough bread – even though it is a lot more effort to make.
What Styles Of Pizza Use Sourdough?
Italian pizzas such as the Neopolitan pizza sometimes use sourdough – but it’s called natural leavening. There are official rules for a true Neapolitan pizza (the AVPN) and this states fresh, dried, or natural yeast can be used.
New York style pizza does not usually use sourdough starters. The taste is typically that of a yeasted dough and I’ve only ever seen dried yeast used in New York style recipes.
When not being tied down to a specific style, that is where sourdough pizzas are usually found. With the popularity of sourdough bread, it was only inevitable that sourdough pizza would become popular.
How To Make Yeasted Pizza Dough
For a good yeasted dough recipe then check out my own pizza dough recipe.
Essentially it’s 4 ingredients mixed together, risen, and then stretched out and baked. You can keep it simple and rise it for a few hours, or put it in the fridge for 24 hours to develop some better flavors.
How To Make Sourdough Pizza Dough
Sourdough pizza requires you first to make a “starter”. This takes about 7 days of mixing flour and water in a warm place, but then will stay alive as long as you feed it flour regularly.
The final dough is then mixed with the starter and more flour, water, and salt. It’s slowly fermented over a number of hours before splitting into individual dough balls and resting until relaxed enough to stretch into a pizza.
My best advice is to follow Chad Roberston from the Tartine book (on Amazon). You can find his recipe for his starter and dough here – follow up to step 8 and then form into dough balls ready for pizza.
Now you know all about sourdough and pizza dough and how they differ. Remember that it’s all down to the yeast used – sourdough cultures definitely add their unique taste and texture to the crust.
While sourdough might be the holy grail of bread, normal baker’s yeast still seems to be the most popular for pizza.