Surplus sourdough: toaster-oven flatbread

So I’m trying to keep my sourdough from a long dormancy and remembering why I went three months without feeding the damn thing: it pains me to discard the requisite excess starter before each feeding.  It seems so wasteful to toss even a half cup of fairly lively starter into the trash….but I don’t want to bake a loaf of bread every five to seven days.  How to use up the excess starter?  Pizza, waffles, pancakes?

Of course, I’m far from the only person to encounter this dilemma.  Some time back, I discovered Peter Reinhart’s sourdough pizza recipe in Artisan Breads, which calls for 28.5 grams of starter.  (It’s not a huge amount, but every bit used is a bit not destined for the trash.)  The starter is built into a dough that can rest, refrigerated, for up to 4 days.  Convenient, but it’s still too damn hot (97 degrees as I type these words) to cook pizza on a stone indoors, and it’s been too hot to fiddle outdoors with grilled pizza.  So I divided the dough (made with high-gluten flour) and froze most of it, squirrelling it away for cooler weather.  I left one container to ferment in the fridge, contemplating low-heat ways to use high-hydration dough.

Aha!  The toaster oven–why not?  It gets screamin’ hot in a flash, but would it heat up sufficiently to deliver a crisp crust?  Chasing this whim, I pressed out a handful of dough onto parchment, rubbed it with olive oil, and stuck it into a 500-degree toaster oven.

Whaddaya know–it baked into a thin, crisp flatbread, highly suitable for snacking, dipping, or covering with no-bake toppings (think proscuitto & fresh arugula, or chopped olives and anchovies, or chopped fresh tomatoes & basil).  It reminded me of the topping-less, ultra-thin appetizer pizzas served in Roman pizzerias:  nothing more than stretched dough, baked to a crackery crunch, devoid of any embellishment.  At first glance, those untopped pizzas look strangely naked, but after the first bite reveals pure crunch, their appeal becomes obvious….the all-crust pizza is just the thing to nibble while waiting for the main event.

After baking a few more pizette, a few points emerged as crucial:

  • use the perforated broiling tray to cook the pizza, and put the metal tray into the oven to preheat at 500 degrees while prepping the dough
  • stretch the dough on a small piece of parchment paper
  • add toppings with a very, very light hand, or opt for just olive oil & herbs
  • remove the parchment from beneath the little pizza as soon as the crust sets (roughly two minutes); this allows the bottom to crisp & brown

I tried the “broil” setting, but the top browned too quickly.  And, I’m sure that even browning was helped by the convection fan–if your toaster oven doesn’t have a convection feature, you might need to rotate the dough when you remove the parchment paper.  Spreading the dough as thinly as possible is another key step–too thick, and the lower crust remains pale and flabby.  The size seems to matter a bit, too:  go much larger than an outstretched hand, and something shifts….the ideal crispness is lost, though the results are quite edible.

Topped with the barest whisper of tomato sauce & a layer of (low-fat) turkey pepperoni, the pizzette was a tad chewier and not quite as crisp.  With dough in the fridge, I can see these little pizzas as an ideal pre-dinner treat or mid-afternoon snack.

Next time, I’ll try oiling the parchment before stretching the dough to promote bottom browning….

One thought on “Surplus sourdough: toaster-oven flatbread

  1. I have the same dilemma . . . there’s that jar of gooey stuff in the back of the refrigerator with the scary-looking liquid on top. Thanks for reminding me to bring it out and see if it will come back to life. We have a combination microwave/convection oven that should also work for the flatbread.

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