Recipe – Belgian Beer-Based Pizza Dough

Like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, some things just go perfectly together. This is the Brangelina of pizza doughs, combining the firm body of a poolish-based pizza dough with the head-turning romance of a blonde Belgian beer. I guarantee you are going to be impressed with the pizzas you can make from this – which should be two that are approximately 30 to 36 cm (12 to 14 inches) in diameter.

For the poolish

250 g white flour
250 g unfiltered Belgian beer
1 g instant baking yeast

A note on the flour:

I used Robin Hood Best For Bread flour – a high protein flour from red spring wheat that will give you a nice and bubbly, springy pizza dough. Easy enough to find in Canada, but if you are in Europe you should be looking for something called “Manitoba” flour which is what Canadians have been using for centuries, just at a much cheaper price. Pizza dogma has it that the only type of flour fit to grace a pizza is Italian “00” flour, but if you aren’t one to place dogma above all then you will find that other types of fine flours are available to you if you are willing to look for them. The issue of which flour to use is a flash point for animated pizzaiolo discussion, but I will save a lot of it until my next pizza post when I put a few flours head-to-head to examine the merits of individual brands and styles. For now let’s just say the flour is important, but you are free to choose the one you love best for this recipe.

First we begin with the poolish. For some more information on the use of this type of pre-ferment, see my post on Sweet Stout and Walnut Bread. Pour out the beer, making sure to include some of the yeast-rich sediment at the bottom of the bottle. Although the yeast used in the beer (brewer’s yeast) and the yeast used to make bread (baker’s yeast) is of the same species, namely Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the strains have been developed differently through years of cultivation to give different properties and flavours. Saccaromyces cerevisiae has distinction beyond the foodie sphere as being the first eukaryote (higher organism) to have its genome completely sequenced and examined, a note to both its biological simplicity and importance. Certain styles of beer require certain strains of yeast, and your bog standard baker’s yeast has been selected to give the distinctly “bready” aroma profile that distinguishes a crisp, golden brown baguette from a rich, golden lager. Brewer’s yeast has also been selected to survive the higher concentrations of alcohol sought after in brewing, while baker’s yeast can not generally produce the higher alcohol percentages that a distillery is interested in. All this to say that the rich smells and tastes of this pizza dough come in part from the subtle blend of the two yeast strains as they gorge themselves on their sugar-rich environments.

Warm the beer to between 32ºC and 38ºC and add the instant baking yeast. Stir the mixture for 30 seconds and then let sit for at least 20 minutes. It should begin to build a layer of foam on top. Weigh the flour and transfer to a large container. The container should be large enough that the mixture you are about to make will be able to triple in volume. Something in the range of 1.5 to 2 L should suffice.

Add the beer and yeast mixture to the flour and mix with a whisk, aerating as much as possible for approximately one minute. Leave the thick, pancake-like mix to sit partially covered for 2 hours at room temperature. Transfer to the fridge and leave overnight.

In the morning, remove the matured poolish and allow to reach room temperature once more. You should notice an odour that combines the floral tones of the beer with the richness of the baking yeast. The poolish should rest until the volume has approximately tripled and is actively bubbling, at least one bubble on the top every few seconds. When this point is achieved (2-5 hours later) then it is time for the next step.

Beer based pizza dough

For the bulk dough

280 g white flour
10 g salt
125 g water

Mix the salt and flour in a large bowl. Pour the 125 g water around the edges of the poolish to loosen it and then pour everything into the middle of the flour/salt mixture. Initially you can mix with a spoon, but eventually you will need to use your hands (covered in a bit of extra flour (or water if you think the dough is too dry) to knead and fold the dough. This comes with practice, but try a few YouTube videos to see how to fold the dough because it is an extremely important technique.

After the initial kneading and folding, place the dough back in the bowl. During the next hour you will need to fold an additional two times, either in the bowl or on a lightly floured work surface. The dough will be extremely sticky, but hold your ground. When the final folding is finished, transfer the dough mass to a lightly oiled bowl, cover the top with a thin film of olive oil (by hand) and cover with plastic film. Let stand at room temperature or slightly above for at least 3 hours, until the volume has doubled or even tripled.

Lightly flour your hands and remove the dough from the bowl. It will deflate quite a bit during this procedure. Place on a floured working surface and use a knife or plastic dough scraper to cut the dough into two equal pieces. Fold and shape the dough into balls, then lightly dust a baking pan and the tops of each ball with flour. Place the balls on the pan, leaving space for expansion, and cover with plastic film. Leave the balls of dough in the pan for at least 45 min. They will expand up to 50% during this time. Place in the fridge until ready to use, at least 30 minutes.

Flour dusted belgian beer based pizza dough ball

I tend to use the dough the same day, but if you have made a larger recipe, or your date cancels and you are left alone with an extra dough ball, a bottle of wine, and a box of kleenex then you can freeze it and thaw to use any time afterwards. Just cover lightly in oil before putting it in a small plastic bag to make it easy to remove when you do want to use it.

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