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OK, I’m not going to blather on here, because we’ve got one doozy of a recipe to cover: Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. Now, anyone who has tried to make this knows that you can’t take a regular pizza dough recipe, put it in a pan, and make it work—‘cause it doesn’t, my friends. Chicago pizza crust is lighter and almost flaky like a biscuit. And it’s got serious flavor, too. But the best part? The bottom of the crust tastes and feels like fried dough. Holy-moly, is it ever worth living for.
Plus, there’s the funny way it’s assembled—dough, cheese, and then sauce; and there’s the actual making of it in a deep pan. But I guarantee that once you make this recipe, it will be on your weekly menu rotation. Better than anything you can get delivered, know what I mean?
We’re using the standing mixer to put this dough together, so don’t worry about your kneading skills. Now, these first few ingredients should be no surprise: all-purpose flour, salt and sugar (both to add flavor), and instant yeast. But here’s one kind of quirky add-in: cornmeal. Plain old yellow cornmeal adds a little sweetness to the dough, but more importantly, gives it a rustic crunch that can’t be beat. Trust me—don’t leave it out.
But before we turn the mixer on, we’ve got to add in water and—get this—melted butter. Remember, this dough sits somewhere between pizza and a biscuit, so that butter is going to add lots of flaky richness. Yum. After mixing all of this together until it’s glossy and smooth, we put the dough in a super-oiled bowl to prevent it from sticking, and let it puff up and rise until it’s almost doubled in volume. That gives us an hour to whip through the sauce and other stuff.
This particular sauce is very specific to Chicago-style. It’s got to be quite thick so as not to sog out the crust, and it’s very intensely seasoned with aromatics and herbs—especially oregano (we call it the pizza herb in my house). We start by sautéing onion, oregano, and salt until the onion is golden brown; add some garlic, a little sugar, and then a big can of crushed tomatoes. Those tomatoes give the sauce the right smooth texture, but don’t even think about using canned tomato sauce, which is a pre-cooked product, and can taste really stale in this sauce. After simmering all of this for a good half-hour, we liven it up with fresh basil, and plop in some nice olive oil, too. The sauce is good to go.
Before I explain this next step, I need you to repeat these words three times: “flaky layers.” OK—by now you should be fully in lockstep with our goal, so the idea of layering, or laminating, the dough shouldn’t be too weird. Yes, you read that right—we’re going to use a technique most often reserved for puff pastry or croissants to make our pizza. Let’s go.
BUTTER IT (AGAIN)
Now the dough gets shaped into a 15 by 12-inch rectangle. Easy enough. Now spread that dough with a layer of softened butter all over, as if you’re going to pick up that dough and eat it for breakfast. But don’t. Instead, we roll up the dough into a cylinder, and then flatten it again into a longer, skinnier rectangle. After cutting it in half (we’re making two pizzas, people), we get to recall the days of yore, when people actually sent letters via the post. Remember folding paper business-letter style? That’s exactly what we do to each of those pieces of dough. Weird, huh? Anyway, this creates lots of layers of butter between layers of the dough. As it bakes up, the steam from the heated butter puffs up the dough, making it flaky and light. But this only works if the butter in the dough starts out cold, so for this second rise (post-shaped is known as proofing) we put the rounds in the fridge until they double again.
Now that the dough is cold and doubled, we get to make the pizzas!!! The best deep-dish for the job is a 9-inch cake pan (you’ll need two), and we’ve got to first coat those puppies with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Each. (Oh yeah, that bottom crust is going to get that fried-dough crunch for sure.) Each dough round gets rolled out to a 13-inch circle and then fitted in the pan. Sometimes the dough wants to snap back, but you needn’t worry. Just give it 5- or 10-minute rest and the dough should settle down.
Remember how Chicago-style pizza is assembled upside down? Yeah, that cracks me up too, but we’ve got to honor tradition. So in each pizza we layer 2 cups of whole milk mozzarella, 1¼ cups of that fab sauce, and a little Parmesan over the top. Done and done.
The pizzas go into a 425-degree oven on the very bottom rack. That blast of heat from the bottom will really help to brown (fry) and crisp that crust. The pies need to bake for a while—remember, they’re deep-dish. But 30 minutes is plenty of time to set the table and pour a glass of hearty red for yourself.
Oh, it looks so gooey, brown, and bubbly straight from the oven. But unless you really don’t fancy your bottom lip and chin, I’d recommend waiting 10 minutes for those pies to cool down a bit. After that, go ahead and remove them from the pans (an offset spatula works like a dream for this job), slice, and eat. One pie for you, and one for me, OK?