Monday, July 5, 2010

Pizza Crust

So I may not be from the northeast, but one thing that I think they get absolutely right up here is thin-crust pizza. I also love deep-dish Chicago-style pizza. It’s what I think of as Midwestern pizza that really gets to me (though it’s pretty common in Florida and is what you’ll find as the default from any of the national chains): medium-crust pizza. For me, a pizza is all about its toppings, and if most of what you can taste in any bite is a pillowy mound of crust, then I’m not feeling it.

Chicago-style pizza strikes me as more of a casserole than a pizza pie, and I think of it as its own food group altogether.

It’s possible to get excellent, superlative pizza where I live – it’s one of the things my city is noted for – but that kind of pizza is pretty unhealthy and not an item to indulge in on a day-to-day basis. Making pizza at home gives me more control over the ingredients and allows me to indulge my most fanciful topping whims.

This crust recipe is the product of trial and error. I used this Smitten Kitchen recipe as a starting point, but even this gave me a thicker crust than I wanted. Note that this is not inherent to the recipe itself – one can always roll crust out as thinly as one wants – but I’m using an inverted 12” cast-iron skillet as a pizza stone, so 12” is the diameter limit unless I want cheese and toppings dripping all over my oven floor. Which might have happened the first time I attempted homemade pizza. A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, etc. etc., right?

The pizzas shown are two “successful” pizzas. The first uses my crust but is modeled after this Smitten Kitchen recipe. I didn’t shave the asparagus – I was using such thin, delicate spears that it would have been superfluous – and merely chopped them into smallish pieces.

The second is a “pesto pizza” modeled on one we often get from a local pizzeria. It has a layer of pesto on the crust followed by sliced fresh tomato, a sprinkling of pine nuts, and a generous layer of fresh mozzarella. It’s not the sort of thing you need a recipe to replicate. I don’t even know how much pesto I used – I just grabbed a handful of basil from our herb garden and whizzed it up with some parmesan cheese, garlic, olive oil, and salt and pepper and used the amount that it gave me.

As they say, let your imagination be your guide.

Pizza Crust
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 ¼ cups white-wheat or all-purpose flour (I use all white-wheat, but it does have a somewhat grainy texture – a mix of 50/50 would probably taste more or less like all-white flour)
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon malted milk powder (optional but nice)
2 teaspoons vital wheat gluten
scant ½ teaspoon active dry yeast
2/3 cup warm water
1 tablespoon olive oil

Mix flour, salt, malted milk powder, wheat gluten, and yeast in a small-medium bowl. Add warm water. Knead for a few minutes or until it feels somewhat elastic – you don’t need to knead it as much as a loaf of bread, but you want it to feel more pliable. If needed, add a bit more flour to make the dough workable and les sticky. Add olive oil toward the end of the kneading time and work into the dough. I did this the second time by accident – I had meant to add it with the water – and found that it made the dough much more elastic and easy to work with.

Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about an hour. Alternately, you can do a “slow rise” in the refrigerator for 8-12 hours – just whip up the dough before you go to work, pop it in the fridge, and it should be ready at dinner time.

Preheat oven to its highest temperature setting, and prepare your pan, pizza stone, or the back of your cast iron skillet. I use parchment paper beneath the pizza to prevent sticking. Roll into a 14” circle (I do this right on the parchment paper) and turn up the edges of the dough to make a 12” circle. Add toppings of your choice and bake for 10-15 minutes, or until edges are crisp and cheese is bubbly atop the pizza. Serves 2-3 for a meal.

I plan to submit this to yeastspotting. Printable recipe here.


  1. I am always searching for the perfect crust... can't wait to try yours. Although I am from deep-dish Chicago land... I do love a good crisp crust sometimes... the malt is intriguing!

  2. I think the malt adds a little something. I hope you enjoy it if you try it!

  3. Pizza is totally about the toppings. The crust is just the vehicle but I like to ride in style so it better not taste nasty.

  4. I think both are essential, but certainly the toppings are important!

  5. Pizza totally about the toppings? I totally disagree! The crust is by far the most important element. Get that right, and most toppings take care of themselves. Get it wrong, and it doesn't matter what the toppings are - the pizza's crap!

  6. I love pizza in all forms. Yours looks wonderful!!