The Chicago Way

June 28th, 2012

They Bring a Knife; You Bring a Cuisinart

I’m working on Chicago-style pizza today.

I already made a pie with my usual Sicilian crust. That crust is so good, I figured it couldn’t miss.I made it the usual way, but when I stuck it in the pan, I formed a wall around the edge, maybe 1.25″ high. Chicago pizza is a bowl of cheese and sauce, so you have to have sides on the bowl.

The pizza was very nice, but I learned one important thing. There is a reason they put sauce over the cheese in Chicago. They bake their pies nearly forever, so the cheese burns if you leave it exposed. I ended up with brown cheese. It tasted good, but obviously, it was far from optimal.

The crust itself was nice, but truthfully, conventional Sicilian is better. A big layer of yeasty bread under the sauce is better than thin crust swimming in tomatoes. When you make a high border around the pie, you automatically reduce the thickness of the bottom of the crust, and that’s not good.

Somebody pointed me to the Cook’s Illustrated recipe for Chicago-style pizza. It’s the same recipe I linked to the other day, on another site. The crust is the same, at least. You replace around 1/8 of the flour with corn meal, and you blend butter into the dough. Then you let it rise, roll it out, butter it, roll it up, flatten it somewhat, and stick it in the fridge. That hardens the butter, so when you form it into a pizza, you get layers separated by butter.

I think that’s the idea, anyhow.

Right now I’m making a pie with this method. Obviously, I changed a couple of things, because that’s how I am. I used the Cuisinart to “knead” the dough, and I halved the recipe. It was a recipe for two pies. What do you do if you only want one? The solution seemed simple.

I expected the corn meal to make the dough gritty, but oddly, it’s extremely silky. I mean, to the point where it’s weird.

I just threw it in the oven. I rolled it out, put it in the pan over olive oil, and added cheese, sauce, more cheese, pepperoni, spinach, and ricotta. I think I have the cheese covered well enough to keep it from burning.

We’ll see how it comes out. Maybe I’ll put up photos.


The first pizza was pretty good, apart from being burnt. Part of the problem was my failure to cover the cheese. The other part was an oversight with the oven. I set the temperature too high, and then I corrected it before putting the pie in. I believe it was still too hot when the pie started baking. Anyway, here it is.

The second pizza looked fantastic but tasted sort of like a burned souffle crossed with a waffle. About one eighth of the flour was replaced with corn meal. That screwed up the flavor. I think it also contributed to the burnt taste. Corn meal burns easily.

I ate most of one piece, just to analyze it, but the rest is going in the trash.

I’m wondering if this is how it’s supposed to taste. I have heard the taste of Chicago pizza described as “buttery,” but my guess is that a lot of people can’t tell the taste of butter from the taste of corn.

It seems to me that corn just doesn’t work with tomato sauce and mozzarella. The flavors are incompatible. It’s like cornbread instead of biscuits with fried chicken. Maybe you have to be raised eating it to think it’s good.

I’m thinking I might do it again, using lard instead of butter and getting rid of the corn meal. Anyway, it was bad.

10 Responses to “The Chicago Way”

  1. Bradford M. Kleemann Says:

    The first one looks like the deep dish slice I had for lunch today.

  2. Heather P Says:

    Steve you may need to think in terms of pie crust, flaky & buttery, is how it should taste, but thick.

  3. Gerry From Valpo Says:

    In my 35 years of working in Chicago and eating deep dish (I prefer thin crust NY style) there are actually three different type of deep dish crusts. Uno’s and Lou Malnatti’s are about the same, they obviously use cornmeal. Gino’s East is still my favorite, theirs has little if any corn meal. Giordano’s is all flour with no trace of cornmeal whatsoever and is also my least favorite because they call it ‘stuffed’. It’s more like a round, flat calzone. Once stuffed it is covered with another thin crust on top and then some tomato sauce.
    Keep on trying, if you must.

  4. Randy Rager Says:

    Steve. Return to your roots. Trust the bacon grease, Steve.

  5. MikeC Says:

    I got into a thick crust pizza kick not too long ago. They are easier to make than thin crust and they are delicious. My kids and I loved them. I put all my favorite toppings on them and I realized they cost me about $35 each to make. They were good though.


  6. Jonathan Says:

    I don’t know, if butter isn’t working what makes you think lard will be better? It sounds like your dough is too pastry-like. What if you go more in a bread direction by cutting down on the grease and layers?

    BTW, I never thought Chicago dish pizza was all that good. Not that it’s bad, but it seems the restaurants mostly take someone’s old recipe and never change anything. You can do much better I’m sure.

  7. Steve H. Says:

    Lard doesn’t burn as easily, and it makes things flakier.

  8. Jonathan Says:

    Your pizza-fu is strong, yet the lard, it troubles me. Ah, well.

  9. Randy Rager Says:

    The local Costco has a take and bake Chicago style pie that doesn’t look half so good as yours. But then the folks in charge of pizza for Costco are pretty fuzzy on the subject throughout the store.

  10. greg zywicki Says:

    You’re researching blues and Chicago Pizza. I can think of only one sensible course of action.