Sweet Home Chicago II

Having spent about an hour roaming the web looking at various attempts at Gino’s-type pizza crusts, I’ve come to a few conclusions. The most important of which is that many of these folks are vastly overcomplicating the matter. Maybe it’s the fact that Gino’s famously guards its “top secret” crust recipe. Maybe it’s the fact that people (especially Chicagoans) are passionate about their pizza. But the analysis and re-analysis of the effects of improbable ingredients ranging from fats to flours to colorings to flavorings…well, it borders on obsessive, even paranoid.

Since the simplest explanation is usually the right one, we’ll start simple. This deep dish pizza crust recipe is fairly representative of what I found out on the web:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 package instant yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1/4 cup vegetable oil

A fair starting point. And since the first step in consistent baking is to convert volumes to weight, we’ll do that first (I have weights of common baking ingredients under a heading to the right…I tend not to do water since well…I’m just too accustomed to cups and tablespoons). So we get this:

12.5 ounces all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast (1 package)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
6.75 ounces vegetable oil

Now, I haven’t been to Gino’s in a while. But I do remember a few things about their crust. Specifically that it is dense, rich and flavorful. You can see that richness accounted for in the recipe in that it calls for 1/4 cup of vegetable oil. You don’t see that in a traditional pizza crust, since a normal crust is more like bread. Fat weighs the structure of bread dough down, keeping it from rising (which means we’ve found the source of the density too). Gino’s crust is also very tender in my experience, which is something else you can see reflected in the recipe. Notice that it calls for all-purpose flour as opposed to say, bread flour, which would only serve to introduce more chewy gluten to the crust. Activated gluten isn’t something the writer of this recipe is necessarily trying to avoid, however, since the procedure portion of the recipe (which I haven’t shown) calls for several minutes of machine mixing. That would certainly activate the gluten (and there is more than a little) present in AP flour.

Considering the end product we’re after, I propose some specific changes. The most important of which is mental. That is: I propose that we stop thinking about this crust as a bread and start thinking of it more like a biscuit. Biscuits after all are dense (though light), rich, flavorful and extremely tender. Since it’s solid fat, not liquid fat, that gives bisuits their trademark flakiness, that’s the first thing I’ll change, swapping 1-for-1 vegetable shortening for vegetable oil by weight. Next, since deep dish Chicago pizzas are known for corn meal, I’m going to add a little to the mix, though only a little, since I don’t want the crust getting gritty. I’ll substitute what I put in for an equal amount of flour by weight. And of course since I took some liquid out I’ll need to put that back. A couple of tablespoons of water should do the trick. And so, all-in-all we get this:

11.5 ounces all-purpose flour
1 ounce fine ground yellow corn meal
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1.7 ounces vegetable shortening
1 cup + 2 tablespoons water

Of course, biscuits require a completely different mixing method as compared to bread. With bread the point is to activate gluten, which you do by kneading. But since tenderness is the whole point of a biscuit, we’re going to avoid that step altogether, only mixing the ingredients enough to form a dough. The biscuit method also requires that we cut in the solid fat before we add any liquid, so I’ll make that adjustment as well.

We aren’t actually making biscuits though, we’re making making a hybrid that’s mixed like a biscuit yet has yeast as a leavener. So from here on out I’ll treat our whatsit like bread. I’ll let it rise for at least an hour at room temperature (though since I like a fully developed flavor, I’ll retard the dough, letting it rise slowly in the refrigerator overnight). Then I’ll spread it out in a pan, top it and bake it.

So. That should be enough to get us going. I’ve posted the complete recipe to the right, and will be trying it next Friday if not before. I’m not sure what type of pan I’ll try first off. Probably a nine-inch cake layer pan or maybe even a pie plate (might as well start small since I’m experimenting). I’ll probably have more dough than I need, but I’ll worry about exact quantities and pan sizes later. Try this with me if you want. After all, this wasn’t my idea. I don’t see why I should be the one doing all the work.

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