Evolution of a Crust

It took quite a while to get my ultimate Chicago pizza crust just right. Yet spurred on by the wife’s desire for a taste of home, I kept after it week after week. The early results were disappointing. Just like most “deep dish” pizzas, the prototypes were too thick and too bready. My models wee two of Mrs. Joe Pastry’s favorite Chicago pizza spots: Gino’s East (the old one on East Superior) and Lou Malnatti’s. Both make thick pizzas, though not necessarily with very thick crusts. Rich and dense, with a distinctive yellow hue, both are redolent of corn meal and have far more in common with pie crust than bread.

Thus, when I set out to bust this recipe I had to throw all my assumptions about pizza crusts out the window. I found some wacky theories from Gino’s pizza fanatics out on the web. Obsessed and frustrated by one failed attempt after another, they were throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the problem: beer, yellow food coloring, biscuit mix and margarine. The problem with them all was that they had the same base assumption: that a pizza crust must by definition be a bread.

What these crazed fans failed to realize was that deep dish pizza is neither historic nor traditional. It wasn’t even thought up by an Italian, rather by a Jewish entrepreneur by the name of Ike Sewell who opened Pizzeria Uno in 1943. Subsequent Chicago deep dish joints were indeed opened by Italians, though many of them (including Lou Malnati) first learned their trade working for Sewell. Thus Chicago deep dish came about not by tradition but by invention. And indeed the entrepreneurs who went on to create their Uno spin-off’s were under great pressure to come up with their own recipes, both to distinguish themselves and avoid lawsuits.

The result was a family of uniquely Chicago pizza mediums that are hybrid bread dough/pie crusts, containing yeast and white flour but also things like fat, corn meal and cooked potato. My version is and has been off to the right. It’s got more corn meal in it than probably any other classic Chicago crust, but then that’s what makes it my own, n’est pas? I urge you to try it, for it is easy and delicious and took me a hell of a lot of work (the lovely Jo Pastry is one tough taskmaster).

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