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Deep Dish Pizza à la 'Cook's Illustrated'

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[Photographs: Adam Kuban]

I've had the January/February 2010 issue of Cook's Illustrated sitting in my to-do stack of crap since it came out. In it, a recipe for deep dish pizza. (You can find that recipe here, though it's behind a paywall. Sorry! Oh, or try this website, which has it: http://thirtyaweek.wordpress.com/2010/01/28/deep-dish-pizza-recipe)

With some free time last Saturday, I set about making the stuff. Above is one of my finished pies (the recipe makes two 9-inch-round pizzas). Since all the junk is in the proverbial trunk, i.e., you can't see nothin' but sauce, I'll tell you that this one is stuffed with regular mozzarella cheese, canned mushrooms, diced red onion, and diced green pepper. After the jump, some pics and observations, if you're interested.

Oh, and because it seems to be some sort of Coke vs. Pepsi, Crips vs. Bloods thing regarding use of cornmeal in the dough — yes, this recipe calls for it and I used it. OK. Now those pics....

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I gotta say, I deviated from the official CI recipe right off the bat. It calls for a stand mixer. Mine's broken, so I used the food processor. I've been having great luck with it for NYC-style pizza dough, so why not? Besides, I was not going to mix this rather heavy dough by hand.

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Here's the dough sittin' around in a bowl, getting ready to rise. Yeah. So you just set that aside for about 45 minutes while you make the sauce. It's a pretty simple sauce, some grated onion mixed with butter gets a quick sauté before you throw in a can of crushed tomatoes and some seasoning:

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If you read Kenji's New York Pizza Sauce post or have made Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter, you'll recognize the use of those ingredients. As Kenji says, "it produces an exceptionally smooth, complex, and delicious sauce."

You cook the sauce down over low heat to about 2 1/2 cups' worth (the last photo in the sauce series above) while the dough rises ... and it should just about be ready. Now comes the interesting part ...

Laminated Dough

To get the flaky crust that's a little bit reminiscent of biscuits, the recipe has you do something a little unorthodox for pizzamaking: laminate the dough. That is, create alternating layers of butter and dough. As in puff pastry, the idea is that as the butter releases steam in the hot oven, it separates the dough, giving it the flakiness you're after.


Anyway, this is what that process looks like, basically:

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You roll out the dough into a rectangle, spread softened butter on it, roll it up, smush down the log, then cut it in half. Fold each half as pictured and then sort of pinch off the seams and gently shape into a ball. Let that rise for another 50 minutes in the fridge — to keep the butter cold.

The Build Up

After the dough rises a second time, you simply roll it out into 13-inch rounds. You're going to be using a standard 9-inch round cake pan for this thing — no need to get a special pan. Here's the build-up process on my first pie of the evening (mozzarella; diced green peppers and onions; and canned mushrooms, drained and patted dry with paper towels):

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This is another way in which I deviated from the CI recipe. It gives a basic mozzarella-only version and two alternate versions — one for Italian sausage and one for olives and ricotta.

Plain mozzarella seemed too ... not excessive. Olives and ricotta sounded ... a little froofy for CHICAGO pizza. So I did a pretty standard Midwestern "deluxe" pizza mix. The one above, sans sausage, was for Girl Slice. Are you seeing a pattern? I always make her pizza first...

Here's what it looked like on finish:

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Those little pimples of melted cheese on top — I put those on there post-oven. I don't know why. I just had the perverse need to buck Chicago convention, even in a small way, and dot the top of the sauce with cheese.

Anyway, the pizza looked beautiful. Doncha think? And here's another shot:

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But ... but ...

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D'oh! The recipe tells you to adjust oven rack to the lower position, which is what I did. I sort of questioned it before proceeding because our top-most oven gets really hot on the bottom (where the gas burner is), but Cook's has rarely failed me so I followed along. Girl Slice was a sport and scraped off as much burning as she could. And it's not like there wasn't enough non-burned pizza there to feed her — this is deep dish, after all.

Needless to say, for my sausage-enhanced pizza, I moved the rack to the top third of the oven. It came out nearly perfect.

Nearly, that is. This time, it was a bit watery, with juices seeping out after I cut a slice away. I'm not sure if the added sausage (which I precooked and let rest on paper towels) released more juices into the mix or if I just didn't cook this one long enough, but after I pulled a slice out, I returned it to the oven for a few more minutes in the heat — which seemed to do the trick.

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Here's a final slice.

I ended up bringing in some leftovers to the SE office, and the consensus seemed to be that "the flavors are good." At least that's what deep dish doubters Ed and Kenji said — probably the highest praise you will get from those guys. I also liked the flavors, but I can't say I absolutely loved the pizza. It's been ages since I've had a proper deep dish pizza, and I am just too used to being able to pick up my pizza.

Still, I'd make this again — and I will. I want to make a very good example of this recipe rather than one overbaked and one underbaked one. And I've got the perfect homemade pizza sausage recipe for it next time. But I'll get to that later....

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