Homemade Chicago style deep-dish pizzaAmong the so-called Chicago style pizzerias in the KC area I have tried lately, I have been pretty underwhelmed. And that is after having read a fair amount online (starting with the usual places like LTH and Chowhound) and asking around for advice on where to get authentic Chicago style pizza here. One restaurant in Lenexa with all kinds of glowing reviews – and it’s worth noting that most of these are pretty far outside the urban core – doesn’t even do deep dish pizza, which makes me wonder why they even bother to use the name Chicago in their advertising.

I have one or two more places to try, but at this point I’m not very optimistic. One friend insisted I try The Dish in Liberty. The slick look of the website makes me wonder if it’s a chain – I can’t tell, but I will still try it. (Did you see the two pictures of the chef on there? Same body, slightly different heads – creepy!) Anyway, this is exactly the kind of desperation that leads me to figure out how to make something for myself, if I cannot find anyone else in town who will.

So after some research and a few nights’ worth of experimentation, I have come up with a method for cooking deep-dish pizza at home that is so satisfying I am now even less interested in whether it is made commercially in KC.

What follows is not a complete recipe for the pie I make, but more of a rubric for the baking technique. While there are countless variations on deep-dish pizza in terms of toppings and type of sauce, there are a few parts of the assembly and baking process that need to be strictly observed if you’re trying to make it at home. The main obstacle to making good pizza of any style at home is the oven, since most domestic ovens don’t get much hotter than 500°F, which itself is an awkward temperature for baking pizza. You have to use a crust recipe and a baking temperature that will give you about the same result as baking a pie in an industrial stack oven that heats evenly at 700-900°F, like the one at your local pizzeria.

Since you will be baking a pie with lots of moisture-rich ingredients in a deep dish with no air holes in the bottom (as is sometimes done with thin crust pizza), you need to bake it on top of something that retains a lot of heat; otherwise, the bottom of the crust will not cook fully and will come out soggy instead of brown and crisp. To create this heat sink, I stack two ordinary, round pizza stones on top of each other. But you don’t need anything fancy; a cheap 1-2” thick landscaping stone works perfectly. Whatever you use, place it on a rack positioned about 2/3 of the way down inside the oven, and preheat the oven and the stone an hour ahead of the time you start baking.

For a crust that will fill a 9” baking dish, you will need:
• 1 3/4 cups high-gluten flour
• 1 teaspoon table salt
• 3/4 cup water at 110°F
• 2 teaspoons (one packet) active dry yeast
• 1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 3 tablespoons butter, softened

Combine the flour and salt, and set aside.

Dissolve the yeast and sugar into the warm water and let stand 5-7 minutes until a fair amount of foam has formed on the top. Then pour into a mixing bowl with the olive oil.

Using a wire whisk, stir the water and oil briskly while adding half the flour mixture in very small amounts, to ensure everything combines evenly. Then add the remaining half of the flour and gently fold into the dough with a spatula. When all of the flour has at least been moistened, use your hands to continue mixing everything, and then knead the dough for about 3 minutes. Roll the dough into a ball and brush very lightly with olive oil, cover with a bowl, and allow the dough to rise at room temperature for about 40-60 minutes.

Gently punch the dough ball down with your hands, and use a rolling pin to flatten it into a rectangular shape. Use an icing spatula to spread the softened butter evenly on top of the dough. (This technique is called laminating the dough, and it helps to produce a more crispy, flaky crust.) Then, starting at a narrow end on the rectangle, roll up the dough and then gently reform that elongated shape back into a ball. Don’t worry that it will not stick to itself due to all of the buttery surfaces. Recover and allow the dough to rise again at room temperature for another 30 minutes.

Using just your hands, punch the dough down and gently press it into a circle with the tips of your fingers until the diameter is about 13”.

Grease the 9” baking dish and place the dough circle inside, making sure not to trap any air bubbles underneath. Use your hands to work the dough up the sides of the dish until it is even with the rim.

Assemble the pizza by layering the toppings in this order: Mozzarella cheese (grated or sliced), sauce, meat, vegetables, grated Romano cheese.

Place the pizza into the oven that has preheated at 500°F for one hour. Close the oven and reduce heat to 425°F. Bake for about 30 minutes or until about 1/3 of the Romano cheese has browned.

Remove the pizza from the oven and let it stand for about 3 minutes. Then gently use a plastic spatula to lift the pizza out of the pan and onto a cutting board. Slice and serve immediately.