Pizza Should Be Cut Into Squares: A Love Affair with Chicago Thin Crust Pizza
Every weekend growing up my Gram would make homemade pizza for our entire family. The giant pizza pans filled up her entire kitchen table, and when there was no room left, they spilled over onto the avocado green counters. Pepperoni, sausage, cheese- pizza for a small army. Pizza is literally a way of life in Chicago, and I’m sure my family was not alone in the tradition of a weekly pizza pie.
While Chicago may be known for its behemoth, and oddly polarizing (you either LOVE it or HATE it), deep dish pizza pie, thin crust pizza reigns supreme. Crispy cracker thin crust with just enough chew in the middle, a thick robust tomato sauce, and a heaping sprinkling of toppings underneath a blanket of bubbly cheese. ALL. CUT. INTO. SQUARES. I have never found pizza like this anywhere outside the Midwest, and it is one of the things I crave most when I’m missing home.
It’s something I’ve been telling myself that I need to figure out how to make since I left Chicago thirteen years ago, and I’m proud to say that I’ve finally done it. Trying to create a crust that was cracker thin, crispy, and chewy all at the same time was no easy feat. But with a bit of research and a lot of testing, I’ve cracked the code for my beloved square cut pizza. The secret is using a combination of all purpose and double zero flours, a small amount of yeast, giving the dough a long, slow rise, rolling it out very thin, and docking, or pricking the dough to keep it from puffing up while baking. The result is everything I hoped and needed this pizza to be.
A few pro tips to set you up for success in getting your Chicago thin crust pizza as authentic as possible:
PLAN AHEAD! This dough needs to rise at room temperature for four hours, and then overnight in the refrigerator. If you try to bake the pizza without the overnight rise, your crust will be tough, and although still edible, not the most pleasant to eat. And especially not the consistency you’re looking for.
Don’t stretch the dough with your hands or toss it in the air . Use a rolling pin to get it to the desired thickness of 1/8-1/4”.
Prick the heck outta that dough. It should look like constellations in the night sky, and make sure to put some holes all the way out to the edge of the dough. You don’t want that outer edge of crust to rise at all.
Use a perforated pizza pan. This allows for the air to circulate around the crust helping it to crisp up over the entire bottom. As Mary Berry says, “no soggy bottoms”.
Bring the sauce almost all the way to the outer edge of the crust. Every square inch of that pie needs a healthy dose of the red stuff.
If you are using Italian sausage for one of your toppings, dot it onto the pizza raw, in small chunks. I promise you it will cook thoroughly if you keep the pieces small, and it will taste totally different than if you were to pre-cook the sausage. This is the Chicago way. Do it the Chicago way.
Use a mixture of cheeses. I know when it comes to pizza mozzarella is king, but a cheese blend is key for Chicago thin crust pizza. A mix of whole milk mozzarella, provolone, fontina, pecorino, and parmesan cheese, because 4 cheeses are better than one. Oh, and make sure to let that cheese get nice and brown on top.
A sprinkle of dried oregano on the top of the cheese before baking is everything.
CUT PIZZA INTO SQUARES, BECAUSE THIS IS HOW THIN CRUST PIZZA SHOULD BE CUT. DON’T ARGUE WITH AN ITALIAN GIRL FROM CHICAGO. THANK YOU. THE END.
Chicago Thin Crust Pizza
1 C warm water
1 tsp honey
1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1 1/2 C double zero flour
1 1/2 C all purpose flour
1 Tbsp kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp + 1 Tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, grated
3 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp red chili flakes
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1 32 oz can of tomato sauce
1/2 tsp salt
green pepper, sliced thin
onion, sliced thin
mozzarella cheese, grated
provolone cheese, grated
fontina cheese, grated
parmesan cheese, grated
pecorino cheese, grated
In a large mixing bowl, or bowl of a stand mixer, combine warm water and honey. Stir until the honey has completely dissolved. Add yeast and stir gently. Let the yeast sit for 5-10 minutes, or until it has become alive and foamy. In a small bowl, combine the double zero and all purpose flours. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil, salt, and half of the flour mixture to the yeast, stirring to combine. Next, add all but 1/2 cup of the remaining flour mixture and mix well with your hands or the dough hook attachment of a stand mixture. If making the dough by hand, transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface for kneading. Knead dough for 5-7 minutes, slowly adding in the remaining 1/2 cup of flour until the dough becomes smooth and elastic. You may not need all of the remaining flour to reach the right consistency. The dough should be smooth, not sticky or wet, but squishy like an earlobe. Coat a large bowl with remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Transfer dough to bowl, coat with oil, and cover lightly with cling wrap. Place bowl in a warm spot and let the dough rise for 4 hours. Punch down the dough, re-cover the bowl with cling wrap, and place in the refrigerator overnight.
While the dough is rising, make the sauce. In a large saucepan, add garlic, olive oil, chili flakes, oregano, and salt. Heat for 1-2 minutes over medium heat until fragrant. Add tomato sauce, stirring to combine all the ingredients. Simmer on low for 1 hour until reduced by 1/2 or more. Season to taste adding more salt if needed.
After dough has slowly risen overnight, remove from refrigerator and let come to room temperature. Preheat oven to 500 degrees.
Cut dough in half, and form each half into a tight ball by tucking the edges underneath and rolling on a smooth surface. Lightly flour a large cutting board or work surface with flour. Roll the dough with a rolling pin until it is 14” in diameter and approximately 1/8-1/4” thick, maintaining a round shape. Dock, or prick, the dough with a fork to prevent the dough from rising in the oven. You really want to make sure every inch of the dough is pricked. This step is extremely important to maintain that crispy cracker crust. Transfer the dough to a 14” pizza crisper pan with holes.
Trim any excess pizza dough so that you have a perfect circle. Brush a little olive oil around the edge of the dough and then spread an even layer of sauce over the top. Add your pizza toppings, being sure not to skimp, and then a hefty dose of your cheese blend. Sprinkle some dried oregano over the top and bake at 500 degrees for approximately 10 minutes, until the edges are crispy and the cheese is bubbly and starting to brown.