~ St. Louis-Style Pizza: "Square Beyond Compare" ~
Last week, one of my friends, Seattle-based food and travel writer, Melissa Trainer, posted a link to the King Arthur Flour Company's recipe for St. Louis-style pizza on Facebook. I've been a fan of Missy for a while. Besides being a busy mom, she professsionally writes several blogs, and, for a direct link to her personal blog, click onto "Hooks for Cooks" on "My Favorite Blogs" list.
I've always been intrigued by the concept of St. Louis-style pizza, known for its thin, crispy cracker crust topped with the legendary Provel cheese and cut into squares (not wedges). I immediately printed out the recipe, but, as I commented to Missy, "I want to try this, but, it might lead to marital discord if I serve it to my traditional pizza-lovin' husband". After a short discussion with Joe, he said, "I've never met a pizza I didn't like -- give it a try." Within seconds, Joe ordered the Provel cheese on-line from: It's a St. Louis Thing (www.itsastlouisthing.com).
A bit about the St. Louis-style pizza crust: The most definitive difference between St. Louis pizza and traditional pizza is its super-thin, cracker crust. The crust contains no yeast, which means it should not be confused with recipes for New York-style thin-crust pizza. It's made with self-rising flour (which has baking powder and salt added to it) or by adding baking powder and salt to all-purpose flour. There's a lot to be said for this, because in about 15 minutes, or the time it takes to preheat the average oven, you can have two pizzas ready to bake, and, in less than 30 minutes, dinner is served. (On a saucy side note, their slightly sweet tomato sauce is traditionally seasoned with oregano, and, the pizza is sprinkled with oregano prior to baking.) Because the crust is so crispy, when it comes time to eat it, it can't be folded, so, in St. Louis, instead of cutting it into wedges, they cut it into 3"-4" squares. Also, many restaurants make their pizza in a rectangular shape -- I'm going to make one of each today.
Note: I am not using self-rising flour today. Why? It's my thought that the average home cook does not keep this on-hand in their pantry. I have a bag, but, I'm not the average home cook. I use enough self-rising flour in the course of a year to ensure that it doesn't go past its expiration date. Yes folks, because it contains baking powder, self-rising flour has an expiration date.
A bit about the Provel cheese: Provel cheese was developed by the St. Louis firm Costa Grocery in the 1950's. Made in Wisconsin, it's a processed cheese made from provolone, Swiss and white cheddar and sold primarily in the St. Louis area. While researching St. Louis-syle pizza, I was surprised to read comments from folks who professed their hatred for this cheese. That made me even more curious, and, the moment my 5-pound block of Provel arrived, I could barely wait to try a taste. Hate? In my case it was definitely love at first bite.
My critique of Provel cheese: It's a white, slightly smoky and slightly salty tasting processed cheese, with a texture similar to the orange-colored Velveeta. The second you take a knife to it, you just know it's going to melt to a creamy state.
Without having tried this (yet), I'll go so far as to guess it would probably be a great addition to cheese soups, cheese sauces and cheese fondue too. I predict you'll see me using this cheese in future recipes on this blog. As for those who claim you can make your own Provel by combining equal amounts of grated store-bought smoked provolone, Swiss and white cheddar? Without having tried this (yet), I'll go so far as to say "I don't think so". Being familiar with the above named three cheeses, and, now, having experienced Provel, the secret is in the processing (which forms these three into one distinct cheese), and, there is no "real deal" substitution. It is exactly what "St. Louians" (?) claim it to be: Square Beyond Compare.
Dare to be square beyond compare!
Using a pastry brush or a paper towel, lightly oil each of two pizza pans with:
1 tablespoon olive oil (2 tablespoons total olive oil)
I'm using one 12" round pan, and, one 13" x 9" rectangular pan today... that choice is yours!
To prepare the cracker crust:
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons additional flour, for kneading dough
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup warm water + 2 additional tablespoons warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil
~ Step 3. Using your fingertips, begin incorporating the flour mixture, in small amounts, into the wet mixture until a wet, sticky mass forms.
~ Step 4. Using the heal of your hand, continue to knead the dough (in the bowl), giving the bowl a quarter of a turn each time you press down on it, until a smooth ball forms, adding the additional flour, as necessary to keep the dough from sticking to bowl. This entire process will take about 2 minutes.
~ Step 5. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside 15-30 minutes. While dough rests, prep toppings and preheat oven to 350 degrees.
1-1 1/2 cups pizza sauce, preferably homemade
8 ounces grated Provel cheese (about a 2" hunk of Provel)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
Ready, set, go!!!
~ Step 7. I won't lie, I was scared when I started patting and pressing the dough into the pans. But, with the help if my nifty mini-rolling pin, before I knew it, I had two, seriously thin pizza crusts!
~ Step 9. I won't lie, I was not afraid to evenly distribute all of the Provel over both pizzas. After I sprinkled them with some oregano, red pepper flakes and a splash of EVOO... I was quite proud of myself!
~ Step 10. One at a time, bake on center rack of preheated oven 12-15 minutes, or until, using a thin spatula, it will easily slide from pan onto oven rack and bake until crust is crisp, 1-2 additional minutes.
Post script: This is the first time I have ever posted a recipe on Kitchen Encounters that I have never in my life tasted or tested 2-3 times... and it is just perfect!
Dare to be square beyond compare:
Special Equipment List: 2 pizza pans, 12" round, or, 13" x 9" rectangular; pastry brush or paper towels; whisk; 1-cup measuring container; hand-held cheese grater; thin metal spatula; 2 cooling racks
Cook's Note: For another out-of-the-ordinary, extraordinary pizza experience, you can find my recipe for ~ Chicago-Style Deep-Dish Pizza ~ in Categories 2, 17, or 19. No snacking here -- every slice of this one is a small meal!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)