I regard pizza as one of life’s great joys. For sure, I like to have it (with wings!) at the end of a night out. But I have also discovered the delights of different types of pizza as a main course for dinner. As a proper meal, I only ever have pizza for dinner.
The taste is too strong for breakfast and the mass of it too heavy for lunch. For me, evening time is the best time for pizza. And although many people care only about the sauce and the toppings, I find the crust of a pizza to be as important.
What is Pizza Crust?
Put simply, pizza crust consists of the raw dough that is baked to form the bread-like foundation of the pizza. It is this crust foundation upon which all great pizzas are built. Without it, all you would have is an assortment of sauce, cheese and toppings.
The crust is what makes a pizza a pizza. It gives the sauce and toppings their purposes. It can either complement or clash with the two latter; it can either enhance what you taste or greatly degrade it.
What are the Important Qualities of a Pizza Crust?
If you are picky about the food that you eat, if you are fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to have a discriminating palate, then you will probably want to know how ingredients, dough preparation, and the baking process come together to produce a good pizza crust.
You will also be included to break down the qualities of the crust, so that you can think about and articulate exactly what you are looking for. Here are some of the most important qualities in a pizza crust:
The taste of a pizza crust will depend greatly on the ingredients used to form the dough and the type of oven used to bake it. The latter is especially important. The taste of a pizza baked in a woodfire oven differs considerably from one baked in a conventional oven.
You need not be a pizza expert to notice this quality. There is a difference between a crunchy pizza and one that is supple or floppy. Some types of crust have a texture that compels you to eat them with a knife and fork.
This quality is best described at the ability of a crust to hold the weight and spread of the ingredients on top of it. The thinner the crust, the more likely the pizza will fall apart when loaded with toppings.
Types of Pizza Crust
Here are the three general types of pizza crust and the most common pizza styles attached to them.
Thin crust pizzas have stretched and crunchy centers and doughy edges. Here are some of the most popular kinds:
The dough for authentic Neapolitan should be hand-kneaded. It should be no more than 35 cm in diameter, and no more than one-third of a cm thick at the center. It should also be baked in a wood-fired oven.
2. New York style
This is one of the most recognizable styles of pizza crust, as the pizza itself is often sold by the slice in big, wide wedges. New York style crusts are crispy on the outside. They are also thin and pliable, which is why you often see people folding them in half as they eat them on the go. The crust is made from high-gluten bread flour, which gives this particular pizza its unique and very tasty flavor.
3. St. Louis style
This is a Midwest specialty. The crust is round, thin, unleavened, and cracker-like. It is also sturdy enough to handle the cheddar-Swiss-provolone cheese combination that is baked on top of it.
4. California style
This crust began appearing in the Golden State in the 1970s. Its most distinguishing feature is that it is flaky and thin, as it is meant to hold mostly veggie toppings.
These pizzas, as the name implies, are heavy and hearty. A pizza crust in this category should be at least half an inch thick, prepared by hand, and either rolled out or shaped to fit a deep-dish baking pan. Here are some of the most common styles of thick crust pizzas:
5. Detroit style
This pizza crust is always baked to medium-well done. It also has a chewy texture that is filled with flavor.
6. Chicago style
This is another well-known pizza crust. It tends to be served in slices that can be up to 2 inches thick. The pizza also has a ledge that allows for a generous portion of sauce, cheese, and toppings.
The pizza itself is baked in an oiled deep-dish pan to create a crispy and buttery layer outside of the crust. The crust is made up of corn meal and food coloring that gives it a distinct yellow hue and enhances its taste and texture.
7. Greek style
This pan pizza crust is thick and chewy with a nearly deep-fried bottom. Greek style pizza crust is also puffy, and is made from an oregano-heavy tomato paste that complements a great many toppings.
8. Double-dough style
This type of pizza crust is becoming ever more popular on the West Coast. It is composed of two layers of dough nestled on top of each other. The effect is a thicker crust that is still light enough to avoid the feeling of heaviness in the stomach—as the pizza is formed from two layers of dough rather than one giant ball of dough.
One of the more popular variations of this style calls for stuffing cheese into the outer edge of the crust, and then creating a top layer of dough to rest on top of it.
Contrary to popular opinion, this style of pizza is not new. Flatbread pizza is one of the first styles of pizza ever eaten. It was popular in ancient, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and other Mediterranean civilizations. The current craze for it is a kind of renewal of a very old tradition.
This style of crust emphasizes is distinguished by its airiness and garlic taste. Many people like this type of pizza crust because its airy texture resembles that of breadsticks, which makes it easy to break into pieces and dip into sauces.
There has been a great shift in the public’s attitude toward food over the last couple of decades. More and more people want dishes, including pizza, that is free of saturated sugar. They want food that is made of organic, chemical-free, and vegan-friendly ingredients.
There are also those who are gluten intolerant or whose digestive or metabolic systems are highly sensitive to it. These people still want pizza, but they want it in a way that meets their needs.
This has given rise to a range of customized crusts that can be found in pizzerias across the country. The two most common custom crusts are as follows:
Gluten-free pizza crust is composed of standard ingredients such as water and yeast. It is the flour that is free of gluten. Flour is considered gluten-free if it is not a by-product of wheat or barley. The flour that can be used in a gluten-free crust can be made of soy, rice, garbanzo beans, tapioca, or combinations of the aforementioned.
It is also possible to make such a crust without flour. This is done by boiling cauliflower, mashing it, and combining it with parmesan cheese, oil, water, and herbs, to create a spreadable crust-like dough that can be baked. The texture of such a crust is unique.
However, all gluten-free crusts are thinner, denser, and less pliable than those made with traditional flour.
This type of custom crust has many of the same requirements as the gluten-free variety. The only difference is that it must be free of dairy products as well, which rules out the use of cheese. For this reason, vegan-friendly crusts tend to make greater use of flavored oils and herbs to boost flavor.
Vegans who prefer the flour-free variant of the gluten-free crust can substitute nutritional yeast for parmesan cheese. Vegan-friendly crusts can be thick or thin; and if made properly, they are just as tasty as the crusts made with traditional ingredients.
A Brief History of Pizza Crust
In history, pizza crust is inseparable from pizza itself—the two came up together. Pizza has its origins in a form of seasoned flatbread that stretches back to ancient Mediterranean civilizations. It was a favorite dish of both the Phoenicians and the Greeks, and as Rome gained power and expanded across the region, its people also began to enjoy.
This early type of pizza crust was made from dough cooked on a hot stone with herbs added to flavor it. Scholars believe that the very word pizza is derived from the Latin word “pinsa”, which means flatbread.
The original flatbreads of the ancient Mediterranean world started to look more like modern pizza during the Middle Ages. It became a popular food amongst the peasants of Europe, who were the first to introduce toppings as an innovation.
The first truly modern pizza came from Naples. It included dough, seasoning, sauce, and toppings. This pizza pie was created by a Naples baker named Raffaele Esposito. He made the dish in 1889 on the occasion of a visit from the Italian King Umberto I and Queen Margherita. The Margherita pizza that is still served today is made of the same ingredients used by Esposito.
The modern pizza made its first leap from Italy to the rest of the world with the first waves of Italian immigrants to Europe and America. However, it was not until after World War II that pizza become a worldwide food phenomenon.
This happened because returning American soldiers looked for the food they had grown to love while fighting in Italy. Since that time, pizza has become a mainstay of the American diet. It has also become a major part of the food industry in America, which has helped globalize it.
The variety of pizza crusts continued to grow. Health concerns and an ever-expanding variety of tastes have led to significant invention and innovation in pizza crusts.