St. Louis-Style Pizza: Thinking outside the (takeout) box

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If you make pizza crust with baking powder instead of yeast, is it still pizza crust?

The response of many pizza aficionados, when I ask this question, is an unequivocal NO.

“Baking powder crust? Sounds like home ec. class!”

“It may be good, but it’s not pizza.”

Tell that to native St. Louisans.

A couple of years ago I read about St. Louis pizza, an unusual ultra-thin-crust, square-cut pizza, and made a mental note to give it a try.

Well, time passed [old cinematic visual: paper calendar shedding months like leaves], and I never… quite… got around to it.

Our recent launch of self-rising flour brought St. Louis pizza bubbling to the top of my memory once again.

An “authentic” St. Louis pizza crust recipe calls for flour, baking powder, salt, water, and olive oil.

[Ed. note: a word about authenticity – There are many St. Louis Pizza recipes online, but all seem to stem from one particular St. Louis chain: Imo’s, a “mom and pop” business with over 90 stores in and around St. Louis. Our thanks to Imo’s for the recipe that inspired the one below.]

This simple recipe sounds like a perfect use for self-rising flour. Self-rising is a softer-wheat, lower-protein flour – which means the crust should end up crunchy/crisp, not hard.

Potentially long story short(er): I tried it. I LOVE it.

St. Louis pizza may not be “typical” pizza. Heck, if you’re a purist, it’s probably not even pizza.

But oh, my… is it ever tasty!

And easy to make. You can have pizza on the table in under 30 minutes, from the time the idea pops into your head, until you’re slicing St. Louis pizza into its signature squares.

Are you ready to loosen your strict definition of pizza, and give this Midwest version a try? Let’s do it.

Did you know that by clicking anywhere on this block of pictures, you can enlarge them to full size? Go ahead, give it a try; it’ll work for any of our photos.

First, let’s mimic the special cheese you’d find in a real St. Louis pizza: Provel, a low melting-point, processed cheese that’s a combination of smoked Provolone, cheddar, and Swiss

To make this at home, combine the following:

1 cup (4 ounces) grated or shredded sharp white cheddar cheese
1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated or shredded smoked provolone cheese
1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated or shredded Swiss cheese

I purchased sliced cheese, and grated it in my food processor. I actually doubled the amount, and froze half for a future pizza.

To make a big batch of this, just use two parts cheddar to one part each smoked provolone and Swiss. TOTALLY EASY: 2 bags shredded cheddar + 1 bag shredded Swiss + 1 bag shredded Provolone. Use within a week or so, or freeze for the future.

If you can’t find smoked Provolone, add 1 teaspoon liquid smoke flavor (e.g., Liquid Smoke) to each 8 ounces of cheese. If you’re not a fan of “smoky,” leave it out.

OK, enough with the cheese – let’s make pizza.

First, preheat your oven to 425°F. Lightly grease two 12″ round pizza pans, or a couple of baking sheets.

Did you know that by clicking anywhere on this block of pictures, you can enlarge them to full size? Go ahead, give it a try; it’ll work for any of our photos.

Combine the following:

2 cups (8 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached Self-Rising Flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 tablespoons water

*No self-rising flour? Substitute 2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour; add 1 teaspoon baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and increase the water to 1/2 cup.

Feel free to increase the water in the dough a bit — especially in winter, when it’s cold out and your flour will tend to be dry. Your goal is dough that’s firm (not sticky), but wet enough to hold  together when you squeeze it.

Gather the dough into a ball, divide it in half, and shape each half into a flat disk – the rounder the better. If you have time, let the dough rest, covered, for 10 to 15 minutes; it’ll be easier to roll out once it’s rested.

Grease a piece of parchment paper about 12″ square; or a piece of waxed paper, or plastic wrap.

Place one of the dough pieces on the paper, and top with another piece of lightly greased parchment, waxed paper, or plastic wrap.

Roll the dough very thin, 1/8″ thick or less.

Place the pizzas on the prepared pans.

See this misshapen pizza? That’s why you shape your unrolled dough into a ROUND disk. I left mine raggedy; raggedy disk = pizza crust mimicking a map of Australia. Do as I say, not as I did!

Top each pizza with 1/3 cup pizza or marinara sauce.

Spread half the cheese (about 1 cup) over each pizza. Sprinkle lightly with Pizza Seasoning or dried Italian herbs.

Bake the pizzas for 9 to 11 minutes, until the cheese is melted and beginning to brown, and the edges and bottom of the crust are golden brown.

Remove the pizzas from the oven, and transfer to a rack to cool very briefly.

Here’s my second attempt, where I remembered to make a ROUND disk of dough. See what a difference it makes?

And here’s one with pepperoni.

Cut the pizza in squares; a pair of scissors works well here.

Serve hot.

Although room-temperature pizza is always a pleasure, too.

As is cold pizza. For breakfast.

I recently heard a hotel somewhere has started offering free pizza, left over from the previous night’s restaurant menu, to guests heading out for the day. The guests are devouring it, and asking for more.

Happy breakfasting!

Read, bake, and review (please) our recipe for St. Louis-Style Pizza.

Print just the recipe.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. "Ed Eubanks"

    The cheese mixture that is used on “authentic” St. Louis-style pizza is called “Provel” cheese (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Provel_cheese) and it IS a mixture of the cheeses listed above; however, it is a mixture that is also processed, so the above won’t quite yield the same taste or texture of what you get at Imo’s.

    This may be a welcome change, however: Provel cheese always left me (and many others that I knew) with a “peanut-butter stuck to the roof of my mouth” feeling, and made the whole pizza-eating experience lesser, in my opinion.

    Imo’s is both popular and ubiquitous in St. Louis; visitors should try it, even if only for the culinary experience. If you’re there for an extended stay and really want to try out some varieties, you might also try Fortel’s Pizza Den, another local place that, as I recall, also serves the St. Louis-style dough, but with 100% mozzarella cheese.

    Thanks, Ed – I love hearing feedback “from the source” – someone who’s actually there and has experienced a true St. Louis pizza. I’d heard that about Provel, that it was processed; didn’t know about the texture issue. Sounds like the suggested substitute would be just fine. Thanks again – PJH

    Reply
  2. Brenda

    Pizza, the breakfast of champions!

    You got that right, Brenda! I’m with you 100%… pizza 24/7 is how I look at it. :) PJH

    Reply
  3. maccourt

    I recently moved from the western edge of the Upper Penisula of Michigan…right on the Wisconsin border. When we first moved there we were told how great the local pizza was – on both sides of the border. I’m convinced after reading this post that THIS is the pizza they make – it has an almost cracker-like crust and looks just like your photos. I didn’t care for it at all and now I know why – I want yeast in my dough!

    St. Louis, UP branch, perhaps? Thanks for the interesting sidelight on this discussion! PJH

    Reply
  4. mikest

    Hey PJ, I’ll have to give this a try for lunch today (Saturday is a great day for pizza!) and see how it goes. Of course, here I can go into Dierberg’s or Schnuck’s and buy Provel in the stores, but I’ll try the cheese mix. I’ve eaten Imo’s quite a bit living here in St. Louis, but I don’t seem to have the “peanut-butter stuck to the roof of my mouth” issue Ed describes. No self-rising flour, tho I do have my 50# bag of Sir Galahad that I’ll use with the add-ins…

    Thanks for recipe!

    Mike, I hope your pizza came out well – it’s certainly a quick treat, isn’t it? PJH

    Reply
  5. "Mia H"

    As a St. Louis resident (but not a native), I’ve gotta say that Provel cheese is not great. I can appreciate a thin crust, but I’d rather have all mozzarella or a mozzarella-provolone blend. Its nice to see my city and its food on a blog :)

    Mia, I’m sure there will be lots of substitutions for Provel, since not many of us can get the real thing. Nice thing is, there are no Pizza Police out there – we’re all free to use whatever combination of cheeses we like. I’m particularly fond of a roasted potato pizza with chunks of brie and a scattering of blue cheese… :) PJH

    Reply
  6. narfing

    And make sure to serve it with some St. Louis toasted ravioli, green salad with provel on top, and Ooey Gooey Butter Cake! My kinda party :-)

    Sorry guys, I’ve lived and eaten in St. Louis for my entire 32 year life. Provel has never stuck to my mouth and I think it is mighty tasty on pizza and salad greens.

    If you do try a pizza in St. Louis, Imo’s is the largest chain, however, we have found that some of the smaller pizzeria chains taste as good or better. Stefanina’s in St. Charles/Ofallon/Chesterfield or Serra’s in Maryland Heights are good starts and very authentic.

    Thanks for the insider info. and restaurant recommendations – much appreciated! I’ve had a recipe for ooey-gooey butter cake for ages, and haven’t made it yet – one of these days… :) PJH

    Reply
    1. DK

      I would also add Pio’s in St. Charles, MO. I was born and raised in St. Charles but no longer live there. When I am in town I always stop at Schnucks and buy a block of provel to take home. It freezes well and just can’t be replicated for a St. Louis style pizza made at home.

  7. Nancie

    How would this dough do to make bread sticks? I’m thinking to go with salads, soups and pasta. It would be nice to have a non-yeast dough, to go with a quick comfort meal, especially on a cold day!
    Sure! I think bread sticks would be great! ~Amy

    Reply
  8. Julia Cole

    Born in St. Louis, living and working there now – but with the pleasure of having lived many other places. Cracker thin with provel will never be my favorite style pizza. St. Louis also claims fame to several other culinary treats, my favorite being the ice cream cone. Presumably a happy accident between the ice cream vendor without bowls and the waffle maker next to him at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair – now that is a real claim to fame! Your Ben & Jerry’s would agree, I think?

    Yes, I’m sure Ben & Jerry do have a special place in their hearts for those long-ago St. Louis merchants, Julia! :) PJH

    Reply
  9. Joni M in St Louis

    While not originally from here and not liking St. Louis style pizza at first, I can now say twenty some years later, I do enjoy Imo’s Pizza–but only if it is cold. When we had our first Imo’s pizza, we vowed never again, but when co-workers would order the lunch specials, it always smelled wonderful and the Provel rope cheese is awesome in a salad, so over time I guess I grew to like it, and now can say it’s pretty good. While I wouldn’t describe the cheesy feeling as peanut butter-stuck-to-the-roof of my mouth as described above, to me the hot Provel feels to me more like its glued to your teeth…ewww, not so nice when hot, but when cold it doesn’t do that–but that is ok cause I love it cold! Well, unique is the only way to describe St. Louis pizza…So if you didn’t grow up eating it, I’m guessing it probably isn’t for you cause that cracker thin crust is, well, unusual at that if you are used to a chewy yeasty pizza crust. And the processed Provel cheese does do some strange things in your mouth if you aren’t expecting it. But–I LOVE it that you’ve made a close substitution for provel and I will try it for sure! My kids grew up here, but are now in Texas and whenever we go see them, the first thing in the cooler to take along is Provel cheese because you can’t get it anywhere but here! So if you are planning a trip to the area, be sure to include “The Hill” in your excursion to experience St. Louis at it’s best!

    Joni, thanks for your complete assessment of Provel – I can almost feel it in my mouth now! I love that we can communicate, from all over the country, about one particular pizza in one corner of the country… this is such fun, isn’t it? So glad you joined the conversation – PJH

    Reply
  10. Aaron Frank

    Wow! I knew there was something about this recipe that I was missing but I just realized it. The leavening is chemical! That means with some tweaks I can make a kosher for Passover version of this pizza! Substitue matzo meal or matzo cake meal for flour and use KfP baking powder. Fantastic!

    Thanks

    Ah, great idea, Aaron – I didn’t even think of that! Thanks for the inspiration. Enjoy – PJH

    Reply
  11. klamonda5527

    Can you use a pizza stone in place of the tin pans/baking sheets???
    Which is better???

    The pizza stone might “crisp” the pizza more than it should. You are welcome to attempt it (definitely keep the dough rolled out parchment paper and perhaps turn the temperature down 25F. Happy Baking! Kim@KAF

    Reply
  12. Espere

    I made a pizza using this recipe today and was amazed at the pizza dough! It was amazing! My entire family loved it and believe me, I am no top chef!

    I know, it’s really easy, isn’t it? So nice that you now have a new recipe to add to your pizza collection. Enjoy – PJH

    Reply
  13. jaycee

    Provel….amazing stuff. Awesome on pizza, makes FABULOUS cheese garlic bread and delicious on salads. Goes great on any sandwich. Thank goodness for provel, as mozzarella is about the most bland cheese in the history of the universe. Most folks don’t like change so the very idea of a different cheese being used on pizza makes them automatically dislike it. These are probably the same people who dislike White Castle. Nutty!

    Reply
  14. Elizabeth

    stumbled upon this tonight… I spent the first 23 years of my life from st louis to cape girardeau, mo. I grew up eating Imos pizza and salads. have to say after my family its the next thing I miss. There is NOTHING like I’ve found anywhere… and if you think the pizza is good wait till you try.the house dressing on a deluxe salad… that is my favorite. its a sweet/creamy/vinegar based italian, nothing comes remotely close to it. my husband even loves both and he’s from arkansas, when we go. hone we make sure to make a point to stop and get some Imos everytrip

    Wow, that salad dressing sounds SO good; I wonder if they have a recipe online anywhere? I’ll have to check. Thanks for sharing your memories, Elizabeth. PJH

    Reply
  15. Jack

    Not sure if simply marinara sauce would cut it. Most StL style pizzas I’ve had have had sauce that’s slightly sweet.

    Reply
  16. HeidiAK5

    If you do not live in an area where there is an Imo’s you can order from their website (the link is in the beginning of the blog). You can order provel cheese, the salad dressing and the sauce. You can even order their crusts. I do live in the area, so I cannot order online, but for all of those that have moved away, it is a good option.

    Great local tips, Heidi, thanks! Kim@KAF

    Reply
  17. RickZ

    Made this tonight and it was awesome. Didn’t have the self-rising flour, so I used the substitute and everything worked out great. Wonderful recipe, and I think it’ll now be my go to for homemade pizza, from flour to eating in 30 minutes. Thanks!
    Sooo, this now means you have more time to bake cupcakes and deliver to us, right? ;) ~ MJ

    Reply
  18. Caris

    I just tried this and it is AMAZING! I still prefer risen-dough pizza, but we were out of yeast so I gave it a shot using the AP flour+baking powder substitution suggested and the cheese I had on hand (cheddar and Colby Jack). The amount of baking powder kind of made me nervous and the idea of rolling the dough out right on the baking sheet, but by now I’ve learned to trust KA. And my faith paid off: it tastes just wonderful. I still can’t believe I came out with an edible pizza in less than a half hour. If anybody’s wondering if this is a good recipe, I’m here to testify. This is going into my regular rotation for those nights when I need something in a hurry.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      My thoughts exactly. When you want something fast – say, all of a sudden you get a call from friends who are “just passing through” – this is a really nice appetizer, or even lunch with a salad. You usually have the ingredients on hand; it goes together in a snap. And as you say, it really does taste good, even if it’s not “real” pizza. Thanks for sharing here – PJH

  19. Amy Peterson

    Oh my word! I love midwest-style pizza. My favorite pizzerias are in West Michigan and Ohio. We just can’t get this kind of pizza here in NC. I’m so glad to see a recipe!

    Reply
  20. Paula

    I am from St. Louis, and I have to say that I do not like Imo’s pizza. The provel cheese is just not right on a pizza, I don’t care how much they tout it as a St. Louis style. Also the crust is so thin my husband calls it ‘cheese and cracker” pizza. But, to each their own as the saying goes.

    Reply
  21. NONNIE

    I would like to try this recipe but I NEVER have SELF RISING flour in the house..( Not sure I have ever seen it on the grocery shelf … but then again never looked for it. )

    What would be the substitute for regular flour with baking soda or baking powder added. I am OUT OF THE PANTRY type of cook… I keep a well stocked basic pantry and what is in there dictates what we eat.

    Thanks…. NONNIE … 12 / 29 / 2013 ..

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      For one cup of self-rising flour, please add 1 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon of salt to 1 cup of all-purpose flour. ~Jaydl@KAF

  22. Lynette

    I found two ways to make self-ring flour from KAF Lon this St. Louis idols pizza page. *No self-rising flour? Substitute 2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour; add 1 teaspoon baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and increase the water to 1/2 cup.

    The Baker’s Hotline
    December 29, 2013 at 10:46 am
    For one cup of self-rising flour, please add 1 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon of salt to 1 cup of all-purpose flour. ~Jaydl@KAF
    Which is it? Thanks, Lynette

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Lynette, Jaydl was using the formula for our “all purpose” homemade self-rising flour, which uses more baking powder since it can be used for muffins, cake, and other higher-rising treats. The version you quote, with its 1 teaspoon BP, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and increased water, is specific to the St. Louis pizza recipe, which rises VERY minimally. So use that more specific version, OK? PJH

  23. Ben from the STL

    As an experienced pizza maker, who happens to also be a lifelong St. Louis native, I regret having to say that this recipe is about as true to St. Louis as Albert Pujols. It produced an edible product, but the crispness that I have come to expect from St. Louis style pizza just wasn’t there. Maybe with creative usage of placement of the pizza in the oven, parbaking, or cooking atop a pizza screen, this recipe might get a little bit closer. It was extremely easy to put together, especially in comparison to New York or Neapolitan style doughs, but in the end it lacked any crispness whatsoever on my attempt. Tomorrow upon reheating, I will attempt to crisp the leftovers by reheating sans pan in the oven. After throwing this dough together, I perused some other recipes that called for the usage of corn starch to aid in the crimping process, and the next time I want pizza fast I will try that out. All of this being said, as a pizza lover from St. Louis, I freely admit that while St. Louis style has a place in the pantheon of pizza styles, it is definitely an inferior product in comparison to NY, Neopolitan, and Chicago style pie. Admitting that last one, is excruciatingly difficult for a Missouri boy who has a vitriolic hate for all things Illinois. Seriously, if there was a Klan for Illinois haters, I would be the Grand Wizard. If you’re in town, skip Imo’s and find a Stefanina’s. It’s a far superior pizza, and much more fairly priced. Imo’s is the most overpriced pizza in the world. Lastly, as previously mentioned, this recipe lacked crispness, but it still was pizza. Nice try.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Ben, it’s an unusual type of pizza indeed, and seems to hearken back to the ’50s, when baking powder crust pizzas were quite common. Not at all what we’re used to today, and certainly very different from the credit card-thin crust of a true Neapolitan. That said, I think it’s charming, in a nostalgic way; and incredibly easy/fast to put together, to boot. I say there’s room for all comers on this particular stage! :) PJH

  24. Michelle

    Thanks so much for this recipe! As a St. Louis native, I grew up on Friday-night takeout pizza from the Imo’s down the street. We live in Salt Lake City now, and my daughter and I both miss it — provel on the roof of your mouth and all! (I agree that provel feels this way, and is processed and gross. But it still has a special, nostalgic place in my heart.) My daughter requested an Imo’s-style pizza for her birthday, and now I can make her one! And so quickly! YAY!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Great to hear, Michelle – I hope your daughter has a wonderful, Imo-clone-pizza birthday! PJH

  25. Phylicia

    Ever since visiting St. Louis (four times now), I’ve always looked for the delicious ultra-thin pizza crust. My cousin and I have been upset at the copy-cats where I live, so when I found this recipe you can imagine how excited I was. The recipe is amazing! Definatly sharing it with my cousin. Thank you so much!

    Reply
  26. Scott

    I just camera across this article and the pics and discussion about Imos has made my mouth water for STL Style pizza all the way from England, where I currently live. Imos pizza is an addiction and certainly the best tasting pizza I’ve had…. the provel, the sweet sauce and the crust! I know plenty of converts from thick crust to STL style thin. I know plenty of folks from Arkansas that drive 3 hours to get to their closest Imos and drive home with 10 pizzas and freeze them. St Louis does pizza and toasted ravioli right! Cheers

    Reply
  27. Sandy

    I make this recipe all the time in a Breville pizza oven & it is perfect. The size is perfect for the 11″ pizza stone. I usually have to add more liquid to the dough since is is quite dry. Pizza comes out thin, crispy with bubbly melted cheese. Have to make it again just thinking about it!

    Reply

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