For 10 years, I’ve been trying to make real New York-style pizza at home.
I’ve been trying for years to pull this off and I think that I’ve gotten as close as I’m ever going to get. At the very least, this is a really good pizza, authentic or not.
For the dough, start with a teaspoon of yeast, a teaspoon of sugar, and a quarter cup of warm water, and wait five minutes. I have heard that blooming the yeast like this is not really necessary, but I like to do it, just to make sure that my yeast is still alive before I spend two days waiting for a dough to rise that never will.Then, put in two more cups of warm water, a tablespoon more sugar, and a tablespoon of salt, and then a glug of olive oil. That’s like a quarter cup at most. Then, bread flour — high-protein flour. Five cups to start with, and then kneed in the mixer with the dough hook attachment. Wait until it comes together into a reasonably smooth, solid mass, and then you’ve got to poke it. It should be only slightly sticky. If it’s really sticky, add more flour. 5 cups is conservative. You’ll know that you’ve kneaded the dough enough when you can stretch out a little chunk of it so thin that you can see light through it.
This recipe makes four pizzas of the maximum size that I can safely bake in my oven, which is 12 to 13 inches in diameter, so I rip the dough into four chunks, and then I roll each of those chunks into a smooth, even ball. Their shape really matters, which is why I let each ball rise in its own oiled container. Roll the ball around in the oil and then use it to grease up the sides of the bowl, and then use it to grease up the sides of the bowl, or the Tupperware, or the Tupperware, or whatever it is that you’re using that will allow the ball to rise in an even, round shape. Cover them up, and put them in the refrigerator. A long, slow rise in the fridge is what gets you the best flavor and texture. 24 hours is the bare minimum.
Now, when I mix my dough is when I make my sauce. You need a 28-ounce can of whole plum tomatoes. I really prefer San Marzanos, that’s the expensive kind from Italy, because they are really acidic.They’re very bright. But no matter what kind you get, they will be packed in some kind of liquid. I think the liquid is usually ground-up, lesser-quality tomatoes that tend to taste pretty bitter, so I fish the whole tomatoes out into a bowl and I throw away the liquid. You could just squish them with your hand, but I like a smooth texture, so I use my stick blender. Then I put in a pinch of sugar, a glug of olive oil. That really improves the flavor, the olive oil.And then I put in a lot of dried oregano, which I think is the defining herb of New York-style pizza. Finally, I put two or three tablespoons of tomato paste in. Without the tomato paste, the sauce is never intense enough, though if you put in too much, it spoils that fresh, raw tomato taste that you get from the plum tomatoes. Tomato paste is, of course, just heavily cooked and reduced tomato sauce. So, I stir it up and then I add more tomato paste until it looks just thick enough to me. That is enough for four pizzas. Then I put this in the refrigerator with the dough, because I think it tastes better after it sits around for a few days.
The Pizza Stone
You really need one of these, and you should get the biggest one that’ll fit in your oven. In my oven, I get the best results on an upper-middle rack position, though that took some experimenting. Every oven is different. If you have a convection setting, use that, it’ll help with the browning of the cheese. Preheat to the highest temperature that your oven’s got. No matter how fast it comes up to temperature, let it sit and preheat for one, full hour, because this it not just about heating the oven.It’s about heating the stone. The stone has to get rocket hot, and it’s very dense, so it takes a while. Preheat for a full hour.
Time to think about cheese, and yes, I use string cheese. It is ridiculous, but where I live, this is the only form in which I can get whole-milk, low-moisture mozzarella. If it’s part-skim, it won’t taste right. If it’s not low-moisture, the pizza will be soggy. You can probably buy a block of whole-milk, low-moisture mozzarella in your city. I have to make do with these stupid sticks. But it’s not so bad. Six of them is the perfect amount. Six ounces for a 12-inch pizza. That’s perfect. Then I also grate up some parmesan or pecorino to put under the mozzarella layer, which I think is traditional in the higher-quality New York-style places.When the oven is ready, get your pizza peel. Yeah, you really need one of these, too. And then you have to dust it with something so that the pizza won’t stick. Semolina or cornmeal would be traditional, I think. But I have found that coarse-ground, whole-wheat flour works best. It does the job without adding any gritty texture. Get out your dough ball. That smooth top is going to be the bottom of the pizza, because it’s more likely to slide off of the peel cleanly.This rough underside will be the top, because it’ll better adhere to the sauce and the cheese. I start by just going around and forming the cornice. That’s the fluffy outer ring of crust. Never smash it down, otherwise it’ll never fluff up. Then I just stretch out the dough out with my hands. You could toss it in the air like a boss, but that takes skill, it’s risky, it’s messy, and it really only saves you meaningful amounts of time when you’re making a hundred pizzas a day.For one pizza, hand-stretching is fine. You’ll know that you’ve got it thin enough when, again, you can see light through it. Once you lay it down on your peel, you have to work fast, otherwise the dough will bond to the wood and you’ll never be able to slide it off into the oven. Put your sauce on. I like lots of sauce. Then the parmesan layer. This really improves the flavor of the pizza. It makes it much more rich. Then put on your mozzarella, and really take pains to get it on evenly all over, otherwise it won’t melt or brown correctly.
Now pick up the peel and shake it back and forth to make sure that the pizza is going to release when you take it to the oven. You’ve got to be able to do this with some confidence, like flipping an egg. This should only take five or six minutes to bake. The trick is waiting for the cheese to brown, but not so long that the cheese overheats and starts to separate, and you get a lot of that orange grease layer oozing out.Some separation is inevitable, but you can minimize it by not leaving the pizza in there for too long. Rather than use the peel, I like to pull the pizza out with a pair of tongs right onto a cooling rack. Resting the pizza on the rack helps keep it crispy, but also when I’ve tried resting a hot pizza on my plastic cutting boards, the crust tends to take on the flavor of the dishwasher, which is gross. When it’s eating temperature, you’re safe to transfer to a cutting board. Now this pizza is only like 12 inches wide, which is way smaller than traditional New York pizza, because we just have a normal, little home oven, right? But to me, a defining feature of New York pizza is big, foldable slices, so I just cut this pizza into quarters. That’s a nice big slice. Look how brown the bottom is too, by the way. That’s what you get from heating the stone for a long time.So, there you go, I really think this gets me very close to my favorite New York-style pizzas. If you think you know a better way, seriously, please tell me. I am sure that I will be working on this for a further 10 years. Hey, here’s a bonus. “Daddy, what are you cooking?” “Just cook.” “With me.” “What are we gonna make?” “Uh, pizza bread!” Every time I make pizza, I make a loaf of what my son here calls “pizza bread.” It is his favorite food and grown-ups like it, too. I take one of these dough balls that I’ve aged in a wide container so that it can spread out nice and flat. When you turn it around, you see this spongy, bubbly surface. This is going to get very crispy in the oven. So, I just gently stretch it out into a big oval, and then the bottom becomes the top.I smear lots of olive oil onto that porous surface. Then I put on pepper, coarse salt, and garlic powder. Bake in the oven just like the pizza. It’s ready when the top is just starting to color. Garlic powder burns easily, so very light brown is enough. There, that spongy surface crisped up really nice. I cut this into little strips. You could do bigger chunks, but these are just right for me.
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