Whichever pizzeria in the Tri-State claims your heart as the "Famous Original," here's how to make New York-style pizza in your home oven—with classic Italian-American red sauce and mottled melted cheese. This post is part of the Eating New York series.
To paraphrase Keyser Söze or possibly Baudelaire, the greatest trick New York pizza ever pulled was convincing the world it didn't exist. That is to say, for anyone in the orbit of New York, New York pizza is just pizza, and that's that. It's only when you leave the Good Pizza Bubble, even and especially to abscond to actual Italy, that you realize that New York pizza is a thing, a glorious thing, a thing to be cherished, longed for, deconstructed, and replicated.
Whether the ultimate slice is Joe's on Carmine and Sixth, folded in half and eaten standing up elbowing twelve other people; Grimaldi's in its saintly niche under the Brooklyn bridge; Lombardi's, the last holdout of Little Italy and, if they're to be believed, America's first pizzeria; or any nondescript Ray's--your favorite pizza invariably features a thin but chewy crust and a mottled mix of thin, sweet, smooth tomato sauce and ideally melted cheese. Even so, gird yourself to fight on behalf of your slice for the title of New York's best pizza. I'm here to tell you the best pizza in New York was Vinnie's, on Amsterdam between 73rd and 74th, may it rest in peace.
The three rules of New York style pizza
One: The dough must have a slow, cold rise
In order to get the telltale chewy but thin and crisp New York pizza crust, you have to let the dough rise slowly, in the fridge, for a day or two. That means you're going to have to plan ahead by at least 24 hours (you can leave it in the fridge up to 3 days; just make sure it has a little space to rise). Importantly, though, you also need to let the dough come up to room temperature before shaping it. Otherwise it'll tend to snap back and bubble, giving you a not-New York crust.
Two: The crust must be shaped entirely by hand (no rolling pins)
Put away the rolling pin, New York pizza crust gets that way entirely by hand shaping. This is actually a good thing for you, in that rolled-out pizza dough tends to shrink and snap back; whereas using your hands, you gets a nice, flat crust that is easy to top and bake. It does take a bit of practice to master (okay, maybe that's an understatement), but the good news is that even if you don't get your crust perfectly circular and thinly stretched, it'll still taste amazing.
Yes, there is going to be tossing in the air (actually, hand-stretching over your knuckles with only the slightest toss, but okay). But first, there's actually a lot of shaping you do manually before that step. You shape a lip and then stretch the dough with your fingertips while rotating it with your other hand. If this doesn't sound sufficiently intimidating, here's a guy with red sauce flowing through his veins to show you exactly how much skill it requires:
But take heart, because I have exactly zero Italian running through my own veins and I yet managed to pull off a decent replica in my home kitchen.
Three: The cheese must be freshly grated*
From what I gather, no self-respecting Italian American would countenance using anything other than a lump of (aged) mozzarella freshly grated over their pizza. The limits of tolerance extend to a top-quality hand-grated provolone. Step away from the pre-grated, bagged stuff, like rightnow. *Well, actually, you can make what we consider around here to be fantastic pizza just fine with shredded cheese, including but not limited to helpfully labelled pizza cheese. However, today we're replicating New York pizza, so we're starting with whole mozzarella and getting out the grater. You don't want the soft, white ball of mozzarella here, but an aged block, which is firm enough to grate.
Using your home oven for pizza baking
A wood-fired pizza oven gets substantially hotter than the highest setting on a home oven, so the effect we're cheating is searing high heat and a very uniformly heated cooking surface. For this, you're going to need a pizza stone or steel, or a makeshift one created using a flipped-over sheet pan. Then, you're going to crank up your oven to 500F / 260C for a good long while (with the baking stone inside) before putting the pizza in, preferably an hour.
An essential item here is a pizza peel, either metal or steel, for depositing your pizza pie on the hot stone, as well as for getting it off. I've not found another satisfactory way to do it that doesn't involve singed eyebrows and pizza all over the oven. (I have a pizza peel with a folding handle that I highly recommend.) Here's how to use your peel:
- You want to top your pizza right on the peel, but you have to work fast because after a few minutes it'll stick to the peel. To prevent this, be completely done stretching and shaping your pizza dough before you place it on the peel. Also, have your sauce ready to go and your cheese grated. Then, very generously sprinkle flour or semolina over the peel. Place the pizza dough on it, reshape into a circle if needed, and, working quickly, top your pizza.
- To get your pizza off the peel and onto the hot baking stone, you need to flick your wrist and launch it onto the stone. This takes a bit of practice. If you're having trouble getting the pizza off the peel, coax the far edge of it towards the stone, so that the stone grips it and helps you pull it off. If things go south, your pizza will not look perfect but will still taste amazing. Before moving the pizza to the oven, you can shake the peel gently with a back-and-forth movement to loosen it and ensure it's not sticking.
- I highly recommend sticking with small pizzas in your home oven. They're easier to maneuver, can be fully supported by a home-sized pizza peel, and are overall less stressful. Because they bake so quickly, it's easy to get one into the oven after the other. If you want to get full-sized slices (like in my pictures), make a rectangular pizza and cut it into triangles.
After baking the pizzas, let your pizza stone cool completely before cleaning it. This will take the better part of a day. After it's completely cool, run water over it and let it sit to loosen any gunk. Using a wooden spoon or a plastic scraper, scrape off the burnt bits. If you've got some stubborn spots on your hand, make a paste out of baking soda and vinegar and let it fizzle away before scraping the bits off. Mine come off with surprisingly little fuss.
And with that, I leave it to you to master the New York fold.
I looked at many different recipes and did a bunch of experimenting to come up with the master recipe below, but special thanks goes out to Feeling Foodish for the excellent posts on making New York pizza at home (and finding that video!).
Famous Original New York Pizza (dairy)
- Pizza stone - you can use an overturned sheet pan if you don't have one
- Pizza peel - there isn't a good way to transfer your pizza to the hot oven without one
- Bench knife - helpful but not necessary
- Stand mixer - helpful but not necessary
- 1 cup + 2 Tbsp water - 250 ml
- 2 ¼ cups bread flour - 400 g
- ½ tsp instant dry yeast
- 1 tsp sugar
- ½ Tbsp kosher salt
- ½ Tbsp olive oil
- 1 cup tomato paste - 240 ml
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp granulated sugar
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp onion powder
- ¼ tsp dried oregano
- 4 oz aged mozzarella cheese, freshly grated by hand - 110 g
Mix the dough:
- Place the water in the bowl of your stand mixer. On top of the water, add the flour and sugar. Add the yeast to one side of the bowl and the salt to the other side (so they're not touching). Using the dough hook, mix until the dough begins to come together.
- Add the olive oil to the dough and knead by machine for another 5 minutes.
Ferment (rise) the dough:
- Divide the dough into two equal parts. Place each inside a container with some headroom for rising, and seal. You can also place them inside large zip-top bags.
- Place in the fridge and leave to rise for a minimum of 24 hours and up to 3 days.
1 hour before baking:
- Pull your pizza dough out of the fridge and leave it out to come to room temperature. Place the pizza stone in the oven on the top rack and turn on the oven to 500°F / 260°C.
Shape and top the pizzas, 10 minutes before bake time:
- Before beginning, mix together the ingredients for the tomato sauce in a small bowl. You'll want to get out a small ladle or large spoon for ladling the sauce onto your pizzas.
- Next, grate the cheese. Set aside near your work area.
- Working with one piece of dough at a time, remove the dough from its rising container and sprinkle with flour. Flour your work surface and hands as well. The dough will be tacky coming out of the container, but should be non-sticky and pliable after flouring.
- Flatten the ball of dough with your palms. It will be thick and relatively small, about 5-6" in diameter. Place your non-dominant hand on the outside of the circle, then use your dominant hand to create a small lip at the edge of the circle, rotating the circle all the way around. Flip it over to make sure it hasn't adhered to your work surface. You can continue to work with whichever side you prefer.
- Stipple the dough with your fingertips, stretching it out slightly with each press. It should get a lot bigger in diameter, 10"-12" / 25-30 cm. Don't make it larger than your pizza peel, and don't let the crust get thick.
- Pick up the dough with your dominant hand and drape it over the knuckles of your non-dominant hand. It will immediately begin to stretch out. Ball up your dominant hand and place it under the dough. Stretch the dough slightly between your hands. Very lightly toss it from hand to hand to stretch it all around. Don't let it get so thin it tears.
- Set aside your finished pie on a well-floured surface. Shape the second one the same way.
- Only when both of your pizza pies are stretched and all your toppings are ready will you place it on the peel. Flour your peel generously. Place one pizza on top, reshaping it into a circle if needed. Working as quickly as you can, spread a thin layer of pizza sauce over the pie, almost up to the rim. Sprinkle with a single layer of cheese. You will likely have some leftover sauce and cheese. Don't be tempted to put more than a thin layer of each on New York style pizza.
Bake the pizza:
- Open the oven door. Maneuver your peel, with the first pizza on it, just over the baking stone and flick it off onto the hot stone. If the pizza doesn't come off with the flick, touch down the far side of the pie to the far edge of the stone. It will stick slightly and should "pull" your pizza off as you slide the peel back.
- Set your timer for 4 minutes exactly. When it goes off, take a look at your pizza. If it's almost there, leave it for 1 minute longer. If the cheese is still pale, turn on the broiler and broil it for 1 to 1 ½ minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and darkened in spots. (This is somewhat dependent on the brand of cheese you use, as well as your particular oven). Pull your pizza using the peel. Have a surface ready (I use a wooden cutting board). Repeat with the second pie.