NYC-Style Pizza and Sauce

The old way we made pizza was fine. Fantastic, even, compared to the thick slabs of greasy dough that pass for pizza at local chain restaurants. But after many years of enjoying our homemade pizzas, a seed of discontent was sown when my husband went on a business trip to New York City and sent me pictures of the delicious slices he enjoyed for dinner the night he arrived. The discontent grew when we vacationed at the NJ shore over the summer and devoured a plain pie with perfect crust, the whole family vying for the last piece. Maybe the salt air made everything taste better, but I left determined--we had to up our pizza game.

Combine that determination with a happy abundance of frozen tomato puree from our garden, and the stage is set for me to share our new favorite way to make pizza at home. We enjoy letting the slow simmered sauce, fresh cheese, and exquisite crust take center stage here, and usually serve it with a big tossed salad and sauteed zucchini and onions, but you can certainly load your pies up with whatever toppings you like.

I have been much helped in this venture by several articles from Serious Eats, and The Windowpane Test.  I used to have trouble with our dough sometimes, but since learning of this simple test it's turned out right every time. You should really read the whole article because the pictures are so informative, but to summarize, you know you're done kneading your dough when you can take a small ball of it (a "pizza for Barbie" amount) and stretch and pull it until it's a thin, translucent membrane with a visible gluten network and does not tear easily.

Our food processor unfortunately went kaput around the same time I began looking for new pizza recipes, so though the Serious Eats recipe actually recommends a food processor for fast kneading, I use my KitchenAid stand mixer, which is slower and allows more oxidation. Again, I recommend reading through the whole article for a discussion of kneading techniques, dough thickness, and ingredients, which are all important factors in making a true NYC-style crust. A period of refrigeration (up to 5 days before baking) encourages the flavor of the dough to develop, but I'll be honest--pizza is usually a thing we decide we want that night and not something I am fastidious about planning for, so sometimes we skip that step. Observant readers will note that already you find me deviating from SE's outstanding advice in two areas, but that's the rebellious life of a homemaker for you. The third is that I sometimes sub in up to a half cup of whole wheat flour for some of bread flour. Proceed at your own risk.

I follow the sauce recipe pretty much to the letter, except that I use puree made from our own garden tomatoes rather than store bought, and our own dried basil when fresh isn't available. This sauce is well balanced with wonderful flavor and smooth texture, neither too sweet nor too zesty. It needs to simmer at least an hour, so if I'm making the pizza dough the same night we intend to eat it (reiterating here that this is a rebel move), I get the sauce going first.

Though Serious Eats calls their recipes New York-style, I have added the C for City and for clarity, because these thin crust pizzas are definitely not the norm for upstate NY.

NYC-Style Pizza Sauce
1 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes, pureed with their juice
1 T. evoo
1 T. unsalted butter
2 medium cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp. dried oregano
dash red pepper flakes
kosher salt
2 6" sprigs fresh basil with leaves attached, or 2 tsp. dried basil
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and split in half
1 tsp. sugar

In a saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the butter and olive oil. When the butter is melted, saute the garlic, oregano, pepper flakes, and a large pinch of salt until fragrant but not browned. Add the tomatoes, basil, onion, and sugar. Bring to a simmer, and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until reduced by half, at least 1 hour. Discard onions (and basil, if you've used whole stems). Season to taste with salt. Allow to cool and use immediately or refrigerate in a covered container for up to 2 weeks.

NYC-Style Pizza Dough
22 1/2 oz. (about 4 1/2 c.) bread flour, plus more for dusting
1 1/2 T. sugar
.35 oz. kosher salt (about 3 tsp.)
2 tsp. instant yeast
3 T. evoo
15 oz. lukewarm water
1 batch NYC Style Pizza Sauce
cheese and other toppings, as desired

Combine dry ingredients in the bowl of an electric food processor fitted with the dough blade, or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix dry ingredients well. If using a stand mixer, switch to the dough hook. With your machine running on low speed, add the oil and water. Process until the dough is smooth and elastic and passes the windowpane test. This will probably take less than a minute with a food processor and around 7 minutes with a stand mixer. Transfer the dough ball to a lightly floured surface. Knead a few times by hand until a smooth ball is formed, then divide the dough into 3 even parts. Place each in a covered quart-size deli container or a zip top freezer bag, and allow to rise for 1-5 days in the refrigerator.

When you're ready to make your pizzas, shape the dough into 3 balls, coat in flour, and place each one in a separate bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow to rise at warm room temperature until approximately doubled in volume. (1-2 hours, depending on the temperature of the dough.) An hour before baking, preheat your oven and pizza stone* to 500 degrees F. Working with a single dough ball at a time, press out into a rough 8" circle on a floured surface. Leave the outer edge 1" higher than the rest. Gently stretch the dough by draping over your knuckles into a 12-14" circle, and transfer to a pizza peel dusted with cornmeal. (This is the method outlined by the Serious Eats recipe. If you know how to spin pizzas like my husband does, obviously do that instead.)

Spread 1/3 of the sauce over the surface of the crust, leaving a 1/2-1" edge. Top with mozzarella (the recipe recommends full-fat dry mozzarella, freshly grated and placed in the freezer for 15 minutes before use; but fresh mozzarella is a treat) and other toppings as desired. Slide pizza onto baking stone and bake until cheese is melted with some browned spots and crust is golden brown and puffed. Our pizzas are usually done in about 8 minutes, some ovens may take longer.

*We have a FibraMent baking stone and wooden peel.

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