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Jeff Varasano's Famous New York Pizza Recipe (2008) (varasanos.com)
350 points by benbreen on May 8, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 145 comments



There is some good stuff in this recipe. It's a great starting point for learning.

I built a wood burning pizza oven and have been doing experiments for 5+ years, and what I've discovered is only certain things make a taste-able difference.

1. Oven. 900 degrees baby. Pizza cooks fast, and tastes delicious. You can get the "leoparding" on the edges. 100% worth it if you have time and space.

2. Yeast. Get the Ischia: https://www.amazon.com/Italian-Ischia-Camaldoli-Sourdough-Cu... it's a very light sourdough that imparts a delicious almost floral taste. I put a little bit of IDY in the mix to help sometimes, but this yeast is delicious.

3. Autolyse. Let everything but the salt sit for 30-45 minutes to generate gluten.

Here's my dough spreadsheet that auto calculates ratios and hydration %: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1b46NnndcrK9ImRXx5BW8...

I'm happy to answer more questions if people are interested.


I 100% endorse these recommendations (I say this as someone who makes 3-6 pizzas a weekend, with an oven that does 900+ degrees as well).

I'll also put in a little plug for my dough calculator here: http://maybepizza.com/calc/ , which is a bit more accessible on hand held devices.

I like that you're keeping a historical record on your spreadsheet- that's a neat idea.


OOoooO I like your style mister!

Let people post their results, correlated with their location and time to pull humidity from the local weather and give them a place to store results and we can crowd source our way to some serious pizza! :P


I see a lot of recipes recommending autolyse in both bread and pizza. I'm not sure I understand what the benefit is in a recipe which is already high hydration and has a long rest.

E.g. my typical sourdough recipe is something like: feed starter generously, let sit overnight. Build dough with bubbly starter, bread flour, additional water, some rye or whole wheat. Bulk ferment for most of the day, with about 4 folds in the first 4 hours. Shape, proof overnight in the fridge. Bake from the fridge.

It's my understanding that salt slows the "automatic" formation of gluten in a high hydration dough at rest. Okay, sure. But if the dough is already resting 24 hours between mixing and baking, does that much matter?


> I see a lot of recipes recommending autolyse in both bread and pizza. I'm not sure I understand what the benefit is in a recipe which is already high hydration and has a long rest.

I am not an expert, but I make bread a few times a month, and mix by hand. Here's my mental model: (it's roughly as scientific as a lumberjack who has fairies who tell him which way the tree wants to fall, so YMMV)

The gluten wants to form straight chains. That's it's lowest energy state. If you make a wet poulish and just let it sit, the molecules can rotate slightly to find that low energy state, and you get some nice long chains that form with no work.

If you make a dry dough and mix it right away, you are constantly breaking and reorienting those glutens, and the molecules can't "feel" the fields where they are at the lowest energy. Essentially, the kinetic energy you are adding is so much greater than the subtle push and pull of the other molecules that you end up connecting the glutens together in a much more random way. You get kinky chains instead of straight ones.

It's a little like a crystal forming in a solution... if you let it sit, the molecules will find their nice crystalline structure. If you put it in the blender, you'll just get a crystal puree.

One thing that has changed about my breadmaking over the years, is that I used to think the earliest steps didn't matter as much, because it all gets kneaded, then punched down, kneaded some more, formed, etc. I thought the structure all happens during the final formation and rise. But now I think about the structure of the dough from the very first moment the water meets the flour. I think of every single time I touch the dough, every single stretch and fold as part of the final structure of the loaf.


this is a good discussion: http://www.northwestsourdough.com/experiments-with-autolyse-...

the answer, as usual with baking, is it depends. Salt definitely changes the chemistry. Salt mostly stabilizes the gluten structure and makes it stronger, but it can also inhibit development of new gluten bonds somewhat, particularly when the flour is initially hydrating.

You need to experiment, try a 2 hour autolyze before adding salt for a 24 hour cold rise.


>>generate gluten

Unless I misunderstand, gluten is a protein in the wheat. How is gluten generated? If anything the yeast will break down the carbs and fats in the flower into simple sugars and alcohols. Or was this a misnomer?


I forgot to add, if you have the oven capable of 900 degrees, you are best to use a 00 flour, like Antimo Caputo. I mix Antimo Caputo (60%) with Giusto's Ultimate Performer (40%)


> 1. Oven. 900 degrees baby. Pizza cooks fast, and tastes delicious. You can get the "leoparding" on the edges. 100% worth it if you have time and space.

Does it _have_ to be a wood-burning oven though? Does only the heat matter?


It doesn't have to be a WFO (wood fired oven), but you will get slightly different results depending on wood/gas/electric.

I used to have a WFO, but after I moved houses I've switched to all electric. It's different and more convenient, but I do miss my old WFO at times. Still makes great pizza though, and most folks won't be able to tell the difference.


Personally, I find that you can get very good results with an electric oven, which is great because you use it indoors (my granddad had one that is now sitting at my parents'). However, a wood-fired oven will give that great smoky bit to the pizza and in my experience tends to be a bit dryer (the one I have now is from uuni)


The article covers this. Gas and electric ovens allegedly generate/pool moisture, whereas the convection in brick ovens makes the air much more dry.


surprised to see this here, but it doesn't have style sheets, so maybe not too surprised ;)

jeff varasano's website is a great resource for pizza hackers and lays a lot of myths to rest (like proofing). my own process (which I cook in a blackstone pizza oven at ~800°) has a bit more in common with tony gemignani's basic neopolitan (described in his pizza bible), with the addition of the earlier and longer autolysing period used by jeff. the difference is night and day and I wish I'd learned about it a lot sooner!

if you're in the bay area and this kind of pizza is your thing, be sure to check out the following places --

SF: pizzetta 211, una pizza napoletana, tony's, firetrail, a16

oakland: boot & shoe, pizzaiolo, also a16

berkeley: lucia's, emilia's

on that list, emilia's is far and away my favorite. it's a one man operation, dirt cheap ($21 tax included for an 18" pie), and just impossibly good. he gave me some of his sourdough starter once, and killing it rather quickly is one of my greatest regrets.


Awesome! I saved every one since I've never been to any... can you do the South Bay/Peninsula (anyone else too)?

About the OP: I effing _love_ pizza but struggle to make it at home. The quality and quantity of knowledge in this post is fantastic!


Pizza Bocca Lupo in San Jose is good and pretty inexpensive!


Bibo's NY Pizza on Bird in San Jose is amazing.


If Pizzetta is packed, you can walk down the street to Fiorella too. Il Casaro is good too. Pizzetta has the most flavorful and distinct/seasonal toppings, but the crust is better at some other places.


+1 for Emilia's (just don't forgot to call ahead), adding Casey's (one of the best pizzas I've had on any coast) and Pizza Hacker (though it has a bit of California flair). I'm so happy the East Coast no longer has a monopoly on amazing pizza!

I'm not the biggest fan of Tony's margherita, but it seems the dude can make a perfect pizza in practically any style. Capo's is the best deep dish pizza I've ever had, including Chicago!


Is there a way to hack that line for Emilia's?

I start dialing at 4pm and get a 7:30pm pie....

Awesome place though - totally worth it. Between Emilia's the Cheeseboard and Zachary's Berkeley has a pretty awesome choice of Pizza. Boot and Shoe is also opening a location on Shattuck ....


Also Artichoke Basille! Not fancy at all, but it's a real NY chain and they have authentic-tasting slices and Sicilian squares. (Plus monstrosities like their artichoke pizza, but I admit it's an occasional guilty pleasure...)


Unlike the OP dough, the pizzas at artichokes in NYC has always been mediocre. Going west on 14th st to the Joe's will get a better crisp slice in a hotter oven. I can't imagine that they are better in SF if that's what we're talking about, but I guess it's possible.


Yes — but we don't get a lot of genuine NY slices over here on the West Coast!


there are in fact a few emilia's hacks and secrets -- but I can't share them here! the most important one is getting to know keith :)

berkeley does indeed have good pizza. outside the neopolitan pizzerias, gioia is excellent, arinell is one of my favorites for a NY slice (same as the one on 16th & valencia), and artichoke basille's isn't great but for a gigantic margherita slice at 3am, I'll take it! make sure to check out benchmark in kensingson (basically berkeley) too.


I quite like Benchmark as well, and Little Star, while hit or miss, can be excellent. Not New York style, but Zachary's has fantastic stuffed Chicago-style. Pizza Moda has turned into a very satisfying and reliable pizza joint in the last year. Can't stand Cheeseboard pizza/hype at all.


Have you found any good places in the south bay? I have so far been unsuccessful and would love an option that doesn't require a trip into the city


Pizzaiolo is good, reminded me of Paulie Gee's and Speedy Romeo, both of which are places in Brooklyn I really like.

I always find Una Pizza Napoletana extremely soft and doughy, and personally I think it's really overrated. Maybe I've just gotten bad pies on the two occasions I've tried it.


> Una Pizza Napoletana extremely soft and doughy

This is just hilarious. Compared to NY pizza, "soft and doughy" is what most pizzas in Naples and Rome are. That's precisely the original concept.


I'm not comparing it to "NY pizza", if you're referring to common pizzeria pizza. Compared to other Neapolitan pizzas, I have found Una Pizza Napoletana to be really doughy, even on the outside.


I agree - not about Una Pizza in particular but about the Neopolitan style in general.

When pizza crust resembles naan (overly soft, pliable after baking) things have gone too far.


This is from the Italian 00 flour. I think it's a nice alternative.


It's not from the flour — most of those other places use 00 flour as well. It's from the dough not being stretched as thin.


It's from the flour.


Any recommendations for L.A.?



I've only been once, but Mozza is fantastic (if a bit unorthodox). They have a bar special where you can get a pizza, glass of wine, and dessert for $30. It used to be an insane $20, but it's still a bargain when you consider that some of their pizzas cost $20+ and their desserts are in the $10 range.


On a recent trip I discovered DeSano, which was awesome. Some of the most realistic Neapolitan I've found in the states.


California Pizza Kitchen


SF: Del Popolo


I decided about two years ago try to make a lot of pizza and see how good I could get. I live in a small apartment with a gas oven. When I started, I would make them on a regular baking pan with the oven set to 400°. They were terrible, but it was fun. At some point, my wife jammed a rectangular grilling stone (from Amazon) into our broiler. That made more of a difference than anything. If your broiler is in the main compartment of your oven, then it's a lot easier: get a stone and put it on the highest rack.

The next big leap forward was reading Jeff Varasano and learning the basics of hydration. Turns out I was in the 45-50% range. I just needed to get that into the 62% or 65% range or whatever he says. It's counterintuitive because it's so hard to knead at that hydration, but it cooks beautifully.

I've started doing a long, cold rise like he recommends. I don't know how much difference it makes. I can't really taste a difference. But I do appreciate the goal of avoiding big bubbles.

I'd love to play with different yeasts next, but I keep killing my starters. Jeff has some good thoughts on starters. I like his recommendation to buy a known starter rather than relying on whatever is in your environment. I like the focus on predictability and reproducibility. But I think most people do wild yeast with good results. I think the Tartine book is also a good resource for the starter (and for a lot of things).


The best successes I've had for making a starter (I've done 3 or 4 by this point) is with rye flour. Once it gets going I switch out the flours gradually and it's been good. If you haven't used rye before, might be worth a shot.


Our stones specifically say not to use them with the broiler.

Which one do you use?


A cordite stone will work well against the broiler. But as with any stone, you're going to want to hit it up slowly to reduce breakage. I'd recommend at least 40m heat up to whatever your oven's top temp is (probably 550), then switching to broiler after that point.


Consider trying a steel instead - it will take the broiler just fine.


Here's a couple interviews from a few years back on what it was like to transition from basically an extremely dedicated hobbyist to a pro (Varasano opened his first restaurant in 2009):

http://slice.seriouseats.com/archives/2014/04/jeff-varasano-...

http://slice.seriouseats.com/archives/2014/04/the-slice-inte...


this guy reminds me of Ken Forkish whose book "Flour Water Salt Yeast" is a James Beard award winner (like J Kenji's "The Food Lab") and is considered one of the bibles of bread making. he also owns a bakery in Portland that is supposed to be very good (never tried, can't say).

also reminds me of the microsoft solitaire guy who eventually left software and started an apple farm and a cider brewery.

i am personally quite into bread baking, which is apparently quite a curiousity among my friends. "oh, computer guys don't bake do they?" but i think i'm personally attracted to music or cooking or baking or programming in the same way because they all involve creating something new. The process of getting from nothing to something is miraculous. creating both bread and software gives me the same sense of satisfaction. maybe bread moreso because of how tactile the process is.


princeb, your comment filled me with happiness and put a smile on my face.

Outside of my family, I have four passions in my life: cooking (bread baking in particular), music (guitar and piano), and programming (I'm a hack, but always working at it). For years, I've said to others, "It's the creation of something new that is so fascinating and satisfying."

Thank you.


Do what I do and put all your formulas and methods into a spreadsheet. This a) gets back some of your geek cred, b) makes it trivial to scale the recipe up and down, and c) makes it easier to share recipes with friends if you use something like Google Sheets. I also make many different breads, and found that with a spreadsheet I was much better at putting notes for next time ("try with 15g less water next time"), updating my method ("a cookie sheet on the bottom rack of the oven helped prevent scorching"), or adding links to a bread I want to try in the future.


I've already done that. what kind of geek do you think I am! ;)

baker's percentages are the easy part. I also log temperatures and fermentation times. analysing the effect of those two inputs on bread quality is much harder.


Are you the kind of geek that puts their dough bucket in a temperature-controlled waterbath maintained to 0.1 degrees C for proofing? Or the kind that uses a "drug dealer" scale accurate to 0.01g for measuring salt and yeast? Because I'm both of those, plus others :-)


no I don't use a waterbath, I measure temp of water when first mixed and also room temps randomly through the fermentation process. I also don't have a sub-gram scale, I improvise by marking out levels inside a measuring spoon... measure 5g, and approximate 10 equal portions for 0.5g. and then try to correlate those markings to how well the bread turned out.

I think part of the fun is that you don't necessarily have full control over the fermentation process. as you come close to the end of the fermentation you observe the size of the dough, the quality of the rise, and you adjust your baking schedule depending on how hot or cold the room has been. the dough is the master of you, and you can only try to tame it.

it's the same for the levain - the feedings can be exact, but the nature of the culture, the smell, the taste, the vigor... everybody has a different culture even if they follow the same recipe.


Ken has a bakery and a pizza place in Portland, Ken's artisan bakery, and Ken's artisan pizza, both amazing.


FYI - His location is in Concourse A in the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta airport (ATL). I'll try it next time I've got a layover.


Fuck me, I was just there last week for the one and only time in my life thus far.


living here in Atlanta and this is the first time I have ever read about this place. so I got something to drive towards one weekend; about thirty miles in my case.

always on the lookout for a good pizza. far too many chains that are boring but consistent and too many local pop up stores seem to all serve the same doughy mess (always thick crust)


I haven't been in a few years but Varasano's is the best pizza I've ever had. Antico comes in a close second. If you're a fan of Neapolitan style pizza definitely don't miss this one.


I'm not going to modify my stove to cook at 800 deg F., so for my money the best way to get half-decent pizza at home is to make a soft, elastic dough and then cook on a surface that has some thermal mass. I've had good luck with a cast-iron pizza pan. https://www.cooksillustrated.com/equipment_reviews/1340-cast...

There are some things that it's better to have specialists do with specialist equipment, and I'm fine with paying them to do that.


You can buy a plate of steel that can be used as a "baking stone" which will hold in and transfer heat to the pizza exceptionally well.

If you go down to your local metal supply store you can have them cut one of these plates for you that is thicker (thicker is better) and cheaper than you can buy at any cooking store.


I went this route. There's still a bit of work to do to remove the mill scale and then season it, but it's nice to get something custom that fits your oven.


If you have a grill you can try with KettlePizza, it's an add-on that fits into gas and charcoal BBQs: https://www.kettlepizza.com/kettle-ovens/charcoal-grill-inse...


To me...These do not look like traditional New York Style Pizza. The solid chunks of Mozzarella are pretty direct Naples style.

If you want a SERIOUSLY thin crust NY style pizza from a hole in the wall shop in the Bay Area, I highly recommend Arinell in the Mission. Nice big 3 dollar cheese slices, served on a piece of parchment paper. No bells and whistles...just delicious


Don't forget the original Arinell in Berkeley, which I find slightly better than the Mission one. But both top notch for slices.


Los Gatos: Oak and Rye is my favorite pizza from a brick oven and I want to re-create it. :)

I have to say in all the years of hacker news, this article was very welcome and makes this place feel all the more special and cozy!


Warning: this is about American pizza. This is an American cooking site. This guy is not Italian.

In Rome and Naples, they think of pizza in a very different way. The dough is more pliable, soft and slightly thicker. They also do care a lot more about quality, origin and freshness of toppings than the obsessive and meticulous dough preparation and baking. Charred bottoms in pizza is not a common thing in Italy.

In São Paulo, Brazil (another Italian emigrants outpost) the dough is like in Italy but the emphasis is in diversity and amount of toppings.

I wonder what pizza is like in other parts of the world.


The title clearly says "New York Pizza" so I'm not sure what you're on about. That's a lie, I do know, but I won't humor you.


Folks who know pizza:

What can those us with regular ovens do? You know, the sort of oven you find in most kitchens that top out at 250C (500F)?


1. Make great dough. The ingredients are cheap, it doesn't take much manual time -- but you want to let it ferment in your refrigerator at least overnight.

2. Make your own sauce. The ingredients are cheap, and a little experimentation will get it to the taste that you want.

3. Don't overtop it. The natural tendency is to want more - more sauce, more cheese, more whatever else. Start off very simply. Scatter little bits.

4. Transfer as much heat as possible to the bottom of your crust. You can use a baking steel, a pizza stone, or unglazed fire tiles available for less than $10 at your local hardware store. Put them in the oven exactly where you want your pizza to go, then fire it all the way up.

5. Experiment. The first few pizzas you make will vary wildly from "almost what I want" to "maybe I shouldn't make pizza". Keep going. Take notes.

And if you don't have an oven at all, consider getting a cast iron frying pan and try for a completely different kind of pizza: http://www.seriouseats.com/2016/08/cast-iron-pizza-tortilla-...


> 5. Experiment.

This.

I improvised a pan "pizza" that the whole family likes that's non-traditional but delicious... Dice 1/2lb of thick bacon or pancetta. Dice a few yellow potatoes. While the meat bits brown in a pan, parboil the potatoes. Chop a bunch of rinsed kale. Drain the potatoes. Set aside the meat, reserving the fat in two portions. Cook chopped garlic with a dash of salt in one portion of fat, about a minute, then cook down the kale until it softens and reduces in size, a few minutes. Get a second pan very hot, add the second portion of fat, and fry the potatoes until golden. Before removing the potatoes from the heat, toss with garlic, rosemary, oregano, and a little salt, cooking a minute. Now use these to top a dough and sprinkle with just a couple of ounces of shredded mozzarella and fresh grated romano.


As a founder of Experiment.com, I just want to say that food is such a fantastic library for small science experimentation. What used to live in cook books and secretive restaurant storage rooms as scribbled recipes has changed because of the internet, we can now try so much more and share it so much more widely than before.

It's mind-boggling how deep these new online communities around barbeque, cheesemaking, or sour beer brewing (shoutout to milk the funk) can get, where at a certain point, there's a scientific breakdown of the variables involved. This sort of food science blends anthropology, biology, marketing, and engineering. It's so much fun.


You should add a 'food' category. I didn't easily find one if there is one.



Great advice. Another point (related to 4) is don't trust your oven to tell you when it's up to temperature. The oven is measuring the air temperature and not the temperature of the stone/steel. I always make sure to give it about 40 minutes to heat up.


3. Don't overtop it. The natural tendency is to want more - more sauce, more cheese, more whatever else. Start off very simply. Scatter little bits.

I think this is important: Sauce and toppings all compete with the crust for heat.


I did a lot of cast iron tortilla pizza in college, its no joke you can get a really good "pizza" without point 1.


I've been making my own pizza at home for around a decade now and your 5 points are very good advice. I think 5 is probably the most important. I have recently been on a calzone kick[0] and have been experimenting with different ratios of cheeses.

[0] Not sure why I've never tried before. I guess because the pizza's been so good.


What kind of results are you guys getting?

I tried for a while but then gave up. Just not hot enough. I actually found Jeff's recipe waaay back before he opened his restaurant, I remember him announcing it, and I was really upset when I got to the oven temperatures.


I've found that you can coax some extra heat from an uncooperative oven via a cast iron "cookie sheet" (flat side of a griddle). https://www.amazon.com/Lodge-LDP3-Reversible-9-5-inch-16-75-... (flat side)

Preheat the oven with the cookie sheet inside, prepare your pizza on a lightweight cutting board. The trick is to slide the uncooked pizza onto the hot sheet. A dusting of cornmeal on the cutting board will make the pizza positively glide off, but purists will bicker…


When I tried cornmeal in a pizza oven, I ended up with what looked like black styrofoam. I think the corn 'popped' then burned. What did I do wrong?


Cornmeal can't pop, it's ground-up kernels.


Better than anything but the fancy, expensive pizza joints around here. 550F max oven. Even bread machine dough pizza comes out pretty damn good. Hard to do worse than major chain pizza, certainly, unless you accidentally leave out crucial ingredients or have some similarly disastrous mishap.


I don't have a hot enough oven either, so the crust isn't as good as a proper pizza establishment. But, I find the overall pizza better than home delivery pizza.


We can settle with "good enough" which is a popular way to a pleasant mental state in general, too.

Every time I've made pizza the stuff I've put in the oven has been pretty good when I take it out. The pizza usually comes with a very short time window for availability: then it's gone. It probably requires great talent to majorly fail a pizza. If you only fail your pizza slightly, it's still damn good.

Now, I'm quite sure that you can even objectively establish that there are better pizzas than what I make. The point is then: why would I care if I'm happy with whatever I currently make?

If I fell in love with a truly, absolutely and universally the greatest pizza then I'd just be disappointed with my own pizzas afterwards and I'd have to learn how to make those great pizzas. Instead of an upgrade that actually sounds more like a net loss to me because now I have to work to get back to where I was, i.e. happy with my pizza.

If you're happy with your pizzas, change nothing and continue.


It is too cold for a thin pizza (Napoletana). The temperature must be at around 450C! The cooking time is too long and will make it "biscotata" (Amazing video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vV4gegZ7JNU ).

With such "cold" oven the best is to cook "nonna" pizza (grand ma'). I think this one is great: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D2ws4sTKrdI For the dough, you can use this ones as inspiration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gijjMJiR_q0 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LcD999Ci78E https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-SJGQ2HLp8

Best tip to avoid uncooked dough under the tomato sauce: remove all the possible water from the tomato sauce.


I will not claim to honestly "know" pizza, but in my experience, turning your oven up to max with a baking steel (or stone), can give great results, without the need of anything that breaks the bank.


Heston Blumenthal discusses exactly that in his book "In Search of Perfection" https://www.amazon.com/Search-Perfection-Heston-Blumenthal/d...

From memory, it was basically to heat up a cast iron pan to get it very hot and then to sit the pizza on top of that, with the other side of it close to the grill element. He also mentioned how you can use the 'cleaning mode' of some ovens to get up to the required temperature.

A description here http://www.insearchofheston.com/2013/05/how-to-make-hestons-... - see "Step 7: Cooking the Pizza"


Doesn't the article cover this? No one seems to be saying what I thought the article said, but I don't "know" pizza.

He broke the safety latch off his oven and put a piece of foil over the sensor, and runs his oven on Clean mode.


Thermal mass is your friend. You need something that can hold a lot of heat, is flat, food safe, heatproof, textured and porous.

Preheat for an hour and drop the pizza on it. Also turn the infrared broiler. Or blowtorch. Thin crust also helps.

Edit: If you can think of way to make the topping stay in place(impossible) , the perfect way to bake a pizza is tandoor. Good pizza is rich flatbread and not casserole on a dough. Which from my observations is the biggest error people make.


Casserole on a dough, or crust, is Chicago's deep dish pizza. Which is glorious, but is a very different beast.


Baking Steel can _sort of_ get you close to a proper pizza oven, but it's expensive, exceptionally heavy and still not quite "it" -

http://slice.seriouseats.com/archives/2012/09/the-pizza-lab-...

Pizza stones or ceramic tiles don't work well in the ovens, even though they are often marketed for oven use. They are great on BBQ grills though.

OTOH, the Fool Proof pan pizza is excellent and works every time -

http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2013/01/foolproof-pan-piz...

PS. There are also small-ish wood-fired ovens for those with a bit of backyard. I can't seem to find it now, but these are made by a specialist company that also sells an unbranded version -

https://www.jamieoliverovens.com/wood-fired-ovens/


Cast iron is better than ceramics (and will never crack!) but the Steel still comes out on top. Wish I'd have known this before buying my Lodge. This article also links to a roundup of all the other types of pans Kenji tried.

http://slice.seriouseats.com/archives/2012/10/the-pizza-lab-...


Doesn't that link suggest that it's primarily the mass, not the material? Steel is just an iron alloy after all, I don't think its thermal properties are much different (but 15lbs of steel will transfer more heat to your pizza than 10lbs of cast iron). Also cast iron can certainly crack, if it's dropped on a hard surface, or thermally shocked (but it is tougher than most ceramics).


From the article "The idea is that all else being equal—same recipe, same oven temperature—because of its superior thermal qualities (higher volumetric heat capacity, as well as higher conductivity than stone), you can cook pizzas faster than you'd be able to with a regular stone."

So it is thermal capacity plus conductivity together.


A buddy of mine has an uuni3 which has baked quite few lovely looking pizzas for him:

https://uk.uuni.net/collections/frontpage/products/uuni-3

He also takes it on holidays and trips.


https://www.amazon.ca/Elements-Pizza-Unlocking-Secrets-World...

I've been reading this book and it has a good mix of history/context, technique and recipes. It is aimed at folks with a regular oven. Its process for Margherita is multi-step and uses the broiler aggressively; more than I would normally be comfortable with. The output from my regular oven (max 550 C) matches the cover image from the book.

The dough is key, though. I like high salt, low yeast, long fermentation styles. I'm still doing trials with different flour (e.g. caputo 00, blue bag (a standard pizza flour) vs. generic all-purpose flour) to suss out the difference flour makes but the book goes into this in depth, including a basic overview of what the different ingredients are for, chemically, to give you a sense of why some recipes are different (long vs. short fermentation influences amount of yeast/salt.)


If you have an outdoor grill, put a pizza stone on it that and use that to make your pizza (after preheating of course). Your outdoor grill can reach higher temps than a kitchen oven.

If you're going to go heavy on the toppings, bake the the dough for a while, then add toppings.


On a related note - I'd highly recommend doing Khachapuri [1]. You'll get experience with making dough and it turns out great in the oven.

[1] http://simplyhomecooked.com/khachapuri-georgian-cheese-bread...


For me, part of it is simply tempering my expectations. I don't attempt to make "authentic" restaurant style pizza. What I can do instead is make a tasty meal that the family enjoys, fairly quickly and cheaply. We have pizza every Saturday, so it also has to be something that we can work into our routine.


I get ok results even with thin crust at 550F. Baking stone is a must. Cover with parchment paper right before putting the pizza on, optionally (we had issues with our stones cracking before we started doing that).

You want a peel. Coarse ground cornmeal, coarse Durham wheat flour, and other course-ground wheat products all work well to keep your dough mobile. Make sure you can shake it on the peel before trying to transfer. Build the pizza on the peel or you'll make a mess of it.

You can probably get away with a lower oven temp with pan pizza. Oil cast iron pan, preheat oven. Build pizza in pan (dough running up the sides). Cook on stovetop until it starts to sizzle (I also hit the top with a heat gun at this point, but you don't have to). Move to oven, turn broiler on, cook until the top looks done. May take some experimentation, but it takes less equipment than using a stone and peel. Note: I haven't done this one in a while and I think maybe I cooked it for a few minutes before kicking in the broiler, but I'm not sure. Experiment.

You can make pretty good pizza with dough made in a bread machine. If you have one, consider starting with that. Much easier.

[EDIT] more lifehack protips now that I have a keyboard:

1) If you like pepperoni pizza, try the sandwich-slice stuff at the deli counter. Even the cheaper varieties of this are better than the small ones you find in packages. If you're going to a real deli or whatever keep doing what you're doing, but this will help with ordinary grocery store shopping.

2) You don't have to have fresh mozz for every pie (though man is it good) but do spend up slightly on the cheese if you can, and favor block over pre-shredded (no anti-caking agents in the block cheese). HOWEVER, as long as you don't get the absolute worst cheese you can find, cheaping out a bit here will not ruin your pizza, it just won't be as good. You can still beat all the major chains with Kraft. Also: consider mixing in other stuff with your mozz for some depth, especially if you're not paying for high-end cheese. Provolone's a common option.

3) Don't spend a ton on San Marzano (or "San Marzano Style") canned tomatoes, unless it's a really special pizza. If you garden, consider growing your own San Marzanos and canning (you'll have too many to use in a Summer even with just 3-4 plants)—it's the very best option, flavor wise. Having-a-religious-moment good. For your everyday pizza just get decent canned tomatoes. Do not use fresh tomatoes unless you know the person who grew them (this goes for practically any dish that calls for tomatoes). Again, you're gonna have to buy the worst canned tomatoes you can possibly find to maybe make your pizza worse than the major chains—not that they necessarily use tomatoes that bad, but home-made pizza tends to be so good that you have to really screw up ingredient selection to ruin it, though obviously good ingredients are necessary if you want to achieve Pizza Nirvana.

4) Beware under-salting your dough and sauce. No, that recipe you found isn't wrong, and yes you should put that much black pepper in pizza sauce. In fact maybe give it another couple turns.


> You can probably get away with a lower oven temp with > pan pizza. Oil cast iron pan, preheat oven

I've been making homemade pan pizzas for years using aluminum half sheet pans (like this https://www.webstaurantstore.com/bakers-mark-18-x-13-half-si...) and a convection oven set to 550 or whatever it'll heat to. My observations:

* dough should be cool but close to room temp

* let the oven stand at the set temperature for at least ten minutes before using it.

* lightly bake the dough without toppings first on the lowest rack setting or directly on the bottom of the oven so the pan heats and the bottom of the pizza crisps.

* if using a tomato sauce, apply sparingly and bake again for a few minutes to drive off some moisture.

* use less toppings than you think


Going to agree here. I get "OK" results at between 550F and 600F (preheat gas oven which runs a little hot on 500, then turn on broiler). This is about a 6 minute pizza. It's not perfect, but it's almost as good as the best NY-style pizza place in my small city, and much better than any of the chains.


My solution to (several) pizza stones cracking was a pizza steel. It's huge, heavy, and it isn't going to crack short of being shot with a Howitzer.


We haven't had a problem since we started using parchment paper. My guess is moisture/grease from the pizza was soaking into the stones and weakening them over time.


You're almost certainly correct.

As an aside, I once set the oven on self-clean, forgetting a pizza stone was still in there, and that was a mixed experience. On the one hand, I had to open the windows and pull the smoke detectors as smoke poured out of the oven for a while. On the other hand, when done, the pizza stone looked like it was fresh out of the box, not a stain on it.

I have no idea if that's a plus, a minus, or meant nothing for that particular stone... but it eventually cracked like the others.


you can make good pizza in a normal oven, it will not be the same as a proper oven, but can definitely be good, and generally better than what you can get in a random pizza place outside of Italy.

OTOH, you can get something like this for ~100€, https://www.g3ferrari.net/en/pizzeria-snack-napoletana-p153



SO MUCH GREAT ADVICE!

Thank you all, folks, this has been an education.


> The crust is slightly charred. It has a crisp outer layer, but inside it's airy and light. The ingredients are not piled high, but instead are perfectly balanced. It's sweet, salty, full flavored but not greasy. The tomatoes burst with flavor. Each bite makes you hungrier for the next...

Right away, I immediately thought about my one favorite pizza place in NYC, and guess what:

> This pizza is modeled after Patsy's on 117th street in NYC

Yep. I used to go there (all the way out to 1st Ave! oy vey!) and get takeout slices fresh out of the oven back when I lived uptown. That description gets it just right. Never knew it was considered the best in the US, but it makes sense: that neighborhood was the original "Little Italy" back when the neighborhood was Italian (and Jewish) Harlem rather than Spanish Harlem. I certainly haven't had better in NYC, and I've tried (even the Patsy's on 60th St doesn't get it just right).

Another interesting thing, though it doesn't relate to pizza, it's about a sort-of "restaurant model hacker": around the corner from Patsy's is a very secretive restaurant named Rao's. It does away with the "first come first serve" model of seating at restaurants, and instead you get yourself a sort of "standing reservation" for a table once a week/month/year. It's incredibly challenging to get one of these reservations, although there are stories of well-dressed and charming patrons spending some time at the bar and getting a spot for that evening, if there's space left. Many very famous people (and some important but not-famous people...) hold reservations there; it's known as the most exclusive spot in the city. It's also rumored to be mob-related: eating there back in the 70s, you could leave your furs in your convertible with the top down despite the danger of the neighborhood.


This is ridiculously in depth


Which is why it's suitable for Hacker News. Varasano's a pizza hacker.


I had a slice of pizza from the 99 cent pizza place across the street from my apartment in Queens. It's still really good. After living in rural Pennsylvania, I don't get why other areas of the country have such a hard time making decent pizza.


I don't get why other areas of the country have such a hard time making decent pizza.

I was on a neighborhood tour of the Lower West Side a few weeks back and this came up when we sampled slices from what I think was the 2nd oldest pizzeria in NY. The guides attributed it to two things. One, the water used, the NY water supply comes from springs in the Catskills Mountains which have some sort of environmental protections. The other is the quality of the ingredients, the guide pointed out that the simple slice of cheese pizza didn't have any oil pooling on top of the cheese, cheap cheese will result in the oil separating during the cooking processed (that seems legit based on the pizza I get in TX).


Freakonimics (great podcast!) did a test a few years back that pretty convincingly dispelled the whole 'it's the water' argument: http://podcastnotes.org/2015/11/09/freakonomics-food-science...


Varasano also rejects the "special water" claim. I think the historically poor quality of pizza in rural areas is due to the "trade secret" recipe factors (which Varasano identifies) not being widely shared.

I've been to small towns with a "House of Pizza" that made an awful flavorless and bready crust, and the locals loved it because they had no reference for anything better.


Yeah, it's probably mainly New York's intense competition that has made the pizza excellent. Unless you're in Times Square and have lots of tourists to prey on, you just can't pay the rent if you make bad food in NYC, it's too easy to find (and walk to) 10 other restaurants making the same thing.


That was a really interesting podcast. Thank you for the recommendation, I'm considering picking up Kenji-Alt's book as a result!


Yeah same story here. Am from Long Island and grew up with amazing pizza on every corner. Moved to Michigan and after a few years of disappointment I started a pizza diary (http://tightpizza.com) where I break down why I am dissatisfied with the state of pizza out here.

Recently I started making my own with a recipe similar to what was posted here (but mostly from Ken Forkish's book The Elements of Pizza), and I'm pretty happy with the results so far. It's at least something to hold me over until trips home.


Culture.


My family cooks hand-tossed pizzas every year for xmas eve (we're not religious at all). Oven with pizza stones. Dad's been playing with the dough recipe fore awhile, tweaking it this way and that...

...but really, we're going nuts with the toppings. It all started when we got a white pizza with grape halves (and other stuff) from the Cheeseboard Pizza Collective.

If I remember it correctly, this year's best pizza was a white pizza with figs, bruschetta (sp?), goat cheese and truffle oil. Barely any topics, but the most amazing thing to put in your mouth.

Another story: Back in college (upstate NY), the local late night food was (of course) many, many local pizza places, all of which were basically the same and thoroughly standard. I once asked them what kind of dough they used, and they said "Pizza dough..?". I took their confusion about the question as an explanation as to why I never really liked their pizza: if they don't care enough about pizza to learn about dough, it's reasonable to expect they don't care enough to make a great pie.

PS - Shoutout to Zachary's deep dish in the Bay, and Masa's in LA.


After reading this, I realized he lives in Atlanta GA and has a restaurant here. So of course I had to go. The pizza was, of course, phenomenal, but Jeff himself was there, and I let him know that his article reached the top page here.

He told me he was working on an AI framework in C++! I gave him the URL for Hacker News, hopefully he'll find some time to participate.

Hilarious, I told him my pizza was excellent, and he was eating a Big Mac. He told me his was great too, but I couldn't have any. No trade!


This recipe (from my favorite NYC pizza place) nails the flour/water ratio IMO:

https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016230-robertas-pizza-d...

with King Arthur's bread flour and over night rising works really well for me.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BSFAHprAJuF/?taken-by=krosaen

my oven gets up to 550 and I use a pizza stone.


I'll be moving from NYC to Atlanta soon and the quality of pizza has been one of my worries (stupid, I know, but it's the little things).

Super happy to find out good NYC-style pizza can be produced there. I always assumed the high humidity will mess things up.

Now if someone can figure out how to make decent bagels down there...


Great bagels are tough. They don't last too long, so a place needs to have enough foot traffic to justify making a fresh batch every few hours.


This pizza looks pretty good, but it is by no means NYC-style pizza.


What is really cool is this same guy was also the US Rubik's Cube champion in the 80s.


Verasanos isn't what I'd call "New York style"... it's more like actual pizza, like, from Italy. Tasty but I am extremely disappointed with having clicked... any tips for imitating the hole in the wall NYC pizzeria?


You can say there's two "New York style"s. There's the average storefront selling slices, and then there's the coal-fired brick oven pizza places, which is what this is about.


I've been using this recipe for a good seven or eight years now and it has never let me down. But you really do need an oven that is capable of 800F. I eventually knuckled down and bought a small dedicated pizza oven with a thermometer.


How often do you make pizza?


Several times a month.


I need a friend like you. LOL.


I love that there's a copy of Creating Web Pages for Dummies in the background of the first photo in the hand kneading section.


I've followed this recipe to make dough a couple of times and it is solid with regards to developing the gluten.


FYI for Americans: when you describe pizza as pie and non-American English speakers are listening, their inner child recoils in horror.

pizza = flat thing with cheese on top, pizza base at bottom

pie = closed thing with significant vertical component, pastry on top and bottom

Otherwise, every flatbread or similar thing on earth is a pie. Observe: "Oh, I really dig these Indian roti-pies". "Pass me another naan-pie". "Papadam pie party!". "The omlette is my favourite pie!". "Cheese toasties are a way better pies than pizza!". "A breakfast of pancake: how I love a pie in the morning!" It's insane.


First of all, a pie must be baked, so that would eliminate omelettes, pancakes, and more from your list. Second, a pie must have a crust and a filling. That eliminates a lot of the list too.

Second, a pie needn't have pastry on both top and bottom. There are numerous pies with no crust on top, such as pumpkin pie, key lime pie, banana cream pie, lemon meringue pie, chess pie, pecan pie, or chocolate icebox pie. These are so similar to pies with crust on top that it is hard to see how a reasonable definition could include one but not the other.


Interesting view regarding the pastry on top. Would you consider https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lasagne, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moussaka, and other https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_casserole_dishes all pies then?

Toasted sandwiches are baked and by your definition could still then be pie. If you would argue otherwise, where do you draw the line between baking and toasting?


While the crust doesn't have to be on both sides, there does still need to be some kind of crust. So that disqualifies lasagna and moussaka, at least in any form I've ever had them. It also probably disqualifies most if not all casseroles, since they don't have a crust, or at least I wouldn't call it that. (In my experience, many casseroles have no breading. But, in those that do, it's usually either mixed in with everything or is lightly sprinkled on top.)

I wouldn't consider a toasted sandwich to have a crust because to me a crust is more of a hard pastry layer, not a fluffy piece of bread which has been browned.

Though that is a bit of a gray area. If you were to take some fluffy white bread, get it wet, and mash it down into a layer that lines a pie pan, and then put some filling (fruit for example) in it and bake it, and if the bread all hardened together into a cohesive outer shell, then I suppose I'd call that a very unconventional pie.

Just to make everything more complicated, there are deep-dish pizzas that have a very pie-like form. There's crust on top and the bottom, and they are cooked in a pan that resembles a pie pan. For example, this: http://winespiritsbeer.blogspot.com/2013/09/beer-crust-deep-... . Compared to a flat pizza, I think those are more deserving of the word "pie" not only because there is a crust but because the ingredients are more of a filling and less of a topping.

Another question is whether a (baked) calzone or empanada is a pie. They certainly meet most of my criteria, so maybe I'd have to say they are.


No, casserole and pie are different. Casseroles are typically multiple layers and/or a mixture of many ingredients in one pan. Pies have a single, distinct pastry/dough base that contains a filling.


Don't all non-Americans (like me), whenever they see pie in this context, quietly sing to themselves, "When a moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie..."?


I thought it was 'big piece of pie'.


Excuse me while I kiss this guy.


As the girl with colitis walks by.


We know what pie is. Sometimes languages use the same word for two things. You can tell from context.

We don't use pie for any of those other things you list. It's either a pie (pumpkin, apple, pecan, etc), or a pizza.

Your inner child needs to accept that some people speak different languages than you.


Something you may or may not be aware of: You can purchase or make a double-crust pizza; the upper crust can have ingredients as well. If you do it "deep dish" style, you have the pizza equivalent of a "pizza pie" - completely sealed.

This isn't quite the same as a calzone (which is usually a single serving affair - think of it as a large pizza-filled pasty).

Honestly, though - aside from getting it to cook properly - I'm not sure that a pie crust with pizza filling would be that bad; blind-bake the crust, add the fillings, cook at as hot as you can get your oven, maybe broil the cheese on top (or take a torch to it).

To me, that sounds pretty good...


My first exposure to this was Kramer on Seinfeld talking about how people want to make their own "pizza pies".


pizza pie is an NYC-ism, as far as I'm aware. It sounds strange to me, at least.


I suppose technically it is a kind of biscuit or pudding?




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