Chemist in the Kitchen

July 1, 2015 at 11:30 am

Traditional NY-Style Pizza Dough

Traditional NY-Style Pizza Dough

Remember how last week I had mentioned that I don’t have an Italian nonna to impress? Well, now I wish I did, because this pizza dough recipe would make her proud!

 

Traditional New York style pizza dough was adapted from Neapolitan pizza dough, which is the simplest of them all. Neapolitan-style pizza dough is known for being composed of very few ingredients, long fermentation as opposed to yeast, and baking at super high temperatures of about 900°F. NY-style pizza dough, on the other hand, is adapted for the commercial oven (I don’t know about your oven, but mine can’t go up to 900°F), utilizes more ingredients, and contains yeast.

 

Although the origin of NY-style pizza dough is widely debated (how many pizza restaurants in New York claim themselves as “The First and The Best”?), it has been commonly accepted that the first pizza restaurant in New York was Lombardi’s of Gennaro Lombardi from Naples, Italy. Although the exact lineage of how Lombardi began with the Neapolitan-style dough from his hometown of Naples and ended up with what is now known as NY-style pizza dough is not exactly clear, it is thought to have come about from a few key reasons: 1) the demand for Lombardi’s pizza sky-rocketed, and there wasn’t enough time to perform the long fermentation periods that Neapolitan pizza dough requires, 2) commercial ovens became more popular and efficient, but could not achieve super-high temperatures, and 3) he needed a pizza dough that could stretch better so as to make bigger pies to accommodate more hungry customers. Whatever the reason for Gennaro Lombardi’s transition into modern-day’s NY-style pizzas, I’m just thankful he did it.

 

Yeast proofing

 

There are two key scientific elements in this recipe that make it work: the oil and the sugar source (notice that I said “sugar source” and not “sugar”). The oil is a bit easier to explain whereas the sugar source requires a more thorough explanation, so let’s start there. Gluten is a complex protein that is formed when certain flours are mixed with water. The oil molecules literally coat some of the flour molecules, which prevents them from forming gluten when they are mixed with water. This causes the dough to have less gluten, which produces the thin, chewy texture that NY-style pizza is known for.

 

Now, let’s take a closer look at this sugar source I mentioned. Using active-dry yeast requires a process called proofing, which technically means “to prove that the yeast is alive”, but this process is also very important for getting the yeast awake and ready to do its job, which is to release carbon dioxide into the dough. Proofing involves mixing the active-dry yeast with warm water (around 105-115°F; note: that does NOT mean boiling water, which is a temperature of 100° Celsius and would kill the yeast) and a sugar source. The warm water dissolves the dry coating around the yeast granules so that the yeast is exposed, and the sugar is the yeast’s food source. In this chemical process (known as fermentation), the active-dry yeast is activated by the warm water and converts the sugar molecules into carbon dioxide.

 

The reason that I specified “sugar-source” as opposed to simply “sugar” is because the chemical makeup of the sugar source will yield different results. There are many different types of sugar molecules, some of which are one molecule on their own (known as monosaccharides) and some are two molecules bonded together (known as disaccharides). Simple white sugar is made up of a molecule known as sucrose, which is two monosaccharide molecules bonded together, making it a disaccharide. Honey, on the other hand, is made up of those same molecules as monosaccharides, meaning they are not bonded together. This lack of bonding between the sugar molecules in honey is very important for proofing yeast because it will require less energy from the yeast to break them down. Hence, honey allows a more robust proofing of the active-dry yeast in this recipe, which then results in chewier texture in the pizza dough.

 

Pizza dough after kneading 2

 

In short, every ingredient in this recipe has a key role to achieve the perfect NY-style pizza dough: warm water will dissolve the dry coating around the active dry yeast to expose it and coats the flour molecules to produce gluten, honey will be used as the sugar source to provide the most energy-efficient food source for the yeast, the active dry yeast will convert the sugar molecules into carbon dioxide in the dough and allow it to rise, the olive oil will coat some of the flour molecules to prevent excessive gluten formation, bread flour will result in a chewier texture than all-purpose flour since it is higher in protein, and the salt will provide just the right amount of seasoning.

 

Whew, that was a lot of science for one blog post. Let’s take a deep breath and remember why we’re all here: PIZZA.

 

Pizza after baking

 

I chose to top off my pizza with a bit of brushed olive oil, thick-cut plum tomatoes, smoked buffalo mozzarella, and fresh basil. You can dress up this pizza any way you’d like, there really is no wrong way to go about this. Go ahead, get crazy; I won’t judge you! (But an Italian nonna just might…)

 

With love,

Tamar

 

Traditional NY-Style Pizza Dough

Prep Time: 2 hours

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

Yield: 1 large or 2 medium pizzas

Ingredients

  • 2 ¼ tsp active dry yeast (equivalent to one package)
  • 1 cup warm water (about 105-115°F, not Celsius)
  • 2 Tbsp honey, divided by tablespoon
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil, plus ½ Tbsp for greasing bowl
  • ½ tsp table salt (preferably non-iodized)
  • 2 ½ cup bread flour*, plus more for dusting
  • Cornstarch for dusting pan

Instructions

  1. Combine active dry yeast, warm water, and 1 Tbsp honey in a large bowl. Gently stir to dissolve the yeast and allow to sit undisturbed for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, the yeast mixture should have visible bubbles and increase in volume. If it does not, that means the yeast has expired. Do not continue with this yeast, and instead purchase new yeast and start again.
  2. Add the remaining 1 Tbsp honey, olive oil, and salt and stir to combine. Add the flour a half cup at a time until well combined.
  3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 7-8 minutes.
  4. Rinse out and dry the large bowl and grease it with ½ Tbsp olive oil. Place the dough in the bowl, cover with a hand towel, and allow to rise in a warm area for 1 hour (I prefer to preheat the oven to 200°F, turn it off, and allow the dough to rise in the oven).
  5. Punch down the dough and allow to rise for an additional 30 minutes. **See note below for making ahead
  6. Divide the dough in half. Each half is for one pizza. Dust a pizza pan or baking pan with a bit of cornstarch to prevent sticking. Gently stretch out the dough onto the pan with your hands into a circle (if you’re using a pizza stone or pizza pan) or a rectangle (if you’re using a baking pan) until it is about ¼ – ½ inch thick.
  7. Preheat oven to 450°F.
  8. Top with your choice of sauce and/or toppings.
  9. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until golden brown.

Notes

* The bread flour can be substituted with all-purpose flour. The texture will not be as chewy because all-purpose flour has less protein than bread flour. ** This dough can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to six days. After completing step 5, spray the inside of a Ziploc bag with cooking spray, place the dough into the bag, and release as much air from the bag as possible without squashing the dough.

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5 thoughts on “Traditional NY-Style Pizza Dough

  1. Lizy LeBlond says:

    Oh my goodness Tamar, this might be my favorite one yet. I’ll definitely have to try it when I have enough kitchen space!

    1. Wonderful! This is my tried and true recipe. I’m glad you liked the post, let me know how your pizza turns out once you have an opportunity to make it! :)

  2. Stephane says:

    Pizza dough is easy enough to make and taste so much better than store bought. Have you experienced with different yeast or flours ?

    1. I definitely agree! Aside from gluten-free dough, I have tried many different types of wheat flours and always came to conclude that using bread flour is best because it has the highest protein content; sometimes I use a 50:50 blend of bread and all-purpose flour but it never comes out as good. I haven’t adapted this recipe to any gluten-free flours. I’m guessing that it could be done with all-purpose gluten-free flour if baking soda and a bit of vinegar is added (or buttermilk even). Definitely an idea to keep in mind, I’ll work on it.

      In terms of yeast, you do have a couple options. Instant yeast is pretty much the same but doesn’t need to be proofed, so you can add it right into the flour; it will still require a sugar source and the dough will still need the water for moisture. Some people swear by rapid-rise yeast but I honestly don’t see the need as the results are negligible if any to that of active dry yeast, and rapid-rise yeast can be expensive to come by (patience is cheaper). Compressed yeast, a.k.a. cake yeast (the one that comes in little blocks wrapped in foil), might be the best out of them all but is extremely difficult to come by. Grocery stores don’t normally carry it because it doesn’t keep well and has to be used ASAP. If you are able to come by it, I definitely suggest using it; add it straight to the dough with the honey and decrease the water to about 2/3-3/4 cup to adjust for the moisture in the compressed yeast.

  3. Josef says:

    First, thank you for the Like last night on my 2nd attempt at NYC style dough.

    Second, I’m glad it led me to your blog. I’ve been enjoying it and now that I’ve reached THIS post, it was time to say Hi.

    We will certainly swap our sugar for honey on the next batch, and there are a few other tweaks comparing to your recipe. (We let our rise for a min of 24 hours in the fridge, use rapid-rise yeast)

    I’ll let you know how it goes!

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