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My obsession with the Brooklyn pizzeria Roberta’s is well-documented—I’ve been trying to perfect their dough in my own tiny, dysfunctional oven for years. So you can imagine my joy when I got to join Roberta’s Pizza Czar, Anthony Falco, behind the scenes in their kitchen (and dough production facility!) to capture their famous pie-making process for Food52’s Snapchat.
If you’re not following us yet, hop to it! We snap at the handle “food52”.
So my first question for Falco was selfishly motivated: How could I best recreate Roberta’s magic in my own kitchen, sans wood-fired oven or pizza peel-wielding team of dough magicians?
The good news is he was willing to spill his secrets. Here are 5 tips from hanging with the pizzaiolos at Roberta’s:
1. You must let the dough rest.
Falco insists that the key to the pizza crust of your dreams is letting the dough rest for 15 minutes after you initially combine the ingredients to let the gluten fully develop. That 15 minutes may seem like an extra step, but trust the Czar: Not only will it make your crust more delicious, it will make the dough much easier to work with.
If you’re making a couple crusts (pizza party, anyone?), try using a baking sheet to house the balls of dough. Roberta’s dough rests in a cold fridge for two days, covered in plastic wrap—a labor of love but worth it.
2. When it comes to sauce, less is more.
Once we had a little fun with the dough (there was twirling and whirling of all sorts), a ladleful of sauce was swirled onto the dough. To my surprise, the pizza pros at Roberta’s only use 2 ounces of sauce on their margarita pizza. Less is more, the Czar advised, particularly when you’re using high-quality mozzarella, which adds more moisture to the pie.
3. Add the basil before the mozzarella.
A veteran pizzaiolo in the kitchen gave us another pro tip: Laying on the basil before the mozzarella makes a margarita pie all the better, particularly since the cheese adheres to the basil and keeps it from becoming burnt or crispy. A hefty handful of mozzarella (all made in-house!) and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil later, the pie was ready to spend a few minutes in the wood-fired oven.
4. Don’t crank the oven up all the way.
Despite what we’ve been told ("Turn your oven UP!") Falco doesn’t think the hotter the better then it comes to oven temperature. The biggest mistake home cooks make when they’re making pies is getting their oven too hot, or burning the pie just to get something that resembles a char, Falco advises. For those of us without pizza-making equipment, he suggests a cast-iron pan, his personal favorite tool for making pizza at home. At Roberta’s, a few minutes in the wood-fired oven is all it takes to produce a perfectly charred, deliciously chewy crust.
When finished, the pies are promptly plopped into their take-out boxes and sent off to their new homes, though I couldn’t even wait for the lid of the take-out box to close before tearing into mine.
At the old Pfizer building in Brooklyn, Roberta’s makes the dough for their pop-ups, restaurants, and take-out counter. It's also where pizzas get built, fired, and then frozen before being sent off to local grocery stores in the Northeast. Firing the pizzas before freezing them means that you’re simply reheating the pizza in the oven, not baking the dough on your own—a genius way to transport that same Roberta’s taste from their ovens to yours.
5. Pack your freezer with homemade pizza.
My Roberta’s-inspired go-to recipe for dough always yields two crusts, and the team painstakingly work at assembling each freezer pizza gave me a little inspiration for my own extra ball of dough: Rather than attempting to save and subsequently salvage the extra dough, why not fire up a whole extra pizza and pop it in the freezer for a lazier night?
I suppose I won’t be running away to become a pizzaiolo anytime soon, but a day with the Czar opened me up to a whole slew of pizza possibilities. More toppings! (I couldn’t resist the allure of the Baby Sinclair, topped with kale, garlic, alpine cheddar, Parmesan, and Calabrian chilies.) More batches of homemade frozen pizza! And most importantly (and just in time for Italy Week): more pizza!
All gifs and photos by Gabriella Maningo
Do you have any pizza-making secrets? Tell us in the comments below!