A dollar slice pizza joint is one of those New York institutions—like bodegas, the L train, a crappy-but-joyful cup of street-cart coffee on a cold day—that doesn’t seem real until you get there. Dollar-slice lovers are often discerning, will fold the entire paper plate on which the slice is served in half, and stand there eating it at a tall metal table chained to the nearest post, tree, or door frame lest someone try to make off with it. There is no better place to be when you feel ravenous or tipsy or lonely or broke.
Many of these pizza places also sell the ingenious garlic knot: A knob of leftover pizza dough rolled into a rope and tied in a knot, then doused in butter or oil with lots of garlic and sometimes a shower of cheese and baked. They'll often do in a pinch. But if you don't live in New York or can't take a pizza joint slice home with you, garlic knots are one of those things that you can do easily in your kitchen to fill the void, and are (about a thousand times) better when you make them yourself.
On your next pizza night—or, frankly, for any party where you’d like to serve an appetizer or snack spiffier than cheese and crackers—make or buy an extra pizza’s worth of dough and begin to scheme what your knots will be like. Just think: warm buns brushed with ranch-infused butter tossed back with a cold beer, chai-spiced knots with a hot cup of tea post-hike or sledding expedition, paprika buns as the preamble to a holiday dinner.
Need a good pizza dough recipe? Here are a couple of our favorites.
You can buy fresh pizza dough, too—either from the grocery store or straight from a neighborhood pizzeria.
Once you have your pizza dough, the world is your knot: There’s barely any technique to master. If you can roll out Play-Doh, you can make these—and then riff on them to your little heart’s delight.
First, make the knots.
Grab a hunk of your dough slightly larger than the size of a ping pong ball and roll it into a 10-inch rope on a very lightly floured surface; you only need enough flour so that the dough doesn’t stick to your counter, not so much that the dough is visibly floury. Tie that rope in a knot. Set it on a parchment-lined baking sheet and form the rest of the dough into knots (you should get about 12 knots total). Cover the pan with a dishtowel and leave the buns in a warm spot while you preheat the oven to 375° F.
Instead of flouring your surface, sprinkle it with something that has flavor: If you’re making classic garlic knots, for example, sprinkle grated Parm (or finely chopped fresh parsley, or both!) right onto your surface and roll the knots out over it. Adjust accordingly for the kind of knot you want to make—so, if you want to make a sweeter bun, you could roll the dough into ropes over cinnamon sugar.
Layer on the good stuff.
This will come in two forms: an oil and a sprinkle. Prep both while the knots are resting and the oven is preheating.
Don’t just reach for the olive oil—the oil (which is essential for getting the cheese or herbs or whatever to stick to the bun) is a good opportunity to add flavor. Try melted salted butter, a little neutral oil mixed with something deeply flavorful like sesame or pumpkin seed oil, chile oil, coconut oil, melted bacon fat… And go ahead and experiment mixing in thicker syrups and pastes, too: honey mixed with melted butter, maple syrup with bacon fat, gochujang with sesame oil and canola oil. For 12 knots, you’ll need about 4 tablespoons oil.
Then pick out something to sprinkle over the top—and go crazy here. For a classic garlic knot, mince a heck of a lot of garlic, of course! (Two to 3 cloves for the kissers and more if you have no kissing plans.) Warm it in whatever oil you’re using so that the garlic loses some of its raw taste and flavors the oil, too. When the oil is cool, mix in a small handful of very finely chopped fresh herbs (like parsley and basil). Brush this mixture over the top of the knots and sprinkle on grated Parmesan (and maybe a good grind of black pepper), then bake until golden and bubbly, 15 to 20 minutes.
Drop the garlic from “garlic knots” and the door is wide open to you. Here are a few other options to try:
Melted butter mixed with ranch seasoning and minced fresh chives
Melted butter stirred together with an equal amount of miso paste, sprinkled with sesame seeds
Melted coconut oil mixed with a little brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon each ground cinnamon and ginger, a good shake ground cardamom, and a couple grinds black pepper
Melted bacon fat stirred together with a glug of maple syrup, sprinkled with toasted coconut
Olive oil mixed with pimentón, sprinkled with flaky salt
Tell us about your all-time favorite pizza spot, or the best garlic knot you’ve ever had, in the comments below.
We cook with Not Recipes on a regular basis, so we partnered with Hidden Valley to share our latest: How to make garlic knots—without a recipe. Head here to see which Hidden Valley dip or seasoning mix to use in your knots.