My Tampa friend loved Chuck E Cheese. After her divorce, she’d ask prospective suitors to meet her there so she could gauge their responses to her toddler, to large groups of marauding children and to incessant noise. Many a potential mate was eliminated after an afternoon at “the Cheese.”
She even came to love the pizza.
I, on the other hand, never took my kids to Chuck E Cheese. I didn’t need to pretest boyfriends, and I didn’t love the pizza. Besides, if my kids didn’t know Chuck and friends existed, they’d never know what they were missing, right?
Unfortunately, kids talk. When we moved to Maryland, my 5-year-old came home from a play date ready to rumble.
“We went somewhere,” he growled. “Why didn’t you ever take us to Chuck E Cheese?”
“I don’t think they had them in Tampa,” I said (lied).
“My friends say they’re everywhere!”
So much for keeping secrets. But we ended up making a pact. I’d do my best to find the perfect pizza recipe, and my kids would get their Chuck E Cheese fix via friends’ birthday parties.
Thus began my pizza quest.
Over the years, I’ve tested countless pizza recipes. I’ve used frozen bread dough, premade pizza balls and good old flour, yeast and water. I’ve baked pizzas on stones, on baking sheets and on oven racks. I’ve played with all kinds of temperatures and all kinds of topping tricks in my quest for the perfect pie.
I finally found our family’s favorite.
I love this pizza recipe. It’s both convenient and adaptable, and thanks to the miracle of the modern stand mixer, no kneading is required. You can mix the dough the night before and let it hang out in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it. Or you can make it an hour before dinner and still have a perfectly wonderful pie. You can divide the dough in half for two shatteringly thin pizzas, or you can use all the dough for a thick and chewy one. You can blast the pizza in a 500-degree oven for a blistered bottom or throw it on the grill for puffy pizza pillows. Slather it with olive oil, herbs and garlic for a take on white pizza, or spread on your favorite pizza sauce for a traditional red.
A few notes on the recipe that follows:
1. Weather has a big effect on the texture of this dough. Sometimes it’s pretty dry. Sometimes it’s wet and sticky. Don’t worry and don’t add additional flour. Regardless of how it starts out, it always ends up delicious.
2. The olive oil used to coat the “rising” bowl will pool at the bottom. Don’t discard it! It soaks back into the pizza dough, making the dough easy to work with.
3. Cooking time depends on the surface you’re using. I favor stainless baking sheets for the blister they give the crust. Bake your pies for 10 minutes on a baking sheet. If you use one of those Pampered Chef pizza stones, you’ll need up to 20 minutes. The grill takes 5-10 minutes. Regardless of what you use to bake your pizza, check the bottom often. The pizza is done when the bottom is dimpled and deep brown in spots.
4. Be sure to oil your cooking surface well. I also like to sprinkle some corn meal on the baking sheet or pizza stone to ensure easy release.
5. Roll your dough out or use your hands to shape it to an even thickness.
6. If grilling, bake one side of the crust first. Flip the pizza over, then add sauce and toppings to the pre-baked side. Close the grill lid for everything to melt and the other side to bake.
I don’t know if this pizza approaches the Holy Grail that is Chuck E Cheese. But it’s our family’s go-to recipie.
Whew! The kids are 14 and 11 … I think I’ve dodged “the Cheese.”
Our Favorite Pizza Crust
Sprinkle 1 package yeast over 3/4 cup warm water. Add 1 teaspoon honey and stir to combine.
Let sit until foamy (about 10 minutes). Pour into a stand mixer; add 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil and 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Using the bread hook attachment, beat until a soft dough forms, then put the mixer on low and let it run for 5 minutes.
Pour 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large bowl and spread it all around. Remove dough from mixer, form into a ball, then put in the “rising” bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let dough rise in a warm area for 1 1/2 hours if using regular yeast; 1 hour if using fast-rising.
Punch dough down, then form into one ball if you want a thick pizza or two balls for a thinner pie. Continue with recipe, or put in refrigerator until ready to use.Roll out dough. Spread with desired toppings. Bake at 500 degrees (yes, 500. Don’t go lower or you’ll end up with bread, not pizza) until the bottom is dimpled and dark brown in spots. Remove from oven, place pizza on cutting board, and dig in!