A couple of weeks ago a reader emailed me and asked me if I could recreate the square school cafeteria pizza that we all ate when we were younger. I didn’t think it would be that hard. I love pizza and recreating the pizza that I grew up with shouldn’t be that hard, right? Well it took a little time. I tried a standard pizza crust, but it did not come out right. The crust of the pizza at school was a lot sweeter and didn’t have a complex flavor. So I started from scratch. Flour, water and salt. Then it was either too light or too dense, and it was not sweet enough. Then I added some sugar, fixed the water at a standard amount and added flour until it was perfect. Then came the sauce. The sauce was also sweet and rather basic. So I grabbed a couple of cans of tomato sauce and paste and worked it until it was perfect. The hardest part as there is nothing like it online or in cookbooks. Nobody has successfully recreated the pizza that I loved as a child. Until now. It is pretty darn tasty. Even though my palate has evolved since childhood, the first bite of this pizza brought me right back to grade school.
Since the pizzas we all loved as children were pre-manufactured I had to blind bake the crust just like the company does before it is frozen and shipped out. Here is my take on the classic.
School Cafeteria Pizza
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 1 1/2 cups warm water – I use tap water that is slightly warm to the touch.
- 3 1/4 – 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tsp sugar
1.5 tsp salt
- Caveat – Depending on where you grew up the sweetness of the crust can vary. Where I grew up in Michigan the the crust had a light sweetness. If you grew up in an area where you remember the crust being pretty sweet, add another 1 tsp of sugar to the dough.
- Sauce – (makes enough for 4 pizzas)
- 15 oz can tomato sauce
- 6 oz can tomato paste
- 1 tbs sugar
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1 tsp basil
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 350 degree oven
- 1/2 sheet pan
- 8 oz cheese
- 36 pepperoni slices
The first step is to make the pizza dough. Place the water, sugar, yeast and 1 cup of flour in a bowl. Mix with a spatula or with a bread hook in your mixer. Once mixed let sit for 5-10 minutes, until it is bubbly.
Next add 2 more cups of flour and the salt. Mix until a dough ball is formed. Slowly add the next 1/4 cup of flour. You want the dough to be able to pull from the edge of the bowl, but you also want it to be a little sticky. This may take up to another 1/4 cup of flour. If you are using a electric stand mixer with a dough hook this will be when the dough pulls from the sides, forms a ball and doesn’t actively stick to the sides.
Next either pour the dough out onto a floured surface and knead by hand for 5 minutes, or using an electric mixer with a dough hook, knead on medium speed for 2-3 minutes.
Place the dough ball in a greased bowl covered with a towel.
Let the dough rise until doubled. This should take between 1 and 3 hours. It depends on the temperature of your house. I like my house to be about the temperature of the artic tundra so it takes a good 3 hours.
When the dough is doubled punch it down and place on a greased cookie sheet. Spread the dough out evently over the whole cookie sheet. I find that a rolling pin helps to do this. It is alright to press it into shape as we really don’t want the dough to rise much.
Next using a fork you need to dock the dough so that it does not form bubbles. You want the pizza crust to be the same thickness all the way across the pan. Start in one corner and work your way over the whole crust.
Place the crust in the oven for 10-12 minutes. You want it to cook through, but not turn brown. The key to good grade school pizza is a chewy crust.
While the pizza is in the oven make your sauce. Combine all of the ingredients, stir and then let sit for at least 10 minutes.
Remove the pizza from the oven and let it slightly cool. Then lightly coat with the pizza sauce. You don’t want to over due the sauce if you want a really authentic pizza. I used about 1/4 of the sauce on the pizza. Cover the remaining sauce and refrigerate. It should keep for a couple of days.
Once the pizza is sauced spread out the 8oz of mozzarella cheese. Once again, for this to be authentic you don’t want to overdue it on the cheese. You want to cover the pizza but still leave some opening for the sauce to shine through. I found that one 8oz bag of cheese was the perfect amount.
Finally it is time to add the pepperoni. As with grade school, there should be 6 slices of pepperoni on each rectangle of pizza. The pizza when cut produces 6 slices. Equally space out 36 slices of pepperoni.
Place the pizza back in the oven for 10-12 minutes or until the cheese is perfectly melted. Make sure to remove the pizza from the oven before the cheese starts to turn brown.
Cut into 6 rectangles and serve.
The crust and pizza were just like I remembered them. The crust was not browned, but fully cooked. The crust has a perfect thickness and chewyness. Honestly, all I needed was a pint of chocolate milk and I could have been right back in grade school.
Let me know what you guys think. I think I have the sauce and crust spot on. Enjoy!!