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School Cafeteria Pizza

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.

School Cafeteria Pizza

School Cafeteria Pizza

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

  • Dough
    • 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
  • Assembly
    • 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.

Wait for it to bubble

Wait for it to bubble

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.

Dough pulling away from the edge of the bowl

Dough pulling away from the edge of the bowl

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.

Dough just out of the mixer

Dough just out of the mixer

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.

Doubled Dough

Doubled Dough

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.

Press into shape

Press into shape

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.

Dock the dough

Dock the dough

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.

Out of the oven

Out of the oven

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.

Sauce the pizza - Make sure to sauce all the way to the edges.

Sauce the pizza - Make sure to sauce all the way to the edges.

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.

Pefect amount of cheese and pepperoni

Pefect amount of cheese and pepperoni

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.

Perfectly lined up pepperoni

Perfectly lined up 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.

Perfectly cooked pizza

Perfectly cooked pizza

Cut into 6 rectangles and serve.

Slice into 6 pieces

Slice into 6 pieces

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.

Grade School Pizza

Grade School Pizza

Let me know what you guys think.  I think I have the sauce and crust spot on.  Enjoy!!


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Comments
  • comment avatar Chris August 14, 2009

    My 10 y/o saw this and just said "I want to make pizza. Like that."

    Question….did you serve your school pizza with one of those little milk cartons as the beverage;)

    Impressed with the lengths you went to in order to get it just right!

  • comment avatar Rex August 14, 2009

    Chris unfortunately I didn't have a carton of milk. So I served it with cosmos. All I was missing was a hair net, a lunch tray and a carton of chocolate milk.

  • comment avatar Leslie August 23, 2009

    Thanks for taking the time to put this together. I have been looking for this type of recipe for years. This was one of my favorite school lunches, with a side salad and ranch dressing, sometimes on the pizza, always with a carton on "white" milk. lol

    • comment avatar Rex August 23, 2009

      Leslie, It was my favorite meal in school too. I looked all around the web and could not find a recipe. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

  • comment avatar Christina November 23, 2009

    You should duplicate the breakfast pizza recipe. I so want it! I found this during my search for it.

    Ty,

    Christina

    • comment avatar Rex November 24, 2009

      Christina, We didn’t have breakfast pizza where I went to school. What was all on it?

      • comment avatar Paige August 4, 2012

        The breakfast pizza is almost even better. You need sausage and gravy, scrambled egg and mozzarella cheese.

  • comment avatar Jgibs2000 November 27, 2009

    Wow…this IS just like the real thing. I LOVE it! I have been trying to find the real thing frozen, but this was WAY better. Followed the recipe to the T and it came out perfect!! Thanks for doing the legwork!

  • comment avatar Urza December 10, 2009

    Wow… Thank You so much… I thought I was gunna have to raid the school down the street.

  • comment avatar becky December 30, 2009

    i was looking for the breakfast pizza recipe also from when i went to school it was soo good

  • comment avatar colleen January 22, 2010

    What about the recipe for school lunch Pizza burgers? I know there's balogna in it and american cheese….that's all I've got. My kids have been asking.

    • comment avatar Rex January 22, 2010

      colleen – Are you talking about the open face sandwich ones. I have seen them with 1 lb ground beef, 1/2 lb ground lunch meat (either ham, bologna or spam), 16oz shredded cheese mixed with 2-3 cups marinara sauce (adjust based on how saucy you like it) and 8 hamburger buns. If this is what you are looking for, then brown the ground beef. Combine with the ground/chopped lunch meat and cheese. Toss in the marinara. Then place hamburger buns face up on a cookie sheet (you will get 16 pizza burgers so you will probably have to use two trays). Add the mixture to the buns. Bake until golden brown. 400 degrees for about 10-15 minutes.

      -Rex

  • comment avatar Tim February 15, 2010

    That Pizza Looks Amazing. Thank you so much for figuring out this awesome recipe!!

  • comment avatar Tara April 24, 2010

    Thank you so much. I really look forward to trying this. I have been trying to find this recipe for years. I even called the schools I went to, to find out how to do it and they said they didn't know what I was talking about. Drove me nuts. Thought I was going to have to become a lunch lady to break the code. THNX AGAIN!!!

  • comment avatar Tara April 24, 2010

    Can you add what brand of pepperoni you used please? I can't find any at the grocery that doesn't taste like red salami. Thnx

    • comment avatar Rex April 25, 2010

      Tara – Glad you enjoy the pizza recipe. I have been searching for it for years too. As for the pepperoni I use Eckrich Farms Pepperoni Sticks. They are about 10 inches long and have to be sliced by hand. I use my food processor to do the slicing. I have found that they taste the best. Thanks again.

  • comment avatar fiico2 August 9, 2010

    interesting recipe BUT I grew up in queens and brooklyn. I am 44 and went to several scools, a different one every 2 years. they all made it exactly the same but very much different to this recipe. ours had chopped meat with tomato sauce almost like sloppy joe but not quite. they used sliced not shredded american cheese. all on a very different kind of dough. if not eaten within the first 15 minutes of sitting down the crust hardened like a rock. it was hands down THE best lunch they served. I always took the second chocolate milk for 15 cents

  • comment avatar Carlo October 19, 2010

    This really made me happy, just last week I planned to made one pizza for myself but in a while, I am thinking that it is so sad if I will not share it to somebody, knowing that everybody is busy doing their personal task. And so I decided to leave it and maybe tomorrow is a new day and the best day to have one…ymmmmy!

  • comment avatar Paula October 20, 2010

    I am looking for the pizza burger , open faced on hamburger bun, recipe. It had ground beef, some sort of tomato sauce, I've heard tomato soup, and then it had a piece of criss cross cheese on it. I loved them. I have friends who are looking for this recipe too. If anyone can help I would really appreciate it.

  • comment avatar Erika February 22, 2011

    Thanks for posting this! There is a store I've found that carries those frozen rectangular pizzas, BUT, I shudder at the ingredient list. Let's just say "imitation mozzarella cheese" was one of the most appetizing ingredients listed; most I could not pronounce. It's amazing how chemicals can taste so good ;)
    I'll give this a try. May try freezing some as well.

  • comment avatar Rob Rebar May 2, 2011

    The pizza at my elementary school cafeteria in San Pedro was actually quite tasty. To complete the meal, you should serve it with canned green beans, fruit cocktail, and chocolate milk.

    • comment avatar savoryreviews May 3, 2011

      I was looking for some personal chocolate milks. I couldn't find the single serve paper cartons in the store.

  • comment avatar Rob Rebar May 18, 2011

    Don't know if you have a CostCo store in your area, but they have 12 packs of Darigold Chocolate Milk in 1 pint carboard containers.

    • comment avatar savoryreviews May 24, 2011

      Rob,

      There is a costco right down the road. I will have to go there and pick up some chocolate milk cartons. Thanks for the tip.

      Rex

  • comment avatar Paige July 30, 2012

    How much yeast is in a packet?

    • comment avatar savoryreviews July 30, 2012

      There is 2 1/4 tsp of yeast in each packet. Which is also 1/4 oz or 7 grams.

      • comment avatar Paige August 4, 2012

        Thanks. My dough is rising now. I'm pregnant and started craving school pizza like crazy. I'll let you know how it turns out : )

  • comment avatar James February 27, 2013

    Sounds about right to me. The ones we had at our school were made w/sausage and had fennel seeds on them. I really enjoyed those pizzas as a kid growing up, especially that little "tang" the fennel seeds gave to it. Thanks for posting!

    • comment avatar savoryreviews February 27, 2013

      I forgot about the fennel seeds. I will have to try that in the next go around.

  • comment avatar Another James October 1, 2013

    Seems very close to the real thing, although when I was in school the pepperoni was those little cubes and not actual slices. Was it different where you grew up?

    • comment avatar savoryreviews October 1, 2013

      Another James, It was as close as I have ever seen. We had round pepperoni on the pizza, but the sauce has tiny cubes of pepperoni in it.

  • comment avatar Jeff July 2, 2014

    I just found this site and love all the recipes… Especially this one. I cannot wait to make it, i have thought about that pizza for many years. Thank you!!

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