You may think of pizza as Italian food but it really began in Ancient Greece when round flatbreads were baked and topped with olive oil, spices and other foods. Tomatoes were not yet discovered. In the 18th century, pizza found its way to Italy and was sold on the streets and in markets. However, there were no toppings yet. It wasn’t until 1889 when Queen Margherita tried one of these flatbreads and loved it. The Queen summoned a pizza chef to the royal palace and ordered him to bake pizzas for her. He made a special pizza just for her, topped with tomatoes, mozzarella and fresh basil (the colors of the Italian flag). The pizza became popular and is the Pizza Margherita we are still eating today.
And boy, are we eating it! Approximately three billion pizzas are sold in the United States every year, plus an additional one billion frozen pizzas. Ninety-three percent of Americans eat pizza at least once a month. On average, each person in the United States eats around 23 pounds of pizza every year. There is probably no other food that can be personalized as well as pizza. The crust can be thick or thin, whole wheat, spelt, or gluten-free. Sauces and toppings are only limited by one’s imagination. More and more people are also making their own pizza at home. Here are some tricks and tips for making your own rockin’ vegan pizza.
1. The Equipment
While it would be nice, you don’t have to have a wood-burning oven to make delicious pizza. There are, however, some things that make homemade pizza even better: a pizza stone, a pizza peel and a pizza wheel. A pizza stone guarantees a crispy, golden-brown crust. Pizza stones should be placed on the middle oven rack while the oven is still cold and then heated to 500 degrees for at least half an hour prior to baking the pizza. The stone will hold onto all that heat and release it into the pizza as it bakes, resulting in a crispier crust and better oven spring. A pizza peel is like a shovel. It gives you a flat surface area on which to prepare the pizza and then lets you slide the dough into the oven from a safe distance. A pizza wheel is that round saw-like knife used to slice the pizza. It’s sharp and effortlessly glides through the pizza and toppings.
If you don’t have these things, you can still make your own pizza. Instead of a stone, you can use an inverted baking sheet. You can also use another inverted baking sheet or a really wide spatula, like one uses for flapjacks, as the pizza peel. Any knife can cut a pizza but you want it to be really sharp or it will pull all the toppings off rather than cutting through them.
2. The Crust
For me, the crust is what makes or breaks a pizza. Pizza dough is a simple recipe – just flour, yeast, water and salt. You can use all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, semolina flour, spelt flour or whatever flour you like. Here is my Basic Pizza Dough recipe – In a large bowl, combine one packet of dry active yeast, 1 cup warm water, 1 tsp. sugar and 1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil. Stir and let the mixture sit until it gets foamy, about 5-10 minutes. To the bowl, add 2 cups of flour and 1 tsp. kosher salt and mix until the flour is incorporated. Continue adding up to 1 cup more of flour, ¼ cup at a time, until you have dough that is smooth and a little sticky. You may not need all the flour. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and work it with your hands for 5 minutes until it is smooth but still a little sticky. Shape the dough into a ball, place it in an oiled bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Set it in a warm place and let it rise for an hour and a half. If you have time, allow the dough to rest by chilling it in the fridge overnight. This allows the gluten to relax and the dough will be easier to stretch and shape. If you don’t have that much time, let the dough rest for even half an hour.
Some people like thick, chewy crusts and others prefer thin, crispy crusts. I fall into the latter category. Those who join me on Team Thin Crispy Crust will want their dough to feel a bit wet and sticky. Dough that has more moisture can be stretched thinner. If you are on Team Thick Chewy Crust, you will want to add more flour to your dough so that it feels less sticky. For another recipe, try The Best Homemade Vegan Wholemeal Pizza Dough.
3. Shaping the Crust
When you are ready to make your pizza crust, take the dough out of the fridge and let it warm a bit. Dough that is very cold may be hard to roll and shape. Pizza dough is best shaped by hand rather than with a rolling pin. Shape it gently rather than strongly kneading it or the gluten will become too tough and the dough could tear. Dust a surface with flour and sprinkle a bit onto the dough as well. Use your fingertips to press the dough down and out forming a circle. Pick up the dough and its own weight will pull it down and extend the circle. Use your fingers to pull gently around the edges of the dough until it is stretched to the size and thickness you want. You don’t have to flip the dough in the air and catch it but if you can do that, please send us videos. J You can also fit the dough to fit a baking sheet and make a rectangular-shaped pizza. Sprinkle a generous amount of cornmeal on your baking sheet or pizza stone. It keeps the crust from sticking.
4. Gluten-Free Crust
Making pizza dough is a bit different when you’re gluten-free. You could buy a pre-made gluten-free pizza dough mix and they are good but I wanted to develop a recipe of my own. It took several trials until I found the right gluten-free flours to make a dough that was flavorful and tender. Gluten-free pizza dough is also different in that it’s softer and wetter than gluten-filled dough. You can’t knead it and swing it around. Rather, you place it on a baking sheet and work it into shape with wet fingers.
My Gluten-Free Pizza Crust recipe: Dissolve 1 package dry active yeast in 1 cup warm water and add 1 Tbs. sugar or agave nectar. It should turn white and creamy-looking. In a large bowl, combine ¾ cup brown rice flour, ½ cup amaranth flour, ½ cup potato starch, ½ cup tapioca starch, 2 Tbs. ground flaxseed, 2 Tbs. cornmeal, 2 tsp. xanthan gum, 1 tsp. kosher salt, ½ tsp. dried oregano, ½ tsp. dried basil and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Make a well and add the yeast, 1 ½ Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil and 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar to the well. Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until it is all combined and you have a dough. You don’t have to work the dough very much at all since there is no gluten to develop.
Cover with a dish towel and set aside about 20 minutes. When the time has passed, roll the dough out into your desired shape. Place the dough on an oiled baking sheet and work the dough so it fills the pan. This recipe fits a 10’ x 15’ rectangular baking pan. Brush the dough with some oil and poke a few holes in the dough with a fork.
Bake the pizza dough for about 5 minutes until it just starts to turn brown and gets a little crisp. This will help it hold up to the toppings. Take the pizza out of the oven, add your favorite sauce and toppings. Return to the oven to cook an additional 10 minutes or until the pizza is done to your desired crispiness. For other recipes, try this Socca Pizza, The World’s Healthiest Pizza Crust, Gluten-Free Veggie Pizza and this Healthy Quinoa Pizza Crust for delicious gluten-free pizza bases.
5. Alternative Crusts
Enjoying pizza doesn’t mean you have to make a dough from scratch. As I mentioned, there are several good vegan pre-made pizza dough mixes available. They taste great and they do all the measuring for you. However, when I want pizza at the last minute and don’t want to make dough, I turn to other foundations for my pizza. You can make delicious pizza with loaves of Italian or French bread, bagels, English muffins, tortillas and flatbreads. Anything that lets you layer sauce and toppings on it can become pizza. Try this Breakfast Tortilla Pesto Pizza and this Vegan Lahmajun – Armenian/Turkish Pizza for delicious, alternative ways to make pizza.
But what if you don’t want any type of bread at all? You can still have pizza with crusts made out of vegetables. That’s right. You can make pizza crust out of broccoli or cauliflower. Try this Cauliflower Crust Pizza with Mung Bean Curry and try using the same technique with broccoli.
6. The Sauce
Once your crust is ready, the next step is the sauce. Marinara sauce is the most common sauce for pizza but you can use any type of sauce you like. Check out this tutorial on How to Make Thick Vegan Pizza Sauce. Change up your usual pizza sauce and try something new like this Homemade Spicy Red Wine Tomato Sauce, Vegan Vodka Cream Sauce, Vegan Alfredo Sauce, Spicy Alfredo Sauce, Vegan Bolognese Sauce and Pesto Sauce like this Fresh Summer Pesto Pizza. You could also go totally different and not use an Italian-style sauce at all. Slather your pizza crust with barbecue sauce, enchilada sauce, sweet and sour sauce or salsa verde. My best advice about sauce is to wait and put it after you have baked the crust a while. Otherwise, the sauce can make the crust soggy.
7. Cheesy Toppings
Toppings are what pizza is all about. The most popular pizza toppings in the United States are mozzarella cheese and pepperoni. Other popular pizza toppings are mushrooms, extra cheese, sausage, green pepper and onions while anchovies are the least favorite topping. According to polls, 38% of Americans and more women than men prefer vegetarian toppings to meat. I have to admit that pre-vegan, my favorite toppings were extra cheese, pepperoni and sausage but since becoming vegan, I have discovered so many different types of pizza toppings that I love.
Let’s talk about cheese for a minute. While that used to be my whole reason for wanting pizza at all, I have come to believe that pizza tastes better without it. Without a big blanket of cheese, I can actually taste the sauce and the toppings. But when I do want cheese on my pizza, I can have it. Vegan cheeses have never been better; they even stretch and melt. You can buy many brands of vegan cheese or make your own. Learn How to Make Fresh Vegan Moxarella Cheese or try a different type of vegan cheese. Top your pizza with Pepper Jack Cashew Cheese, Vegan Coconut Gouda, Smoky Pesto Cashew Cheez, Macadamia Nut Spreadable Pepper-Herb Feta, or Baked Spinach with Vegan Ricotta. Satisfy your cravings with this Holy Three Cheese Pizza. You can find even more vegan cheesy pizza ideas in the Food Monster App, a food app available for both Android and iPhone. It has ideas for toppings that you would never think you could make at home, like cashew mozzarella that stretches just like the real thing — trust me, anyone could make it.
8. Veggies and Meatless Meaty Toppings
Other toppings can include any plant-based food you can think of. My favorite toppings for pizza are Portobello mushrooms, caramelized onions and Kalamata olives. I also love topping pizza with fresh spinach or arugula and artichoke hearts or thin slices of sweet potato with thinly sliced onions. This Whole Wheat Pizza with Caramelized Onions, Figs and Arugula sounds amazing. So do these: Artichoke and Olive Pizza, Kale and Artichoke Pizza, Vegan Caesar Salad Pizza, White Zucchini Pizza, Caramelized Onion Tart with Olives, Asparagus Potato Pizza with Kale Pesto and Olive Tart with Greens and Cashew Cream. Proof that you can top your pizza with whatever you like lies in this awesome Green Bean Casserole Pizza and this Thai Pizza.
When I want a “meatier” pizza, I top it with chunks of my Gluten-Free Spicy Italian Vegan Sausage. Top your pizza with tofu, tempeh, seitan, vegan meatballs or vegan bacon. Try this Grilled Cheesy “Mac and Rib” Pizza, Sweet Potato Tofu Pizza, Eggplant, Pesto and Mushroom Pizza with Tofu,
The key to baking a great pizza is to have an extremely hot oven. That’s how you get a crispy crust with a tender interior. Bake your pizza as hot as your oven can go, about 550 degrees. I like to bake the crust for about 5 minutes before adding any sauce or toppings. That prevents the crust from getting soggy and weighed down. Once the crust starts to brown, take it out of the oven and add your sauce and toppings. Then bake the pizza for another 10 to 12 minutes, depending on the thickness of the crust, the number of toppings and how browned you like it. Some toppings, like fresh arugula, are best added after the pizza comes out of the oven.
10. Raw Pizza
People eating a raw plant-based diet don’t have to miss out on any of the celebration. Raw pizza is not only easy to make but it’s healthy, fresh and scrumptious. Make this Raw Vegan Pizza with Red Pepper Flax Crust, Raw Vegan Pizza with Spinach, Pesto and Marinated Vegetables and the Ultimate Raw Vegan Pizza.
Of course, if you would rather not cook anything, you can still enjoy store-bought pizza. Check out How to Order a Vegan Pizza from Any Store for tips.
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Lead image source: Tempeh Bacon Kale Pizza