When I was eight years old, my parents went out of town for a week and every day my sisters would drop me off at my friend Joselle’s house to wait for the bus. On the first day, her mom had the broiler on and the oven door cracked (why do moms still insist this is the way to broil?). A couple of Thomas’s English muffins lay split on a cookie sheet, next to an open jar of tomato sauce. Joselle’s mom offered me a “pizza muffin.” I had already eaten cereal at home but I could not refuse. I had to see what this was.
What came to the table that morning was an untoasted English muffin half topped with a spoonful of crimson sauce and Tang-colored melted cheddar. It had barely been under the broiler long enough to melt the cheese. Even then, knowing nothing more than how to pour myself a bowl of cereal, I knew it could use improving. But the idea was revelatory: I could eat pizza for breakfast.
I had heard about people who ate slices of cold pizza for breakfast but this seemed to mostly be sad TV detectives recovering from the previous night’s bender. I preferred to reheat slices under the broiler (door cracked) for lunch or an after school snack. But this English muffin business seemed like a gateway to something really special.
Twenty-eight years of general interest pizza research later I’ve developed a few key tenets for a.m. pie. Keeping them in mind, you can transform a humble weekday “pizza muffin” into something worthy of a lazy Sunday.
Have you ever looked at the thermostat on a pizzeria oven? It’s like 900°F in there. Not possible in a home oven but for the best breakfast (or dinner) pizza you want to get your oven as hot as you can. That means preheat it almost as hot as it will go without broiling. If you have a pizza stone, place it in the oven and preheat the oven as high as you can—I find this is usually 550°F. If you don’t have a stone, use your thickest cookie sheet and reduce the heat slightly to about 475°F. A pizza stone conducts and maintains heat evenly, kind of like a cast-iron pan, but baking sheets vary so much in material and thickness they don’t usually give you consistent heat. This requires some deep knowledge of your oven but this is the sort of kitchen intimacy that makes good cooks great.
Sure, you can make your own pizza dough but the best versions take a couple of days to prepare, and they benefit from at least one night’s fermentation. For anything you plan to make and eat before noon, use your favorite prepared dough. I’ve heard people say they can buy balls of dough from their “local pizza shop” but I’ve never been brave enough to ask. These days, most supermarkets carry pretty good prepared dough—but NOT the frozen kind in the can. Look for dough in bags near the specialty cheeses. Eight ounces should satisfy four to six reasonable appetites.
Roll or stretch the dough on a lightly floured surface: Push and pull for a puffier pizza or roll it out for a thinner crust. Once rolled, drizzle the dough with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
If dealing with dough first thing in the morning seems too tall an order, don’t worry. Other good base options include prepared naan, a sturdy pocketless pita, a burrito-sized flour tortilla or, of course, a good old Thomas’s. For any of the non-pizza dough options, throw them on a hot sheet pan before adding toppings to prevent soggy bottoms.
The Sauce (Or Not)
I say no sauce. I have a friend who believes it’s only a pizza if there’s sauce and cheese, in which case we can call this a breakfast flatbread. My feeling is that tomato sauce takes this from a.m. pizza to p.m. pizza and I try not to ponder those sorts of existential questions too early in the morning. If there absolutely must be tomato, chop or slice a fresh one, season it with salt and drop it on top as a final flourish.
Egg-and-cheese sandwiches are good. Bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches are great. Same thing applies to breakfast pizza. Bacon and/or maple sausage are obvious and strong choices, but you could also use crumbled fresh chorizo or scrapple. Look for breakfast sausage fresh or in bulk instead of links, since they’ll render more delicious drippings in which to cook your eggs.
Some breakfast pizzas come adorned with a wide-eyed sunny-side egg or two cracked on top. I love this look. What I don’t love is how the egg white never really sets. In order to properly cook the white you’d have to cook the pizza too long, hardening the yolk in the process. And what’s the point of a sunny-side-up egg if there’s no runny yolk? For the best results, you want to top your pizza with a super soft, runny scramble. Cook the egg just long enough that you can safely transfer it to your prepared base—about half cooked. Use a spatula to transfer the egg onto the dough and spread almost to the edge.
I know it’s a pizza but I find mozzarella a bit too mild alongside savory breakfast meats. Choose something a little more assertive. Shredded white cheddar is a great place to start—extra sharp if you can get it—but other similarly salty cheeses work too: feta, gruyère, even an aged provolone. If you ask me, a breakfast pizza is just an open-faced B.E.C. in which case you may be so bold to drape a few slices of American cheese over the top.
There are few breakfast pizza rules—there must be egg, cheese, and ideally a breakfast meat—and once you’ve covered those bases you can top as you please. I add some golden, crispy sliced potato to mine for texture and body. Like hot sauce? Salsa? Avocado? Go for it. How about a handful of sliced jalapeños or thinly sliced red onion? A shower of freshly grated Parmesan or pinch of peperoncino bridges the gap between morning and afternoon or nighttime pie and, if you must, you can always serve some sauce on the side.
It’s your morning, it’s your pizza. Do with it what you like.
All purpose flour, for work surface
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for dough
8 ounces prepared pizza dough, 2 pocketless pita, 2 naan, or 4 English muffins, split
8 ounces breakfast sausage
1 small thinly sliced russet potato, optional
Freshly ground pepper
4 large eggs, beaten
4 ounces sharp white cheddar, grated
1 jalapeño, thinly sliced, or hot sauce, optional
How to Make It
Preheat oven between to 475° and 550°F with rack in the lower third. Place a pizza stone or baking sheet on the rack.
On a lightly floured surface, roll (or push and pull) dough to a 16-inch oval, about 12 inches wide, or as close to a circle as you can make it. If the dough springs back, let it rest 5 minutes and try again. Transfer to a piece of parchment paper, drizzle with oil, and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Remove sausage from casing and add to skillet. Cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon, until browned and nearly cooked through, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate using a slotted spoon.
Add potatoes to skillet, season with salt and pepper, and cook, turning occasionally, until golden and tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer to plate with sausage.
Reduce heat to medium-low. Season eggs with salt and pepper and add to skillet, stirring vigorously until about half of the eggs are set. Remove from heat and immediately transfer to prepared dough, spreading almost to the edge. Top with half of the cheddar, potatoes, sausage, then remaining cheddar.
Carefully remove hot stone or baking sheet from the oven and place pizza and parchment on top. Return to oven and bake until dough is golden and risen, and cheese is melted and bubbly (be sure to peek underneath to check that the bottom of the pizza is golden, too). Top pizza with jalapeño or hot sauce if using.