It’s the perfect date night in.
Ultimate Cheese Pizza
Credit: Alison Miksch; Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas

I have a new bae in my life and making pizza is our favorite activity to do together. It’s a perfect meal that incorporates our individual preferences, and the relatively quick process won’t have us lingering in the kitchen for hours on end.

We never create the same pizza twice. He has his way of doing the things, and I have my way. I make my dough and pizza sauce from scratch, while he creates shortcuts with store-bought items. Both ways work, however when I’m in charge of the pizza, we go my way. When he is in charge of the pizza, we go his way. Cooperation is key when you are making pizza with others. Therefore, the next time you’re planning a fun afternoon indoors with family and friends, consider these few tips for making a homemade pizza together.

The Dough

I enjoy making the dough from scratch because I like the yeasty smell that it creates in the air. Pizza dough is reasonably straightforward to make—it’s merely yeast, all-purpose flour, water and a pinch of sugar. Most pizza dough recipes will likely call for dry-active yeast; therefore, remember to “activate” the yeast in warm water around 100° to 110°F, along with a teaspoon of sugar for it to feed on. Be sure to give yourself an ample amount of time to mix the dough, and allow it to proof before you are ready to build your pizza.

Pressed for time? Not interested in playing around with flour? Don’t worry–most grocery stores that have a bakery will have pre-made dough available for purchase. You can also grab a can of pizza refrigerated dough.

Whichever dough that you go with, just don’t forget this pivotal next step—always “score” or “dock” your pizza dough once you have rolled it out. You can use a fork to poke holes across the surface of your dough. This will prevent your pizza from developing air bubbles as it bakes.

The Sauce

I also like to make the sauce from scratch because it is insanely easy (and cheap). I empty 2 (6-ounce) cans of tomato paste in a medium saucepan and stir in 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon dried basil, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, 2 cups of water, as well as salt and pepper to taste. I stir and simmer the sauce on low for about 10-12 minutes. For an added touch of flavor, you can add more seasonings such as crushed red chili flakes, dried onions, fresh basil, or coriander.

Again, bae is not as extra as me, so he will pick up a jar of pizza sauce at the grocery store, and that’s cool too. You also don’t have to stick to tomato sauce. Pesto, Alfredo and barbecue sauces are all great contenders.

The Cheese

Head straight to the dairy aisle to pick up a bag of pre-shredded mozzarella cheese, or you can buy a ball of fresh mozzarella cheese and slice it up yourself. For an added bit of brininess, sprinkle a handful of feta cheese or Parmesan cheese over your pizza. Goat cheese would be a great option for a touch of creaminess.

This is the point in the process where bae skips everything that I have done up to now and get a very large cheese pizza from the grocery store to further customize it at home with his toppings of choice.

The Toppings

Toppings can divide couples and family members. Therefore, plan to shop for the toppings that everyone will like on one pizza together in harmony. Vegetables are always a delight, but they can weigh down a pizza and make it soggy. Instead, give them a quick saute on the stove with a hint of oil. This will par-cook them while also drawing out excess moisture. This technique would be best for mushrooms, peppers, asparagus, onions, artichokes, and/or eggplant. I would even go a step further and remove the seeds and inner flesh of a tomato before adding it to my pizza.

I am not a fan of anchovies, so I will never tell you to add it to your pizza. However, I know people love to add the salty fish, so live your best anchovy life if that’s what speaks to you. However, I will insist that you add crispy bacon, shredded chicken, pulled pork, sausage, and/or pepperoni slices. And honestly, I don’t mind a few pineapple chunks in the mix.

Build It

Now that we’ve covered all the major components of the pizza, the final (and most fun) step is to build the pizza. If you think making pizza at home will become a family tradition, I would recommend investing in a pizza stone. A pizza stone preheats in the oven and absorbs moisture from the pizza crust as it bakes to create a crispy crust (I don’t have a pizza stone, but I think it’s time for me to get one now). I tend to reach for my rimmed baking sheet, which usually results in a rectangular pizza with lots of crust. Whatever baking surface that you build the pizza, make sure to coat the bottom of the pan or pizza stone with a sprinkle of ground cornmeal to prevent the dough from sticking.

Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough to your desired thickness and spread about ¾ cup to 1 cup of sauce, followed by about 1 1/2 cups of cheese. Lastly, finish off the pizza with your favorite toppings. Brush the outer crust with olive oil (and Trader Joe’s Everything But the Bagel Seasoning for bonus points). Bake your pizza at 450°F until the crust is golden brown and all the toppings are cooked through (about 20 minutes), and enjoy your homemade pizza while watching Netflix with bae.