Build-Your-Own-Pizza Bar

It’s Friday, and in our house that means one thing; there doggone well better be pizza served tonight!


I grew up in a family that had homemade pizza on (most) Friday nights, and I’ve carried the torch – and the recipe- into my own family unit. For a long time, our little guys only wanted plain cheese pizza. Boring! We tried to coax them into trying different toppings to no avail. And then one day, it happened. They became
– no, not men, –
but bigger boys – with more adventuresome palates!
Now they are having fun exploring the many flavors that pizza can be. When they started trying different toppings, of course, they didn’t both want to try the same toppings – Oh no, that would be far too easy. But no cooking conundrum is too convoluted for a “creative-cook” Mama like me! (OK, went a little bonkers on the alliteration, I admit).

Side note and disclaimer: By “creative cook,” I mean that I quite often do not follow recipes. I will decide to make, say, Chicken Piccatta, I’ll Google four or five recipes to get the “essence” of it, and then wing it. No measuring cups or spoons. People say they like my cooking, and they say they’re surprised I do it so fast. But I usually reply that “fast” doesn’t mean “right,” and I’m always in such a dang hurry what with the baby waking up from a nap, someone at my elbow asking for a cup of chocolate milk and the dog – unattended for the past three minutes – likely polishing off a dirty diaper she found in the trash. But I digress… The exception to my “creative” cooking is in baking. I’m very insecure about breads, so I read the recipe for pizza dough every single week. Every single week for like ten years! That’s (52×10) 520 times! I should definitely have it memorized by now. But I’m kind of OCD too, I guess. I actually read it about five times while making it each week. Ugh!

Oh I bet you’re waiting for the recipe! Sorry about that:

pizza dough recipe

What’s that? You say it’s looking a bit well-worn and hard to read? You’re right. Give me a minute and I’ll call my mom, have her send over another copy, written in her handwriting, as it must be, or it simply won’t be right!

pizza dough recipe 2
(please see bottom of post for recipe if image is not clear)

Ahhh, that’s better! And it has the sauce recipe as well. Yes, I do keep it on my fridge (otherwise I’d lose it and have to call Mom for another copy. heh heh!) The Disneyland magnet is completely appropriate, too, because there’s only one thing more fun in our household than pizza night…

So, how does this become a “pizza bar” post rather than merely a “pizza recipe” post? Easy! I cut the risen dough into four pieces, rather than two. I cut up/prepare as many toppings as I can imagine or get my hands on, and present them in small bowls to each person assembling their pizza. Each child takes his turn rolling out his dough, adding the sauce and toppings, and in the oven it goes! They are the perfect size for personal pizzas – just about the size of a dinner plate. Here’s an example, pre-cooked:


Our five-year-old loves to make faces with his toppings; the seven-year-old doesn’t. We had the cousins over a couple of weeks ago and I doubled the recipe. They had a blast making their own pizzas for the first time, and branched out the creativity to thick crust vs. thin crust varieties by the thickness to which they rolled the dough.

It’s a lot of fun and sparks creativity! We even used the pizza bar method to make appetizer pizzas for all the adults over for Thanksgiving weekend last year on the night they flew in. The kids made their own pizzas as usual, and I made a variety of options for the jet-lagged adults. Easy, fun, variety.

A couple of notes on the recipe: Mom has recently been using “crushed” tomatoes instead of the whole tomatoes + paste formula in the sauce. I agree with her that the consistency is much better and tastier. And of course, being a “creative” cook, I don’t usually follow the sauce recipe anyway. I find it very forgiving. I just dump in a bunch of Italian seasoning, some fresh garlic or garlic powder or both, salt, I sometimes sneak in a bit of olive oil (because I remember my parents spreading olive oil on the dough before sauce when we were kids – yet that’s not in the recipe). Speaking of forgiving, the dough recipe actually is very forgiving as well. As I mentioned, I’m insecure about my baking, but this dough has *always* risen beautifully and quickly for me. It tastes great, and I’ve substituted half whole wheat flour or even 100% whole wheat flour for healthier variations. The 100% whole wheat flour is heavier, of course, so I like to cut it with white flour. Here are some of the toppings we’ve used, and I know there are so many more!

ground beef
Canadian bacon
grilled chicken
black olives
fresh basil
red onions
green onions
bell peppers
gourmet cheeses

This is a great way to get the kids in the kitchen, and they absolutely love it! It’s easy for the chef, easy for the kids, and really a great way to explore being a food artist!

Below is Mom’s recipe with my side-notes included: Enjoy!!!

Pizza Dough
preheat oven to 425 or 450

1 cup warm water
1pkg yeast
Let stand 5 min. Stir.
Add: 1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. oil
Beat well. Add:
1 1/2 cups flour
Beat until smooth. Add about 1 1/2 cups more flour
Knead until smooth & elastic (or rely on your Kitchen Aid dough hook to do this!:)
Let rise (I usually set it near the preheating oven as warmer locations let it rise faster/better), then roll out and place on greased pizza pan or pizza peel sprinkled with corn meal or parchment paper (my method) slid onto heated pizza stone. Bake for about 10 minutes.


8 Comments Add yours

  1. Jo Ellen Covell says:

    Your blog is fantastic! Your writing is excellent. I loved your sharing of our tradition and how you’ve expanded it into a family event. I love it!

    1. amykucharski says:

      Thank you, Mom! It has just naturally expanded as we have guests. Pizza is such a festive meal!

  2. Marlene Groff says:

    Your blog was so well written and so interesting! I just love your Mom and so I’m not surprised that she started this tradition in your family and I think it’s so special that you’ve carried it on. I have a very similar recipe that one of my daughters brought home from school many years ago; her school teacher had the kids make pizza in school and then she gave each the recipe! So, I looked at it and it’s the same except it calls for 1 Tbsp. sugar, 1/2 teasp. salt and 2 Tbsp “shortening”. The flour am’t is the same and the way it’s mixed up is the same. I like the idea of the oil much better, because it would be easier to mix. I just love the fact that this was on Fri. nights….very fun!! Thanks for sharing.

    1. amykucharski says:

      Marlene, Thank you so much for you comment! I feel so incredibly blessed having my mom for a mother. She taught us so much growing up, cooked all our meals and even made our sandwich bread! I love reading about the recipe your daughter brought home. I was in a home economics class in 8th Grade and still remember what I learned there. I wish they still had those classes! Thanks again for reading my blog, I’m so glad you enjoyed it! 🙂

  3. Teri Dudley says:

    I’ve just started reading your blog Amy. What a great way to share your ideas, thoughts, talent with others! Thanks for letting us enjoy!

    1. amykucharski says:

      Teri, I’m so excited to reconnect with you in this way, and so honored that you are reading and enjoying my blog! It’s an outlet I am truly enjoying.

  4. jsspires says:

    The kids and I will never ever forget how fun it was to make our own pizza with ya’ll. It has this way of bonding everyone involved. Sweet memory….thanks Amy… (and Mom). 🙂

    1. amykucharski says:

      It was such a great time, you’re right Jen! Awesome memories!!

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