I have two words for you:
Two of my favorite things smashed together to create a whole new level of taste-bud nirvana. If you know me, you know I’m always chasing a sweet and savory bite, and this baby delivers.
Okay, maybe dessert pizza is not so revolutionary. But I first stumbled upon the idea when I had a few friends over for one particularly memorable childhood birthday party. My mom had set up a DIY pizza station, to be followed by a decked out sundae bar with every color of jimmies and all the sweet toppings you could imagine. I had never had so much freedom in my life.
So without anyone to tell me what to do (or what not to do), of course I went a little crazy. I grabbed a blob of pre-made supermarket dough, played with it for a little too long, then covered it with tomato sauce and shredded cheese. And then, inexplicably, I threw on bits of hot dog and a handful of Nestle chocolate chips from the sundae station.
My mind works in mysterious ways.
When my mom pulled my creation out of the oven, the cheese all bubbly and the chocolate melting into puddles atop thick slices of hot dog, I was so eager to find out if it tasted as good as it smelled. My friends refused to try a slice because they were all of sound mind, but I cut myself a nice wide piece, folded it in half Brooklyn-style, and went at it.
That first taste marked a turning point in the way I thought about food. The mouthwateringly salty sausage alongside the surprise of sweet milk chocolate and the tang of cheese left me giddy with delight. It actually tasted good. Really good. And it was amplified by the immense satisfaction I suddenly felt for creating something delicious with my own two hands. It was all the more exciting because in my young mind, that was the craziest combination of food anyone had ever tried. I felt like a mad genius.
While my friends didn’t take too kindly to my hot dog and chocolate pizza, they did get inspired to make sweet pizzas for dessert using all the sundae ingredients. Nutella was the ingredient of choice, for obvious reasons. One friend dumped gummy bears all over a Nutella pizza and baked it until it was just a puddle of multicolored sweet goo. (Unlike my hot dog creation, the goo pizza was about as appetizing as it sounds.)
We were letting ourselves play and have fun with weird combinations of ingredients in a way I’m sure most of us hadn’t had the chance to do. Adults had always said we shouldn’t play with our food, and now that those rules were suspended in the name of a birthday celebration, all bets were off. For those few hours, we were experiencing a world of limitless possibilities.
My love of experimenting with food began then, along with my love of sweet and savory flavors sharing the same space in my mouth. And of course, that was the first time I had ever considered that dessert pizza could be a thing.
This particular flatbread is made with a whole wheat dough, because it adds a hearty sweetness that balances everything out just right. I got the recipe for the dough from my boyfriend, because even I have to admit that he’s something of a bread whisperer. The dough can also be used in savory pizza recipes, but cooking it in butter as I do here yields a slightly softer crust, while still allowing it to be thin and crispy enough to hold up all the toppings. It’s as close to perfection as anything can get.
I don’t need to tell you how I feel about chocolate and cheese together (which is even better when the chocolate in question is a chocolate hazelnut spread, believe it or not), and we all know strawberries and basil are the best of friends.
So while I may have moved away from throwing overly processed meats and too-sweet chocolate on my pizza (thankfully), I have certainly not lost my love of experimentation in the kitchen. And as long as I have that, I am free.
Chocolate Hazelnut Strawberry Ricotta Flatbread
By L., adapted from Charcoal Guido’s
Makes 2 small pizzas, serves 6-8
1/2 teaspoon yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 cup bread flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup chocolate hazelnut spread (see my homemade version here)
1 cup or 8 large strawberries, quartered
2 basil leaves, cut into ribbons or small pieces
pinch of salt
Combine the yeast and water in a medium bowl. Separately combine the flours and salt, then add this to the yeasty water and use a spoon to stir it until you have something resembling a ball of dough. Use your hands to continue kneading it in the bowl. If it sticks to your hands, wet your hands and continue kneading. Try to avoid adding any extra flour to the dough.
When the dough is smooth and somewhat elastic, let it rest in its bowl covered with a towel for an hour or two. It won’t double in size, but it will get slightly puffy.
Flip the dough onto a floured work surface and divide it into two even pieces. Take each piece and use a rolling pin to roll it into a flat circle (using a rolling pin makes it easier to achieve a consistent thickness). Roll from the center outwards in all directions, rather than rolling back and forth and overworking the dough.
When your dough is less than a centimeter thick and roughly 10” in diameter, prepare your toppings.
In a cast iron skillet* on medium high heat, melt 1/2 tablespoon of the butter. When the butter is sizzling, gently transfer the rolled dough into it. Cook for a few minutes, until it becomes somewhat dry and stiff and the bottom is a dark golden brown. Using tongs or a spatula, flip the dough to cook the other side, and start to add your toppings. Spoon on a scant 1/4 cup of ricotta cheese and then drizzle on 1/4 cup of the chocolate hazelnut spread. Top with half of the quartered strawberries and basil, then sprinkle on a smidgeon of salt.
By the time you’ve added the toppings, the pizza should be cooked through. Peak underneath to make sure it’s browned and crispy. Transfer the pizza to a cooling rack for a few minutes, then cut it into slices. It’s best when served still slightly warm.
*If you don’t wish to cook it on the stovetop, you can bake it in the oven, but it will be sans butter. Par-bake the dough at 450F on a preheated pizza stone or baking sheet until almost completely done before adding the toppings, then continue baking for just a few minutes longer.