Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Pizza - the cheapest meal in town

Most college students will have quite a few slices of pizza during their 4 years in the dorms or wherever they live. In one recent episode of the TV show, Nightline, pizza was shown to be in higher demand during recessions because it's such a cheap meal. So, it's no surprise that pizza is such a popular meal for poor college students. Unlike the rest of the population, there are fewer fluctuations in demand. This is why I thought that a post on pizza would be appropriate for this blog.

In my previous post on making pizza in the humble toaster oven, I didn't really get into the ingredients themselves. The point was to show you that the toaster oven can do things you might not expect were possible. This post is about the ingredients. At this point, you might be wondering why you should even consider making your own pizza? Getting a pizza delivered usually costs around $10. Depending on what you put on your pizza, you can make it at home for much less and with not much time or energy. The trick is to make a lot of dough at one time and then store it in the freezer. Defrost a portion in the fridge over night when you think you'll have pizza.

Get some Pizza Dough
Making the dough is what takes the most time. If you really don't want to make your own dough, you can usually buy the dough for very little money. Most supermarkets and Trader Joe's sell balls of dough for about $1 to $2 each. If you're willing to spend $2.50 (plus tax) for a ball of really tasty dough, try the balls of dough from Oggi Gourmet at Harvard Square. They're located in the Holyoke Center (by Au Bon Pain) and don't really advertise that they sell dough, but they do. Just ask for "a ball of dough". I try to get some every time I'm in the area. It's actually better than the stuff you get from supermarkets and worth the extra couple of bucks. It's still cheaper than ordering pizza! Most balls of dough from any place are enough for two medium to large thin crust pizzas.

For those of you who are willing to get your hands dirty and try making your own dough, a bread machine will save you a lot of time and effort. All you have to do with one of those is put the ingredients in the pan, choose the mixing function (so it mixes the dough but doesn't bake it), and start it. In about 1.5 hours, you have a ball of pizza dough! Go to any thrift store and there will probably be a bread machine selling for about $10 or less. As an added benefit, you can bake your own funny-looking bread in it too. Actually, it's better to mix the dough in the machine, take it out, put it in a baking pan, let it rise for an hour or more, and then bake it in the oven. That's just my opinion though - do whatever you have time to do.

The basic ingredients for dough are flour, sugar, yeast, salt, and water. Flour will be about $2 to $4 a bag and sugar is quite inexpensive at CVS. If you plan to make your own pizza and bread for an extended period of time, you can get 2 lb bags of yeast for less than $10 at BMS Paper Company or at haymarket in the middle-eastern store. Even though you don't need a lot of yeast for each batch, the stuff you get at the supermarket is not cheap. Try to find some friends who might want some yeast and divide that 2 lb bag. It freezes quite well. I've had the same bag in the freezer for over 2 years and it still works. Just take out a few ounces at a time and put it in a clean jar to store in the fridge.

Roll out the dough
If you sprinkle some flour on your pizza pan before rolling out the dough on it, you'll have an easier time cleaning up afterwards. Now, when I say, "rolling out," I don't really mean that you need a rolling pin to flatten it. All you really need to do is to press down on the dough on the pizza pan a little bit at a time and eventually, it will stretch out enough. If it doesn't seem to stretch out enough, let it sit for a while and then try stretching it again. When the dough gets to the edge of the pan, throw the toppings on and put it in the oven.

Throw the toppings on!
The toppings are relatively easy to prepare. Grate the cheese and chop up everything else. At haymarket, you can get a chunk of cheese (around 6 to 8 oz, depending on the type of cheese) for $3, 2 chunks for $5, or 3 for $7. If they have cheddar, muenster or mozzarella, that's going to be about 8 oz. You shouldn't need more than half a chunk for a small pizza. For sauce, buy the pasta sauce that goes on sale every now and then (usually 3 jars for $5). Go easy on the sauce though because too much sauce will make dough soggy. The thinner the dough, the lighter the toppings need to be. Otherwise, you won't be able to pick up the pizza and have it stay in one piece.

If all of these instructions are a little overwhelming, here's a video by Sousoukitchen to show you (in English and in French) how to make the dough using a food processor to mix the ingredients to get the dough together and the rest of the process step by step.

Average cost of a homemade pizza:
Let's say you make 6 pizzas with one bag of flour ($4 a bag), which comes to 67 cents a pizza. Two lbs of sugar at CVS is only $3 when it's on sale. There are 9 cups in one of those yellow Domino round containers. Let's say you use 2 Tbsp per pizza, which means it will be less than 10 cents a pizza. The yeast should also be less than 10 cents a pizza. For salt, if you seriously don't have any, go to your school cafeteria and take a couple of salt packets. Water is free. So, the dough should cost about  87 cents to make. The cheese is the most expensive part. If you use half a chunk of cheese, that's about $1.50 or less, assuming that you bought only one chunk of cheese at haymarket. The amount of sauce you use will be very little, so let's say that's about 17 cents (10% of the Ragu jar from CVS, on sale for 3 jars/$5). Tally it up and each cheese pizza costs only $2.54. Any toppings you add will be extra but probably won't add up to anywhere near $10. Now you know why Domino's makes so much money.

Save even more by using the toaster oven (to save electricity)
If you have a large toaster oven, you can bake a pretty big pizza and use less electricity that you would with your regular oven. If you have a smaller toaster oven, it's possible to make small pizzas that feed one person. Two personal pizzas can probably fit in a small toaster oven. It should take about 20-25 minutes at 400 F to fully bake the pizzas. Larger pizzas will take a few more minutes. However, each oven is different, depending on size and accuracy of temperature. Watch the cooking process closely at first to make sure you don't burn it.


  1. I have enjoyed reading your articles. It is well written. It looks like you spend a large amount of time and effort in writing the blog. I am appreciating your effort. .

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  2. Thanks for your support, suriya! I don't have as much time to write full articles like this one during the school year but will try to get some more articles with videos and pictures done during the winter break.