SEATTLE — Mention French bread pizza, and people have feelings. The reason is right there on the Stouffer’s French Bread Pizza box, below the cozy logo of the name inside the outline of a pot: “Celebrating 40 Years,” it says in a cursive flourish, and, elsewhere, “Back to the Taste You Love,” with “Love” inside the shape of a heart. (Somewhat unnervingly, the box also feels the need to specify, “Made with 100% real cheese” and that the pepperoni contains “pork, chicken & beef.” Chicken seems weird for pepperoni-making, but then chicken is cheap, and so is Stouffer’s French Bread Pizza — a box of two for $3.99.)
French bread pizza is a classic American come-home-from-school-and-eat-it-in-front-of-the-TV snack — Stouffer’s if you were lucky, but also easy enough for you to make yourself (sometimes, sigh, substituting English muffins). Hot gooeyness atop a pleasingly shaped, light-and-crispy bread-torpedo — many happy latchkey moments were made of this; just add a glass of cold milk and some reruns.
Even Seattle’s best pizza professionals — masters of cold-fermented, hand-tossed, beautifully browned-and-bubbled actual pizza crust — profess love of French bread pizza. When I messaged Tom Siegel of The Independent Pizzeria, he sent back a laughing-until-crying cat emoji and said, “I grew up on what I thought were delicious at the time: Stouffer’s French bread pizzas! I think I remember loving the pepperoni.”
Brandon Pettit of Delancey and Dino’s grew up eating a New Jersey version that a friend’s mom made: “a can of tomatoes blended up with a couple heads of garlic and olive oil spread on French bread then topped with tons of parm” — not the classic, but sounds extremely solid.
Marie Rutherford — the poetess pizzaiola of erstwhile Moon Pizza (her Instagram captions achieve lyrical apex) — waxed reminiscent about “all things memory-inducing … comforting, familiar, homey, snug … buildings of bread, sauce, cheese.”
Rutherford also went to the French-bread-pizza pop-up put on recently by the combo of Ben’s Bread (coming to Phinney Ridge this fall) and Post Alley Pizza (in, yes, Post Alley for a long time now), hosted on a warm and breezy summer evening at The London Plane. She was by no means alone — only a few minutes after the party started, a line of 25 sense-memory supplicants stretched down the sidewalk (and that’s not counting babies). Rutherford loved the French bread pizza she got there: “crunchy, soft … warm, it smelled so good and it was [expletive] delicious. I could have eaten a few more.”
The good news is that nobody has to wait for another one-night-only event (or until somebody opens a French bread pizzeria?), and we definitely don’t have to resort to Stouffer’s (I’m afraid to try the one in my freezer, as there’s just no possible way it can live up to its nostalgia quotient). A huge part of the appeal of French bread pizza is that it’s so easy and fast, any impatient latchkey kid or stoned grown-up can make their own. And with just a little extra care, this recipe for French bread pizza will live up to — or even best — any TV-watching childhood memories.
AS GOOD AS YOU REMEMBER FRENCH BREAD PIZZA (AKA F.B.P.)
The method of buttering and toasting the bread to crisp it a bit before saucing/topping is pretty much ubiquitous on the internet, but rather than bothering to melt the butter and brush it on, you can just spread it gently if it’s at room temperature. The amounts here have been left open-ended — if you make extra to freeze (see note), your future binge-watching self will thank you very much.
— Bethany Jean Clement
French bread (fancy or cheap, up to you, but lighter/airier is better)
Butter (room temperature)
Kosher salt and fresh-ground pepper
Pizza sauce (extra credit if you make your own — see recipe)
Pizza toppings of your choice (pepperoni is the Stouffer’s classic)
Shredded whole-milk mozzarella (plus a little fresh mozzarella and/or cheddar if you like)
Grated Parmesan (Reggiano or other good quality)
1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees with the rack in the middle to upper-middle part.
2. Split your bread lengthwise with a good serrated knife, place on a baking sheet cut-side up, spread with butter, and sprinkle lightly with kosher salt and fresh-ground pepper.
3. Bake about 8 minutes, until the top of the buttered bread has a little crispness to it. Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes.
4. OK, you know how to do this! Assemble your F.B.P.s with sauce, one layer of toppings thin enough to absorb cheese-heat and plenty of cheese. (Things to keep in mind: You don’t want to ensoggen [technical term] your bread with sauce, but you do want a nice saucy amount — trust your instinct, and you will find your happy sauce-path. Some say to lay a few toppings down before the sauce for protection of bread-integrity, but that seems like overkill to me, as does, I would like to acknowledge, this entire parenthetical section — onward!)
5. Bake for another 8-10 minutes or until cheese is melty and bubbling. Then, for more molten cheese/blackened bread-edges, throw on the broiler for a minute or three. (But monitor carefully to prevent wholesale burning!)
6. Park yourself in front of TV and enjoy.
Note: To freeze French bread pizzas for later: Stick unbaked F.B.P.s in the freezer for a couple of hours until completely frozen. Put them in Tupperware/reused plastic takeout containers, then back into the freezer they go. To bake from frozen, preheat oven to 400 degrees, put F.B.P.(s) on a baking sheet, and bake for about 15 minutes until cheese is melty and bubbling; then, for more molten cheese/blackened bread-edges, follow the same process as noted above.
PRETTY QUICK PIZZA SAUCE
Don’t be afraid of the sugar. Stouffer’s sure isn’t — it is their sauce’s third ingredient, just after water and tomato paste.
— Bethany Jean Clement
1 28-ounce can of whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon red wine or sherry vinegar
A few fresh bay leaves or 1 dry leaf
1. Stir all of it together in a medium saucepan and bring to a bubble over medium-high heat. Turn heat down to medium, rough-chop the tomatoes with your spoon, then reduce until sauce is somewhat thickened, about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. Fish out bay leaves, then blend sauce with a hand blender or in a regular blender until pizza-sauce smoothness is attained.
3. Add more sugar and/or vinegar to taste; it might need up to a teaspoon more sugar for a slight sweetness and up to a tablespoon of vinegar for brightening, depending on the flavor of your canned tomatoes. Let cool a bit before using; store extra in a jar in fridge and use within about a week (make more F.B.P.s with it!).