Pizza is often a top seller, but some directors are upping the pepperoni ante by sweetening their pies for a fun twist on dessert. Ferris State University, in Big Rapids, Mich., offers three flavors of dessert pizzas: apple, cherry and s’mores.
“A lot of students have never tried dessert pizzas before, so when they see it, it’s something new and exciting,” says Bryan Marquardt, associate director of dining services. “Look at what desserts do well already and adapt those flavors into a dessert pizza.”
Tom Stewart, director of dining at the Florida Institute of Technology, in Melbourne, took a similar approach and created five dessert pizzas in flavors like Butterfinger and Twix Cheesecake and Cherry N’ Chocolate Cheesecake.
“Don’t be afraid to try new things, no matter how silly or off-the-wall it may seem,” says Stewart, who cross-utilizes ingredients already on hand. “If it tastes good on its own, it usually tastes even better on a pizza.”
The secret to pie success: the perfect crust. Marquardt uses an extra-thin version. “We tried a puff pastry and a parbaked crust, but the extra thin works best because it doesn’t give you all that filler,” says Marquardt, who encourages using a wood stone pizza oven. “It bakes at a very high temperature and very quickly—only three minutes.”
The crust doesn’t have to be traditional. Ben Guggenmos, district chef for Hills-borough County Public Schools, in Florida, uses whole-wheat English muffins. Guggenmos also swaps out pizza sauce in favor of a low-fat strawberry cream cheese. Each pie is topped with fresh fruit.
At St. John’s University, in New York, large sugar cookies act as a crust. Students made their own dessert pizzas by decorating the cookies with frosting, fruit and chocolate chips at the college’s weekly Live, Love, Learn series.
“[Students loved how] each dessert pizza was individual to the person who made it,” says Alysha Velez, graduate assistant for student engagement.
Guggenmos, who created dessert pizzas to teach kids about healthy snacking, also found student engagement was a key to his dessert pizza success. Of the 250 schools in his district, the dessert pizzas were most successful at the five elementary schools were he demoed them. “The demos created a lot of buzz as the kids were intrigued and were even able to make some for themselves,” Guggenmos says.
Florida Institute’s Stewart seconds that notion: “The best way to overcome the skeptics was to do informal samplings during busy times. Free, sweet and new are usually met with little resistance and positive feedback.”