In transitioning my household to quasi-vegan, most changes went great. But moving to a plant-based diet and keeping up our beloved Friday night pizza habit didn’t. Our favorite local takeout joint does not offer vegan cheese, and their sauce has Parmesan in it.
Meanwhile, the vegan mozzarella from the store felt overpriced and underwhelming. It seemed there had to be a better way. Curious, I searched “DIY vegan mozzarella” on my phone and hit the Holy Grail. This quick homemade vegan mozzarella is easy, cheap, free from weirdo ingredients, and unbelievably superior to anything from the store. Most importantly, it’s hot and gooey, delivering proper pizza night satisfaction in this classic cheesy vegan pizza recipe.
Dough and Sauce: Vegan by Default
Making pizza vegan from the ground up starts off easy. Most pizza doughs and pizza sauces (including ones from the store) fall in that glorious “vegan by default” category. To be safe, check the label to verify it’s vegan.
I can’t get good refrigerated pizza dough where I live, so I make my own with this recipe. I throw it together the morning of our designated pizza night, divide it into balls, and let it rise in the fridge while I’m at work so it’s ready and waiting when I come home.
DIY Vegan Pizza Cheese: A Game Changer
Now, on to the pay dirt: the cheese. Longtime vegans know that mozzarella-style shreds have made it a long way since their iffy inception, but they are still often reluctant to melt. And their cost has gone up in a manner disproportionate to their quality.
I’ve made fancypants nut-based cheeses at home and even fermented them. They’re good, but they’re not cheesy. I wanted homemade vegan cheese that hit basal pizza pleasure zones of melty and goopy.
The food blog School Nite Vegan offered a brilliant solution: use tapioca flour to make what’s essentially a pre-melted blob. Tapioca flour, once it’s boiled with liquid, gets a stringy texture that’s convincingly like melted cheese. Nutritional yeast provides the flavor, and neutral oil gives the richness. Throw it all together in a saucepan and the result belies its underwhelming ingredients. You can make it while the oven preheats.
Melty vegan pizza cheese requires no grating; you just blorb it right on the pizza, then bake. Leftovers, if you have any, keep in the fridge for a few days, allowing you a lunchtime quesadilla or two.
Using Storebought Cheese Is Okay!
Look, you don’t have to be a superstar and make your own vegan pizza cheese. You’re already rocking it by making homemade pizza. The meltiest shreds are Daiya Mozzarella Style Shreds. My boyfriend has been a vegan since forever and this is his go-to.
For more of a Margherita-style pizza, shredded or finely cubed Miyoko’s Cashew Milk Mozzarella will hit those notes.
Toppings for Vegan Pizza
When it comes to any type of pizza, I’m in the camp of keeping it light. Piling on the toppings leads to a soggy crust. Consider the following toppings:
- Vegan pepperoni slices
- Thinly sliced mushrooms, raw (they’ll cook on the pizza, but be sparing, as they give off a ton of moisture)
- Browned mushrooms (these you can add more of, since they’re already cooked)
- Handfuls of baby arugula or spinach (it’ll wilt down in the oven)
- Whole or halved pitted olives
- Drained, jarred piquillo peppers or Calabrian chiles, cut into ribbons
- A few basil leaves and a drizzle of good olive oil once the pizza’s straight out of the oven
- Crumbled, browned vegan sausage grounds, or slices of ready-to-eat vegan sausage links
More Vegan Party Food
- Vegan Nachos
- Black Bean Smash Burgers
- Vegan Macaroni and Cheese
- BBQ Pulled Jackfruit Tacos
- Vegan Chicken Nuggets
Divide the dough:
1 or more hours before you plan to make the pizza, grease a baking sheet with olive oil. Divide the dough into 2 balls (for two 14-inch pizzas) or 4 balls (for four 8-inch pizzas). Stretch the outer skin of each dough piece tightly and pinch at the bottom to create a tight ball, then rub lightly with olive oil and place seam-side-down on the sheet. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 8 hours in the refrigerator or 1 hour on the counter.
Preheat the oven:
About 20 to 30 minutes before you plan to bake the pizzas, preheat the oven to 500°F. Position a rack in the center and set a baking stone or an inverted rimmed baking sheet on top to heat up.
Make the cheese:
Meanwhile, as the oven heats, make the homemade vegan mozzarella, if using. Put the tapioca flour, nutritional yeast, sugar, and salt in a deep medium saucepan. Add the water, oil, and vinegar and whisk to combine. Set the burner to medium-high and cook, whisking often. After 3 to 5 minutes, the mixture will start turning from thin and watery to thick and bouncy.
Decrease the heat to medium and continue cooking, whisking continuously, until you see large bubbles slowly rising to the surface. When it’s ready, the cheese will be a gooey, clingy blob. It might not look particularly appealing, but don’t worry; it’ll work great once it’s baked on the pizza. Remove from heat and set aside.
Shape the pizza:
On a lightly floured counter, gently stretch out one dough ball with your hands, working from the center. If you like varied bubbles in the crust once it bakes, try not to mash down the edges of the dough. If the dough snaps back, set it aside and let it rest for a few minutes as you work on shaping the other crust.
If you’re making two pizzas, form a roughly 14-inch circle. If you’re making four smaller pizzas, aim for a circle that’s 7 to 8 inches.
Dust a pizza peel or rimless cookie sheet with cornmeal and transfer one dough round to the sheet.
Top the pizzas:
For the large pizzas, spread 6 tablespoons of sauce over each, leaving a 1/2 to 1-inch border around the crust. For the smaller pizzas, use 4 tablespoons per pizza.
If you’re using vegan cheese shreds, just sprinkle it over the pizza.
If you made the homemade cheese, use a tablespoon to evenly space out dollops of cheese over the pizza. The cheese mixture will fall from the spoon in rubbery blorps. Just do your best to get mostly even coverage, leaving some patches of sauce visible. You’ll end up using around 4 to 5 tablespoons of cheese per small pizza and about 1/2 cup total per large pizza.
Add any other toppings you like, but be conservative. An overloaded pizza will bake up soggy.
Bake the pizzas, then serve:
Slide the pizza onto the preheated stone or inverted baking sheet. The large pizzas will take about 15 to 20 minutes; the smaller ones will take about 10 to 15 minutes.
To assess doneness, slide a metal spatula between the stone and the crust and peek underneath; you want to see some browning. The top crust should be browned. If you’re using the homemade vegan mozzarella, it will bubble up in spots.
Once the pizza is done to your liking, transfer to a cutting board, then slice and serve immediately.
Shape, bake, and assemble the remaining pizzas.
If you have leftovers, refrigerate them, wrapped in foil or plastic wrap, for up to 3 days. I like to reheat slices in the air fryer for 5 to 7 minutes at 375°F, but you can also reheat them in a skillet.
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