However, I have made many a failed homemade pizza (read: gooey, undercooked, over cooked, thick-crusted, thin-crusted, too much sauce or cheese, too little, etc.). They are fairly easy to mess up if you don't have a pizza stone. I finally invested in one a few years ago and it's made a big difference for our homemade pizzas. Sadly, I still am not prepared to share homemade pizza tips with you, because they're still a work in progress.
Pizza braids, though? This is for YOU--those of you who don't have a pizza stone, or just keep making terrible homemade pizzas.
I've made several versions of pizza braids over the past almost-9 years. My mom used to make it regularly growing up, so the idea came from her. I usually do a homemade dough (usually this recipe, but recently I've tried this with good success), but you can EASILY use a store-bought dough, especially the Trader Joe's ones. And I also tend to make my dough whole (or almost whole) wheat. But that's optional, too. When I use homemade dough, I can make two pizza braids and freeze the second one, wrapped up snuggly in a lot of foil so it doesn't get freezer burned. I've done this with the second one cooked and uncooked, and either way works well!
As for the filling, they're really versatile! Here's some of our favorite combinations:
* Marinara sauce, ground beef, shredded cheddar
* BBQ sauce, pulled rotisserie chicken (Costco, duh!), cut up pineapple (canned or fresh), diced fresh mozzarella cheese (I usually have some fresh, sliced mozzarella cheese from Costco on hand) and shredded cheddar
* Pesto sauce, pulled chicken, spinach or mixed lettuce, diced mozzarella cheese
* Marinara sauce, pulled chicken, diced ham (I'm thinking Easter ham, but you could also try lunch meat), diced mozzarella, shredded cheddar cheese (The pictures here are from this combination--our family was a big fan.)
Any combination usually involves about a cup or so of sauce, 1-2 cups of meat, and 1-2 cups of cheese. I know that's not very specific, but that's the beauty of this recipe. You can make it with what you have on hand and how it meets your family's preferences.
Here's how I make a pizza braid, regardless of filling combination:
After you let your dough do one full raise, punch it down. Divide it into two balls. Let your dough rest for about five minutes. (Or just get your store-bought dough to room temperature.) Turn oven on to 400 degrees. Roll dough out on your cookie sheet into a long rectangle that practically fills the pan.
(Sidenote: I LOVE my Silpat liners--and these were even cheaper ones from, you guessed it, Costco. If you don't have one, you can always use parchment paper, or roll out your dough on your table, and once braided, you can transfer it to a well-sprayed cookie sheet).
Using a round pizza cutter, make one-inch wide, diagonal slices on each of the long sides of the the dough, leaving about a hand-width (~5 inches) of un-cut dough in the center.
Layer your filling combinations: thin coating of sauce, meat, another thin layer of sauce, then cheese. Alternatively, you can mix sauce into meat, then layer it on dough with cheese on the bottom and the top.
Starting at one end, fold up the edge and pinch it together. Then, take one-inch strip from one side and fold it over the center. Alternate strips from either side, forming a "braid." When you get to the other end, fold over that flap and pinch the dough together. Let your braid rest and raise a bit for another 10-15 minutes. (If making a second one, you can work on it while the first raises.)
Bake your braid for 10-15 minutes, until the dough is golden and the cheese is bubbly. Let it rest for 5 minutes before slicing and serving with your veggies of choice.