My work held our second annual Spring Bake-off recently. We have both sweet and savory categories. I wanted to bake something a little different rather than a traditional baked good, so I went with the savory category.
I remembered from last year that a lot of our savory treats were yummy, but not very filling – read with bacon jam, savory shortbread cookies, etc. I thought it would be nice to provide something a little more substantive, but I needed it to be easily transportable and enough for 15 people to try. I was inspired by pizza monkey balls. That seemed easy to make into an eat-while-standing treat.
Thus, Pesto Pizza Poppers were born.
I started with my favorite, easy pizza dough that doesn’t need much time to rise. I love this dough because over the years of experimentation, I’ve found a yummy combination of flavors to make even the dough an explosion of taste. Normally I would make my own pesto, but I was a little short on time, so I used my favorite store-bought pesto, Barilla. Another time saving trick – buy mozzarella pearls instead of making your own balls. But if you want to make your own, I suggest using a melon baller. I’ve used this tool in the past to make cheese balls, and it works well. Use soft mozzarella for better taste!
PREP TIME: 1 hour, 40 minutes
COOK TIME: 20-25 minutes
TOTAL TIME: 2 hours
MAKES: 15-16 poppers
- 3/4 cups of water – warm to activate the yeast (105-115 degrees Fahrenheit)
- 2 ¼ tsp. of active dry yeast (1 package)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour plus some for dusting your workspace
- 1 tbs. sugar
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp. garlic salt
- 3 tbs. extra virgin olive oil (plus some to coat the bowl)
- Mozzarella balls, 15-30 (depends on how cheesy you want your poppers)
- ¼ cup pesto sauce
- 2 tbs. pesto sauce
- 1/3 cup your favorite red sauce
- Pour the warm water into a bowl and stir in the yeast. Let it stand until the yeast dissolves. About 3-5 minutes.
- While waiting, brush a large bowl lightly with olive oil. You’ll use this to let your dough rise later.
- In a stand mixer with a dough hook or a processor, mix the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, salt, garlic powder).
- Add the yeast mixture and olive oil. Mix until dough forms a sticky ball.
- Transfer the ball (and any dry ingredients at the bottom of the bowl that didn’t get mixed properly) to a lightly flowered surface. Knead the dough until smooth and fully mixed. Add flour in by tablespoons if the dough is very sticky. It should be ready to go after about 1 minute.
- Transfer to the prepared bowl, and turn it in the bowl so the dough ball is coated with oil.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Place in a warm, draft-free area (try placing in an oven or microwave with a bowl of steaming water for best results. Do not turn on the oven!). Let it rise until it is double the size – about an hour.
- Mix the dipping sauce ingredients together. You can heat this up when you serve, if you want, but room temperature is also okay.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Brush a bundt pan with olive oil (even if it’s nonstick because cheese may escape their dough casing).
- Pour pesto into a bowl that’s large enough to roll a tablespoon of dough in it.
- Punch down the dough. Use a soupspoon or tablespoon to create even balls. This recipe should give you 15-16 balls of dough.
- On a lightly floured workspace, use your thumb to press down each ball. Place 1-2 mozzarella balls in the middle of the depression. Use your fingers to pinch the ball closed around the cheese, then roll the dough to create a perfect ball shape.
- Dip each ball into the pesto and roll it until the entire ball is coated. Place in your prepared bundt pan.
- Repeat until all your dough is gone. If desired, use a spoon to drizzle a little extra pesto on top once all the poppers are in your pan.
- Bake until the poppers are golden brown, 20-25 minutes.
I highly recommend serving while warm. For the bake off they weren’t hot, which meant they lost some gooey-goodness, but they still tasted pretty awesome.
Be careful when taking your poppers out of their pan. Mine did start falling apart. If you put a bowl in the middle with the dipping sauce and squish the poppers together, they will hold shape again. But, honestly, that’s about presentation and not taste. Once people start grabbing poppers, the shape goes away anyway.