Pizza Quest Globe

“My Perfect Pan Tomato Pie,” by Bob Radcliffe

Written By Bob Radcliffe
Wednesday, 14 June 2023 Guest Columns

Note from Peter: Bob Radcliffe was one of our first guest columnists, way back from when we were still out on the road making fun videos with famous pizza makers. At Bob’s Lynch Creek Farm, located deep in the Rocky Ford countryside of North Carolina, he established the non-profit Ben Franklin Society and supports it with freshly baked breads and special pizza events featuring his signature Wood-Fired Oven Tomato Pies.  The development of the pizza recipe is documented here on Pizza Quest beginning back in 2014, as part of Bob’s personal quest to re-create the pizzas of his youth in the Philadelphia area (where he and I are both from, along with the great Ben Franklin himself).  Now, nearly ten years after the original post, Bob continues the unfolding of his never-ending quest. We’ve said it before, and we’ll certainly say it again (as Bob so clearly demonstrates), it’s more about the quest than it is about the pizza, and the quest never ends….

Lynch Creek Farm, Rocky Ford, NC

Hello Pizza Quest readers.  I wrote a 7-part series of articles for Pizza Quest in 2014 titled, Tomato Pie, Rocky Ford, and Me, about my outdoor wood-fired oven Tomato Pie ( ).  Until I recently read Peter’s “PERFECT PAN PIZZA” book, I was never motivated, nor felt confident, to try and replicate my Tomato Pie indoors in my Log Cabin Electric Oven.  Could I transform my Perfect Individual Tomato Pies into a Pan-sized version?  Would it taste the same? What would my customers say?

 Let’s find out .  .  .

Bob’s Pan-Baked Tomato Pie


“Deep Dish” vs. “Sheet Pan”

Wanting to retain my crisp, thin crust, I chose to develop a “Sheet Pan”, not a “Deep Dish” version.  This would allow me to use the Standard ½-Sheet Baking Pans (12”x17”)  that I had, not the deeper 2″sidewall Steel Pans that Peter described in his book.

To pull this off, my non-traditional “wet” dough recipe needed adjustment.  My baking strategy and cooking times had to yield a crisp undercrust using a 500-degree, not 650+degree oven.  I felt comfortable maintaining the unique “upside-down” approach I use to make my individual, hearth-baked  “Tomato Pies” (dough->black pepper-> garlic-> sliced cheese-> sausage-> and tomatoes baked in the oven; then removed, and then olive oil->toppings-> parmesan->kosher salt->and basil leaf added).  My toppings now needed special attention.

The original wood-fired version.

  — If you are unfamiliar with my original Wood-Fired Oven Tomato Pie recipe:  the dough is ciabatta-like;  whole-milk mozzarella is thinly sliced (not cubed);  the sausage is homemade and cooked on-the-pie;  and the tomatoes are imported – ROSA-brand, Whole San Marzano Tomatoes canned in paste with basil – that I individually slice, prep ahead, and cook on-the-pie.  I only use olive oil on the finished pie – none in the dough, on the dough, or on the sheet pan – preferring crisp slices that never burn the roof of your mouth. In other words, I prefer to bake, not fry, the dough!

The wood-fired oven started it all.

— I always use the highest protein content (14.2%) King Arthur Sir Lancelot flour with my “wet” dough recipe, but needed to discover how to spread and bake it on a sheet tray.  After many sample recipe adjustments and test bakes, I decided to increase the yeast content by 25%, and to use 20-oz of dough per sheet pan.  I now refrigerate each dough piece overnight in a 1-gallon, zip-lock bag. 

— Parchment Paper vs. Olive Oil:  It is essential to use Parchment Paper with a light coating of Semolina Flour to line the tray (and sides) to curtail sticking.  Spread the “wet” dough gently with your fingers to about ¼” thickness and let the dough rest, then further spread to fill the sheet tray and rest (3 times). After baking about 15 minutes at 500-degrees, slide the parchment paper and dough together off the Sheet Tray, then lightly coat the sheet pan with semolina flour and slide the par-baked dough back on, adding the sliced cheese, tomatoes, and other toppings, resuming the bake until crisp (another 15 minutes).  This keeps the “Pie” from sticking to the pan without oil, and makes the under-crust taste like my outdoor Wood-fired Oven version.

 — Note: I sauté and season my mushroom and spinach toppings beforehand, but add mushrooms to the pie while it’s in the oven, and add the spinach afterwards. Then I squeegee olive oil on the perimeter and a bit over the center, then coarsely-grated Parmesan cheese, and a touch, of course, of kosher salt, and torn basil leaf. 

 — The finished crust is sturdy enough for slices not to fold, and average about 1/4” thick.  I was not interested in creating a thicker Sicilian-style Pie, but rather a crispy, thin-crusted one, like those from my Wood-Fired Oven.  The added yeast helps achieve this result.  When cut into 12 rectangular pieces, 4 patrons can be served buffet-style. 

 —Next I slide the Pie onto a Butcher-block cutting board where I cut the Pie into rectangular pieces (2 x 6) with a round cutting wheel.  Then, as usual, plate 3-4 slices on our 14” round aluminum pizza trays with a spatula.

“Upside down” construction, with sliced cheese first (on the par-baked crust), followed by the other ingredient layers.


 I have been told by devotees of my Outdoor Wood-Fired Oven Tomato Pies, that my Indoor Sheet-Pan Tomato Pies are outstandingly familiar, only lacking the oak wood aroma.

 It is notable that preparing my Tomato Pies, indoors, is much easier and less time-consuming than working outdoors with my Wood-fired Oven.  Timely service for a larger audience is now possible.

With my new “Sheet Pan Tomato Pie” recipe, I can also expand my Ben Franklin Society Non-Profit, Fund-raising Tomato Pie Buffet events at Lynch Creek Farm – from seasonal only to, now, year-round.


 As you have read, my recipe and baking technique differs somewhat from that described in Peter’s “Perfect Pan Pizza” book. Most important, though, was that the book gave me the inspiration to try.

Comically, the STAR-Kosher Sabbath Mode feature of my Kitchen-Aid Oven became problematic while testing, and clearly demonstrated the complexity of using a modern digitally-controlled oven vs. the simplicity of an “analog” wood-fired one. I discovered that both ovens can bake great Tomato Pies. I now believe that my “SHEET PAN-BAKED TOMATO PIES” are, at long last, PERFECT.

With summer looming, my next challenge is to try baking these Sheet Pan Tomato Pies in my Wood-Fired Oven?  Talk about full-circle –stay tuned!

My “perfect” pan-baked “Tomato Pie”

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