Like any vaguely nerdy child of the ’80s and ’90s, I was obsessed with Book It!, the pro-reading promotional program run by Pizza Hut back in the day. The gist: read a bunch of books, get a free personal pan pizza (with pepperoni, always with pepperoni). And nothing tasted quite as delicious to nine-year-old Missy as that greasy, gooey, mini pizza that came after reaching the goal.
I swear it isn’t just nostalgia that drives my fond memories of that pizza: Pizza Hut pizzas just tasted better back then. Was it better quality ingredients? Actual fresh dough? Am I fooling myself? Or did it have something to do with… the pan?
I’m not the only one who thinks those pans — 6-inch, seasoned, short-lidded round pans that seem to retain heat impressively well — had to play a role. Chef Vinnie Falcone of D.C.’s Tigerella bought a bunch of vintage pans from the Hut for the mini pies he serves at his Foggy Bottom location. It’s led to a bit of a trend in my city, and one I’ve decided to bring into my own kitchen — by purchasing my very own personal pizza pan off of eBay for about $16.
Do a search of the auction site and you’ll find several vendors hawking pans that are allegedly vintage and from Pizza Hut. I bought my original (and then a second when I found out how much I liked it) from this seller. It turns out the pans do offer a little magic: armed with a King Arthur flour pizza dough recipe that I halved to fit the pan, I successfully managed to make an individual pizza as a birthday treat for my sister, who was also a Book It! obsessive. My artistically inclined husband even made her a matching sticker with the logo to go along with it.
While the result was perfectly reminiscent of childhood, I’m also hoping they become a part of our regular meal rotation as grownups. The pans are lightweight, reasonably small for storage, and do really help create a crispy, self-contained crust for the pies. (Next time, though, I might try dividing it in thirds to make the pie less dough-dominant.)
And the nostalgia for the Book It! promotion isn’t going anywhere anytime soon — Pizza Hut has been bringing back the program annually since 2021, since those ’80s and ’90s kids now have kids of their own. But if your young one just can’t get all that excited by Pizza Hut’s now pretty mediocre pizza, pick up a pan and bake them your own version of a pie as a reward, provided they are willing to plow through a few Baby-Sitters Club graphic novels first.