When you think of frozen pizza, what comes immediately to mind?
Mom pulling a Celentano's pizza out of the oven on Friday night?
The long-ago aroma of Totino's Pizza Rolls baking in a dorm oven?
Which isn't surprising: Americans spend between $4- and $5-billion on frozen pizza each year. According to industry statistics, at any given time about two-thirds of U.S. refrigerators include at least one frozen pizza.
All of which makes pizza the #3 frozen food in America – after frozen dinners/entrées and ice cream, respectively, which usually jockey for top position.
And in all fairness, ice cream would be #1 if you included ice cream bars, cups, Popsicles, and other "novelties." File under: (no) need to know.
So, with all the boxes of frozen pizza out there, just waiting to be tossed into your shopping cart – why make your own?
OK, you know why you make our own homemade pizza. Because its crust is deliciously chewy and fresh-tasting, the exact thickness you like; its toppings personalized to taste, be they kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, and feta cheese, or roasted potatoes with melted Brie.
And because you know exactly what's in it: flour, water, salt, yeast, olive oil; tomato sauce, fresh vegetables/meats, cheese.
And frozen supermarket pizza is convenient, for sure.
But if you want YOUR favorite pizza (and I don't care if it's pepperoni and jellybeans), plus the convenience of just-pop-it-in-the-oven frozen –
We can do that. YOU can do that.
And here's how.
First, make your favorite pizza dough recipe.
I like the dough for our Now or Later Pizza; it's versatile (bake it now, bake it later – the name says it all). Plus the touch of olive oil helps keep it from drying out too much in the freezer.
First step: gently deflate the dough.
Look at that gluten, eh? You can really see the stretchy gluten "web." That stretchiness is what allows bread (and pizza crust) to rise, rather than just "pop" and deflate.
I'm starting with about 1200g of dough (about 2 pounds, 10 1/2 ounces). I know from past experience that a 150g (5 1/4-ounce) piece of dough makes a medium-crust, single-serve (8") pizza; while a 100g (3 1/2-ounce) piece makes a thin-crust, single-serve pizza.
I divide the dough into 10 pieces: six 100g, four 150g pieces. A scale makes this whole process quite easy.
You may want larger pizzas; feel free to make whatever size you like out of whatever amount of dough you have.
Round each piece into a ball, then flatten into a disk.
Out come my parchment rounds, the perfect solution for shaping pizza crusts.
If you don't have parchment, simply roll the crusts on a lightly greased surface; but parchment makes the rolling, transporting, AND baking of these crusts a whole lot easier.
Grease one piece of parchment; lay one of the disks on the parchment.
Pinch a rim around the edge of the crust, if you like; I like.
Or not. Scroll down to the very end of this post for an alternate way to prepare your crusts.*
Now, for thicker crusts, you'll want to let the dough rise for awhile; 45 minutes, an hour, 2 hours, your choice.
For a thinner, cracker-type crust, you can bake right away.
Put the crusts into the oven, parchment and all. As I said, they're a lot easier to handle on their parchment base.
Watch carefully the first few minutes, as the crusts will bubble – and sometimes even turn into fat balloons! As soon as you see this happening, open the oven door and poke them with a sharp knife, gently deflating any bubbles.
You're going to par-bake the crusts – bake them just until they're set, and won't deflate. You don't want them to brown.
I find the optimum time is about 5 to 6 minutes for a thin crust, and 7 to 8 minutes for a thicker crust. To double check, feel the crust; it should feel barely set, and not at all "doughy;" but again, it shouldn't be at all brown.
Remove the crusts from the oven, and transfer them to racks to cool; it's OK to layer them on the cooling rack, if you have to.
Also, see those brown spots on the top crust? I let it go a tad too long. Live and learn.
I researched some common types of frozen pizza; "roasted vegetable" seems to be a variety offered by most manufacturers, with peppers, spinach, and mushrooms the most common vegetables.
I can't see oven-roasting these, when they're so easily fried; so into the frying pan they go, until they lose some of their liquid and start to brown. They're definitely not limp; just partially cooked.
Tomato sauce (my favorite is Marcella Hazan's, but feel free to choose your own); veggies; spinach (another vegetable I can't see roasting; this is just cooked and squeezed dry); and mozzarella cheese.
Next: into the freezer they go.
Squeeze as many crusts as you can onto a pan; tent the pan with something (waxed paper, plastic wrap, parchment, foil) to keep the frost off; and place in the freezer until the pizzas are stiff enough to handle easily.
You can actually wrap these pizzas without pre-freezing; I just find the tomato sauce is less messy, and the toppings stay in place better, after an hour or so in the freezer.
Once you can handle the pizzas easily, wrap each individually in plastic wrap; then bag them together in a large plastic bag, including a label with what kind of pizzas they are, and the date you froze them.
I've found that storing homemade frozen pizzas longer than a month results in their gradual decline; basically, they dry out, and when you bake them the crust is hard rather than crisp/crunchy.
Why doesn't this happen to supermarket frozen pizzas? Because of all those added ingredients you saw on the package label, which help to preserve them for a year or more.
So, one strike against homemade frozen pizza: its shelf life isn't as long. That's the tradeoff you make for preservative-free pizza. But, considering the average American family eats pizza at home between once and twice a week, most of you probably won't have a problem eating up your stash within a month.
Next, another popular frozen pizza:
Barbecued (a.k.a. BBQ) chicken. This is Newman's Own version. Of all the frozen pizzas I checked, Newman's had the "cleanest" label. Plus most of their crusts are multi-grain – another plus. Good company.
I'll follow our Barbecued Chicken Pizza recipe for the topping, which will be enough for three crusts.
Barbecue sauce; cheese (yes, cheese second); then chicken and onions on top.
Into the freezer they went; then out one came, when my nephew-to-be, Jimmy, got home from school one day.
He comes home HUNGRY. And ready to test anything I put on the table.
I figure he'll be a good judge for this opening salvo in The Great Frozen Pizza Smackdown.
“I like yours better. Newman’s Own, all you can taste is the barbecue sauce – everything tastes like barbecue. Yours, you can taste the barbecue, plus the chicken, the cheeses, everything.”
Homemade, 1 – supermarket, 0.
Next up, another popular flavor: four cheese.
DiGiorno's four cheese pizza comes on a "rising crust" - a crust that actually puffs up as you bake the pizza. So, unlike my parbaked crust – which kills the yeast – I assume this "rising crust" is topped while partially risen (or not risen at all?), then quick-frozen to arrest the yeast. When it's put into the hot oven, the yeast wakes up and starts working like mad.
Jimmy: "DiGiorno's has more flavor, with the herbs and stuff. Yours just tastes like cheese."
He's right; the DiGiorno not only has more sauce ("Bold NEW sauce, now with more herbs and spices!"); its cheese melts more evenly than mine. And its crust rises nicely in the oven, making it seem very close to fresh homemade, rather than frozen. Plus, the bottom of the crust is coated in cornmeal – which adds subtle, pleasing crunch.
The crust has a very slight chemical taste, though it's not overwhelming, as it is in some frozen pizzas. And the cheese isn't identifiable as any particular type, where mine tastes strongly of cheddar.
Still, because of the herbs, the oozing cheese, and the moist, "spongy" crust, I give this round to DiGiorno.
Homemade, 1 – supermarket, 1.
Now, for the rubber match, how about if we get back to that roasted vegetable pizza we started with?
"I like them both; they just taste different, but they're both good."
When pressed for details, Rick adds, "You can taste the vegetables more on yours, because they're in much bigger chunks. See those little bits of pepper on the Celeste? You can't really taste them as being peppers, because they're too small and just blend into everything else."
Despite my obvious bias (yes, I'm very competitive, even in pizza smackdowns), I have to give the nod to my own "roasted vegetable" pizza. Both pizzas have thin crusts; but the Celeste crust doesn't have much flavor, and its texture is "meek;" whereas my homemade crust has some nice textural "snap" and crunch, as well as more flavor.
And as for the topping: what he said. I can taste the mushrooms, spinach, and pepper on my homemade pizza as individual, harmonious flavors; the Celeste pizza tastes OK, but not of any identifiable vegetable.
Final score: Homemade 2 – supermarket 1.
A close battle, but homemade wins our frozen pizza smackdown!
Especially when you consider a typical supermarket frozen pizza label (L-cysteine monohydrochloride, anyone?); and the fact that mixing together flour and and yeast and water, quick-frying fresh vegetables, and picking out your own favorite cheeses is a lot more satisfying than slinging a cardboard box into your grocery cart.
I hope you agree.
Disclaimer: Remember, in baking, there are often many ways to reach a common destination. Maybe you like to par-bake your crusts, then freeze without topping; or freeze your pizza dough without shaping, then thaw, shape, top, and bake. Or perhaps you bake your pizzas all the way prior to freezing, then simply thaw and reheat. Whatever works best for you is the way to go. There's no right or wrong here; no baking police. Just optimum results, however you get there. And – the delicious experimenting can go on forever! The story continues –
*After I'd completed this blog post, I couldn't resist trying my own "rising crust" pizza. Using the same dough from the Now or Later Pizza recipe, I shaped two 10" round crusts.
I let them rise maybe halfway; their edges were getting puffy, though the center was still fairly flat.
Here comes the test –
Both were baked straight from the freezer.
Hey, how come my pepperoni curled up, and theirs lay flat?
That's Freschetta on the top, mine on the bottom.
I had my taste-tester back for this round. Jimmy's assessment?
"They both taste good, but I like yours better. Theirs is just too bready." he said. "Plus theirs has more sauce, and I like less sauce. But I guess that's just a matter of taste," he concluded.
And, the scientist in him emerging, Jimmy also pointed out why my pepperoni had curled, and theirs hadn't: "Their pepperoni is like twice as thick as yours." We also conjectured it might have had something to do with the smaller amount of fat in my turkey pepperoni, compared to their pork pepperoni.
So – will this method also work with thin-crust pizzas – freeze the unbaked/topped crust, then bake the pizza straight from the freezer, no rising?
I don't know why not. If you give it a try, let us all know how it goes.
Interested in more pizza experiments? Check out the two previous posts in this series: America's Love Affair with Pizza: in the beginning... and America's Love Affair with Pizza: Jeremiah, Wolfgang, and Alice.