America’s Love Affair with Pizza: smackdown in the freezer aisle

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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?

IMG_4110How about the frozen food section at the supermarket, and how one entire aisle is packed with – yes, frozen pizza?

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.

pizza1Of course, you know exactly what’s in the frozen pizza you buy at the supermarket, too.

IMG_5442 Don’t get me wrong – some of the supermarket pizza is really tasty, especially those “rising crust” varieties, which do a good job of mimicking homemade.

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.

IMG_5087I make a double batch, and let it rest overnight in the fridge, to develop its flavor. Also, because it fits better into my schedule that way.

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.

pizza2Round the deflated dough into a ball, then decide how many pizzas you want to make.

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.

pizza3Out 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.

pizza4Cover it with another piece of lightly greased parchment. Pat or roll the dough as wide as you like; it’ll inevitably shrink a bit when you quit pushing it around, so take that into account.

Pinch a rim around the edge of the crust, if you like; I like.

IMG_5114Here they all are, awaiting their next step – which is baking.

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.

Depending on when you’re going to bake your crusts, preheat the oven to 425°F. If you have a pizza stone in your oven, so much the better. If you don’t, get out a baking sheet.

Put the crusts into the oven, parchment and all. As I said, they’re a lot easier to handle on their parchment base.

pizza5Watch 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.

IMG_5141See the difference between thin crust and thick?

Also, see those brown spots on the top crust? I let it go a tad too long. Live and learn.

IMG_5124Once the crusts are cool, you have two choices. Bag them, and store at room temperature for several days (or in the freezer, for up to a month)…

pizza6…or jump right into assembling your pizzas.

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.

pizza16Tomato 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.

pizza8Squeeze 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.

IMG_5160Once 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.

IMG_5167Stash in the freezer. They fit in nicely next to the store-bought pizzas I’ll be testing them against.

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:

IMG_5134Barbecued (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.

IMG_5151I’ll follow our Barbecued Chicken Pizza recipe for the topping, which will be enough for three crusts.

pizza9Darn, another crust that’s just slightly overbaked; it shouldn’t have any brown spots. Oh well, I’m going to use it anyway.

Barbecue sauce; cheese (yes, cheese second); then chicken and onions on top.

IMG_5164Midway through this project, I discovered Glad Press ’n Seal. It works SO much better than regular plastic wrap for this use, as it seals itself nice and tight when you press it around the pizza.

Into the freezer they went; then out one came, when my nephew-to-be, Jimmy, got home from school one day.

pizza11Jimmy is in college, living with us as he finishes out his senior year at Massachusetts Maritime Academy – where he’s currently class valedictorian (go, Jimmy!)

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.

IMG_5327Here’s Jimmy’s verdict:

“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.

pizza13DiGiorno’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.

IMG_5433And yes, the DiGiorno four cheese is a very nice pizza.

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?

pizza14Jimmy having taken off for the weekend, I shanghai my husband, Rick, into taste-testing – despite his claims of “I’m not a gourmet,” and “I’ve never met a pizza I didn’t love.”

The verdict?

“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.

IMG_5462(1)Plus, the Celeste pizza has an odd pinkish cast. Not sure what’s up with that.

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.

IMG_4482After topping with sauce, cheese, and turkey pepperoni, I quickly stuck them in the freezer, to stop any further rising. Once they were fully frozen, I wrapped them securely.

Here comes the test –

pizza1Freschetta Naturally Rising Crust Signature Pepperoni Pizza (left) vs. my homemade pepperoni pizza.

Both were baked straight from the freezer.

Hey, how come my pepperoni curled up, and theirs lay flat?

pizza2That’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.

 

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. sarah heat

    My favorite weeknight pizza method is from the artisan pizza in 5 folks. Mix up a batch of the dough, which keeps in the fridge for 2 weeks. Heat a skillet to high, put pizza in skillet (top quickly while its in there ) cover with a lid and cook for 4 minutes. Remove the lid and place under a hot broiler for another 4 minutes. The crust gets nicely browned, as do the toppings. The oven doesn’t have to heat forever, and the pizza tastes great! http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/2014/02/10/mushroom-garlic-thyme-stovetop-pizza
    To me, home made will always taste better than grocery store frozen!

    Reply
  2. luvpyrpom

    Important lesson is to roll the dough out on parchment and not move them! I made the sourdough pizza crust, made individual sized crusts on my mat and then when I went to move them onto the baking sheet, they were all sadly misshapened. Par baked them and frozen them that way. Now when I’m craving it, I preheat my oven while I’m topping the pizza. Few minutes later, I have pizza for one. And, thank you, PJ for mentioning about the shelf life of the freezing pizza – I always wondered about that.

    Reply
  3. Mother of Pearl

    I guess I take the easy way out – my freezer pizza is French bread style pizza. I make up kits with a baggy of sauce, some grated cheese, and a loaf of my homemade Italian bread for the freezer. Then when we go out, I get a kit out and let the babysitter and the kids make up the pizza and bake it in the oven.
    The kids have taken to calling French bread pizza “babysitter pizza”.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Wow – That’s a great time saving idea for quick and easy meal night. We love that you save it for the kids so “babysitter pizza” is their special treat! Thanks for sharing – Irene@KAF

  4. Ricardo Neves Gonzalez- SENAC- Petrópolis, R.J.-BRAZIL

    One of the best choices of homemade doughs, no matter if it will use them for breads or pizzas is exactly the possibility we folks have to avoid those criminous chemical compounds industries oblige us to eat when we buy freezed pizzas at markets and supermarkets. I´m recently working with gluten free baking goods. And could noted an increase of people that concern that the pains, digestive diseases they suffer are related to use of gluten baking treats on their diets. I think that it could be a true but not fully. Because we have bad diagnostic of gluten diseases, not accurated diagnostics, many of those people who blame use of gluten based foods for those sintoms, they probably could be supposed wrong!!! We must say that big part of that blame could be exactly attributed to the criminous industry who is poisoning all of our foods with great charge of chemicals daily. So i´m convicted that there´s an important necessity to medical secure diagnosis about what´s going wrong with our health, specially if we choose gluten based foods buyed at supermarkets. Strange me that paralleled to the increase of sell and consum of those supermarket gluten based foods, increased a lot too the blame of these gluten based foods to be related to Celiac diseases and not to that criminal act related to industry poisoning our foods daily, irrestrictly!! So, we really need to make campaign to homemade food. A food of liberty! The liberty from that bad practices the industry want to impose to civilizations at four corners of our planet!! This is really a SHOUT that needs to be even more SHOUTED LOUD, day after day!!! Excelent post!!!!!!

    Reply
  5. Anne

    I love this idea and am going to make a batch up over the next couple of days *but* I have a question about freezing the pizzas without first parbaking…I’ve always understood that freezing uncooked dough is very tough on the yeast in it, making it much less effective, and that you should use a higher amount of yeast in your recipe if that’s what you’re planning on doing? Or have I always understood this incorrectly? Thanks in advance!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Anne, you’ve understood correctly. If you’re going to leave the pizzas frozen for a long time, like months (which I don’t advise), then I’d add more yeast. But pizzas, unlike, say, a loaf of bread, simply don’t rise that much, and thus can afford to lose some of their yeast. If freezing for under a month, I haven’t (yet) found a difference. You want to make sure you freeze quickly, and keep at 0°F or below. And of course, frel free to add more yeast – it won’t hurt. Hope this helps – PJH

  6. waikikirie

    DUH…….I par bake and freeze my crusts. Why haven’t just made up the whole dang pizza??? Thanks for the V-8 forehead smack. Pizza crusts are on my agenda for next weekend.

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Hi Kristina,
      You can bake the crusts around 400-425°F until hot and bubbly, probably around 18-20 minutes depending on size. ~ MJ

  7. jo

    I’ve made my own frozen pizza, and then tried to bake it directly on the rack like I do store-bought. Big mistake! It melted between the bars of the rack. Why? What’s diffferent about it that I can’t bake it the same way? I don’t have a pizza stone so it’s very difficult to get a homemade crust that comes out crispy. Only negative about homemade. Tried making on parchment and sliding on top of a preheated pan, but that doesn’t work either. Guess the paper must insulate it too much.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      I think if you follow the par-baking directions for freezing your pizza, you’ll be able to avoid the melting dough problem. A pizza stone that has been preheated for an hour delivers similar results to a brick oven, which is hard to replicate with a metal pan. Pizza screens are a cheaper alternative and can give you a crisp, thin crust. And pizza stones are really great. I think it’s time for someone to get you one for a present. Barb@KAF

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