Nothing says work-week dinner quite like frozen pizza. This ubiquitous freezer-aisle food never fails to tempt as you contemplate full calendar days ahead. What’s easier than popping a pie out of its box, into the oven, and then up to your weary and waiting mouth, all in a matter of minutes?
Elements of Distress
Brutal reality check: Frozen pizzas usually taste like the cardboard boxes they come in. The cheese topping is a dried wasteland, the tomato sauce is depressingly dull, and the crust is texturally challenged in too many ways to count. By the time the pizza reaches your mouth, it’s effectively dead on arrival. The home cook’s take on make-ahead pizza, without the first aid of the gums, protein film formers, extra leaveners, and surfactants used by commercial manufacturers, is hardly an improvement. In sum, choking down this dinner is no way to end your long day.
Plan of Attack
Because every element of frozen pizza is on life support, we’d start from the bottom by administering to a brittle-on-the-outside, gummy-on-the-inside crust, and work our way up to rescuing a pallid sauce and desiccated cheese.
We’d begin by resuscitating the pizza crust, arguably the biggest emergency in many a box of horrific frozen pizzas. As the dough sits in your freezer, ice crystals form and puncture the yeast cells, inhibiting the dough’s ability to rise. We injected some baking powder to combat this effect, and added half-and-half to fight toughness. We also replaced some of the flour with cornstarch, which has a lower protein content: The less protein, the softer the dough.
To better handle this super-hydrated dough, we abandoned rolling and simply patted the dough into a disposable aluminum pie pan that we removed prior to baking.
After administering much-needed CPR to our crust, we turned to the troublesome toppings. To enliven our anemic sauce, we switched from fresh—which just couldn’t hold up in the freezer—to a good amount of dried herbs. Rubbery cheese left us cold to the touch, so we called on our now-favorite first responder, half-and-half. Mixing in some of this liquid dairy with the mozzarella and Parmesan prevented our pie from drying out during its freezer stay and toughening post-baking.
The outcome? A frozen pizza with a new lease on life.