by Elizabeth Gunnison, Bon Appétit
In our column Fake It or Make It we test a homemade dish against its prepackaged counterpart to find out what's really worth cooking from scratch.
Those frozen, pre-packaged pizza crusts hanging somewhere near the pitas in a supermarket's bakery aisle have long been a mystery to me. Who buys them? What do they taste like? And how long have they been hanging there, anyway? Since NYC baker Jim Lahey recently introduced his couldn't-be-simpler, no-knead pizza dough to Bon Appetit readers, the time seems right to test-drive those prefab pizza bases against Lahey's homemade version. But I had low expectations for the pre-made crusts, so I threw Whole Foods' store-brand frozen pizza dough into the ring as well for a special, three-way Fake It or Make It comparison.
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Boboli 12" Original Pizza Crust vs. Whole Foods Frozen Pizza Dough vs. Jim Lahey's No-Knead Pizza Dough
What exactly constitutes "traditional" pizza has long been the subject of bitter arguments, but here's what my research shows that most people agree on: Simple flatbreads adorned with toppings and baked on hot stones have probably been consumed since the Stone Age. Pizza in its more-or-less current form (yeast-risen bread, tomatoes, and cheese) was around in Naples by the 17th Century; it migrated to the U.S. by the latter half of the 19th Century and steadily gained in popularity from then on, especially throughout the Northeast and in Chicago. Now America is home to a wide array of pizzas styles, from New York's traditional thin-crust brick oven varieties to Chicago's decadent deep-dish to whatever atrocity Pizza Hut happens to be promoting at any given time.
Homemade is cheapest. I paid $4.69 for a 12-inch Boboli crust and $1.79 for two crusts worth of Whole Foods dough. But with from scratch, I made enough dough for six similarly sized pizzas with less than $3 worth of ingredients.
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Homemade and Whole Foods are best. From-scratch crust is comprised of just four ingredients: flour, water, salt, and yeast. Whole Foods gets points for its use of Organic flour, but also includes ascorbic acid as a preservative. The Boboli crust contains a laundry list of additives including palm oil, sugar, monoglycerides, and artificial flavors and colors.
It took me about twenty minutes of active time to make the homemade pizza dough, plus about twenty hours of waiting. The Whole Foods crust required a day in the refrigerator to thaw, 2-3 hours on the counter to warm to room temperature, then a few minutes of stretching and shaping before use.
Boboli crusts are terrifyingly shelf-stable inside their plastic wrapping, but should be consumed immediately once opened. Homemade pizza dough can be stored in the fridge for 2-3 day before use, or frozen in plastic wrap for months -- ditto on the frozen Whole Foods version.
What The Testers Said
First let me introduce our panel.
THE HEALTH NUT
A delicate eater, the health nut is calorie conscious but also likes to eat well
Calorie agnostic, our foodie judge has a sophisticated palate and a love of cooking
Ambivalent toward food trends and health concerns, this guy just wants to be fed when he's hungry
Between ages of 9 and 12 years old, not jaded, typically not into strong flavors
Testers sampled all three crusts blind, topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and basil.
The Health Nut: Homemade or Whole Foods; "The Boboli is saltier and has this sour, slightly off, clearly pre-packaged bread taste that is really noticeable when you get a bite that's just crust. But I like both of the other two options pretty much equally. They're fairly similar."
The Foodie: Homemade; "It's just not even close between the Boboli and the other two. Both the homemade and the Whole Foods have a satisfying flavor and a good char, but the crisp, chewy texture of the homemade really stands out."
The Kid: Homemade or Whole Foods; "These taste better and more like bread, and I like how they're chewier too."
The Dude: Homemade; "The Boboli was actually much less objectionable than I thought it was going to be, but it's still no contest with the homemade and Whole Foods versions. The homemade crust gets a couple extra points in my book for being extra thin and chewy."
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No doubt about it: a pre-made pizza crust isn't in the same league as Lahey's pillowy, yeasty, richly flavored made-from-scratch dough. Whole Foods' frozen version fell slightly short in the texture department, but got high marks for its yeasty, complex flavor. There's nothing wrong with picking up some frozen dough in the future, but given how much better and easy Lahey's is to make (and a frozen dough will need time to thaw), there's little reason to cut corners for your next pizza dinner.
More from Bon Appétit:
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