- Take-and-bake is a trend on the rise as more customers want to enjoy the high quality offered by independent pizzerias on their own terms.
- If you’re thinking of adding take-and-bake at your pizza shop, Chef Leo Spizzirri offers some pointers to keep in mind.
Related: Legendary Totonno’s has a new business plan: frozen pizzas
By Leo Spizzirri and Tracy Morin
Leo Spizzirri, maestro pizzaiolo, consultant and founder of Spizzirri Media in Chicago, has noted an increase in the trend of take-and-bake in the pandemic years. “We definitely saw an uptick, alongside things like family meals, curbside takeout, and other value-added services to our customers who normally would have been eating in our dining rooms,” Spizzirri says. “A lot of operators started to inquire: How do I make my pizza so that it can be baked at somebody’s house and enjoyed the same way that it was in my restaurant?”
Enter the convenience of take-and-bake—a great way to entice your customers to choose your pizzeria over another takeout or delivery operation (or over the grocery store’s frozen pizza aisle). It’s also a great way for pies to hit the table hot and fresh, serving a family for an affordable price with zero fuss. But, if you’re thinking of adding this service, Spizzirri details several points to keep in mind:
1) Formulation considerations.
There are two main methods operators use for take-and-bake pizzas. First, you can choose topping a par-baked crust. Often, our current formulations can be used to make a par-baked pizza, but there are intricacies in how long that crust needs to be par-baked for. You need the structure to be baked through enough so that, by the time the consumer gets the pizza back home and sticks it in the oven, it’s not collapsing on itself or looking gummy or rubbery in the middle.
On the other hand, you don’t want to cook the pizza base too much, because then, by the time the consumer bakes it until the cheese and toppings are done, the base is too dark. So we must find the perfect time and temperature needed to create the par-bake. That way, when we write the final baking instructions for the consumer—who’s going to take this pizza home and finish it in their oven—those bake times are perfect: The pizza gets nice and crispy on the bottom, with the toppings and the crust baked correctly.
Then there’s the other method: Put a disc of raw dough in a pan, top it with sauce, cheese and toppings, wrap it, then freeze it. When the consumer gets home, now it’s like they’re baking a pizza from scratch. But anytime we freeze pizza dough, we always want to use fresh yeast and not dry yeast. Since fresh yeast is made of about 80% water, it’s kind of insulating and protecting the yeast cells during the freezing process. There are different conversion methods for switching to fresh yeast, depending on the style of pizza you make, but in general, if you’re going to make any kind of frozen dough, the preference is to use fresh yeast.
We must find the perfect time and temperature needed to create the par-bake. That way, when we write the final baking instructions for the consumer…those bake times are perfect.
2) Customer instructions.
When you make the commitment to start doing take-and-bake pizza, it’ll be a version of the pizza that you sell in your restaurant, but it’s now going to be left to the consumer to finish. The great thing about doing a par-baked crust is that it’s almost an insurance policy that the pizza is going to turn out well—you’ve done most of the heavy lifting.
Also, since the crust on a par-bake is already set, the consumer doesn’t need an oven that goes up to 550°, 600° or hotter. Most home ovens go to about 500°, depending on the brand. So if they want a crispier crust, they can place the pizza directly on the rack of the oven, since the par-baked crust holds the toppings. Otherwise, the instructions may be: Place the pizza on a sheet pan or a cookie sheet and cook at 500°.
Experiment at your own house, in your own home oven. How long did it take, at 500°, to finish this pizza properly? Most of the time, if it’s a single-topping pizza, like cheese or pepperoni, you’re sticking that par-baked pizza into the oven for another eight to 10 minutes. Remember that everybody’s oven is not 500°, so we always want to give a range of time: eight to 10 minutes, 10 to 12 minutes, etc.
Recipe of the Month: Al Taglio Roman-Style Pizza
3) Style points.
Some styles work especially well for take-and-bake: Chicago thin-crust, tavern-style, deep-dish or stuffed pizzas, even a Detroit-style or pan pizza. (You can even get disposable pans so the consumer is baking in the same pan they received it in.) Our New York-style round pie works really well, because it cooks in that home-oven range of 500°.
When you talk about wood-fired or Neapolitan-style pizza, normally the pizzeria is making, say, a Margherita pizza from scratch, sticking it into the oven, and starting to bake. The Margherita is almost all the way done, and the consumer just finishes it in the oven, just to crisp it up and remelt the cheese. If you aren’t doing a par-baked crust with raw sauce and raw cheese, the Neapolitan pizza can be done.
But, normally, we’re not going to be topping with sauce right on top of the pizza. Instead, we’d create a disc of dough and do some kind of docking in the center so the crust doesn’t puff up like a pita. Once that base comes out of the oven, we allow it to cool thoroughly before we do anything else to it. Then it can be topped with sauce, mozzarella and everything else.
At that point, these pizzas, no matter what style, once they’re topped, will usually go back into the freezer in a single layer so that they’re frozen solid. Then they’re wrapped or put into the final container for the customer to take home.
Anytime we freeze pizza dough, we always want to use fresh yeast and not dry yeast. Since fresh yeast is made of about 80% water, it’s insulating and protecting the yeast cells during the freezing process.
4) Customer and employee convenience.
Take-and-bake pies are about customer convenience. Some operators will invest the money and put out a merchandiser—maybe a refrigerator or freezer unit so that people see it when they come into the restaurant and try one.
But the labor part of the process can happen at any point. The take-and-bake pizza doesn’t have to be made per order—it can be made in the morning with all the rest of your prep work, between lunch and dinner, or even at the end of the night, before you close. So I like having the ability to plug and play: Figure out how many pizzas you need to build, and do it outside of your regular flow of business. And if it’s a frozen product, then you can keep them all stored in the freezer and just keep refilling your inventory.
5) Quality control.
Is your take-and-bake pizza going to be the same quality as the one you have in your restaurant? If you’re a regular pizzeria that wants to create an additional take-and-bake offering, it really comes down to not compromising the quality of the pizza that you make every day. If somebody’s trying my take-and-bake product, I don’t want them to have a lesser experience that’s going to tarnish the reputation of my regular brand. So before you jump into it, do the proper testing on your own, making sure that those bases and toppings are perfect. I think that the most important thing is that the experience for the consumer has to be the same as—or better than—what they receive in the restaurant.
Tracy Morin is PMQ’s senior copy editor and the editor of PizzaVegan.com.