Pizza on a whim? Warm crusty bread in just an hour or two? Biscuits quickly ready for gifts or guests (or just because you crave a choc-chipper)? The freezer can make all of it happen.
Keeping some biscuit mix, bread dough or pizza bases in the fridge is a great way to fit baking into your life by prepping ahead, and it’s a low-waste way of doing things too – just cook what you need.
Here are some tips and resources to help you make the freezer your friend.
“Freezing bread or pizza dough is fine as it will eventually be cooked thoroughly - I prepare a large batch of pizza dough myself which I then freeze in smaller portions, then leave out for 12 hours to defrost and rise,” says Lydia Buchtmann from the Food Safety Information Council when SBS checks in about what’s safe to do. “Cookie dough has eggs in it so should be defrosted in the fridge (or follow instructions on the label if it is in a package). There have been salmonella food poisoning cases linked to eating the raw cookie dough - which kids like to do - mainly from the eggs but in rare cases the flour.”
Biscuits are an especially good thing to keep in the freezer, as you can cook straight from the freezer. We asked baking expert Anneka Manning, who runs Sydney-based cooking school BakeClub, for some tips. The best kinds of biscuit/cookie doughs for freezing, she tells us, are “Those without chemical leaveners (baking powder or bicarbonate of soda), like shortbread, or those with a low moisture content so these leaveners aren’t activated prematurely, like those without eggs.” Likewise, doughs without chemical leaveners, along with low-moisture, high butter ones like shortbread, are best suited to cooking straight from the freezer, she says. (Give it a go with Manning's Scottish shortbread recipe)
There are three main ways to freeze biscuit doughs – rolling the dough into a log, freezing individual biscuit-sized chunks of dough, or freezing discs of dough. The first two can be cooked from frozen; the last one allowed to thaw and then rolled out, to be cut into shapes, such as gingerbread people or shortbread.
“The log of dough works really well as you can slice it into rounds when frozen and bake straight away. Alternatively, shaping the dough before freezing is also a good idea and again, it can be baked from frozen. Just add 5-8 extra minutes to the baking time depending on the thickness and size of the biscuits,” Manning says.
Some biscuits don’t need much extra time, so check them just before their normal cooking time is up, just to be safe.
To freeze individual uncooked biscuits – this works best for sturdy biscuits - place rough balls of dough on a tray and freeze until solid. Then put the dough balls into a bag and press out the air. To cook, place biscuit dough balls on a tray – spaced out to allow for spreading – and cook from frozen. For sugar cookies and other doughs destined to make cut-out cookies, shape the dough into a disc, then wrap and freeze. For simple slice-and-bake cookies, roll into a log. Wrap the logs or discs in a layer or two of plastic wrap, making sure the dough is well sealed.
Delicate biscuits like tuiles and meringues don’t freeze well. Instead, try recipes like Kirsten Tibballs' chocolate and cinnamon cookies, sliced from a frozen log of dough; Caroline Griffith’s carrot cake biscuits; or Amanda Hesser’s chewy vanilla spice cookies with chocolate chunks (part of the secret to these fragrant, chewy cookies is chilling the dough for at least 12 hours. They’re worth the wait but having the shaped biscuits in the freeze means you can have these beauties ready to eat in under half an hour for much swifter satisfaction!)
Manning says most biscuit doughs will last up to 6 months.
Freezing bread dough is trickier than biscuits.
“Sourdough doesn’t behave itself very well when frozen,” says Manning. “It is all to do with timing and making sure that the yeast has come back to life enough that it continues to ferment and leaven the dough when defrosted but also that the dough has returned to a high enough temperature that the rise isn’t badly affected - cold dough won’t expand as much during baking as a room temperature dough and the volume will be adversely affected. I don’t recommend freezing bread doughs often, as the timing with getting it back to the right temperature can be tricky – it depends greatly on the weather, temperature of the kitchen, size of dough portions, type of dough, etcetera.”
That doesn’t mean you can’t freeze bread dough, just know that it may take some practice to get it right. If you do, bread made with added yeast, rather than sourdough, might be a better place to start. You might also find that adding a little extra yeast helps get a good result.
Like many good bakers, Nigella Lawson says the best time to freeze bread and bread rolls is after the dough has risen, and been knocked back and shaped. Her guide suggests freezing the loaves or rolls on/in cling film-lined trays or tins, then removing and bagging. Return loaves to the tin for baking.
To use frozen dough, remove it from the freezer and open the plastic bag. Tent it a little to allow for further rising, then reseal. Leave it to defrost and complete its rise at room temperature, or defrost in the fridge then let the loaf proof on the benchtop. After it’s fully risen (the time taken will vary depending on the kitchen temperature, the size of the load, and other factors), bake as usual.
Once-risen and shaped bread dough will keep in the freezer for 4 weeks.
“Freezing pizza bases after they have been rolled out works well. I thaw them at room temperature and allow them to start getting a little puffy - an indication that the yeast is starting to be active again - before topping and baking,” says Manning.
Freeze the bases separately, then stack together in bags.
Another option is to divide the dough into portions but freeze before rolling out – check out J. Kenji López-Alt’s tips on this method over at seriouseats.
You can also par-bake pizza bases; proceed as normal with your pizza dough recipe but take the bases out of the oven when they are only slightly coloured. Cool completely then freeze. Top and bake from frozen.
Uncooked pizza bases will keep for six months.
Sure, it’s obvious that a pizza base is a pizza base … but will you remember when you put it in the freezer? It’s best to label everything you put in the freezer with name and date, so you know what it is (brown lumps of biscuit dough all look a bit similar) and when you froze it (so you can use the older items first).
The loaf gets its name from the way it rises and ‘blooms’ like a flower in the oven. The term also describes the lustre you get with a well baked loaf that has a crisp crust.
These are inspired by “turtles”, a popular American candy invented in the 1930s. A chewy mess of caramel, pecans and chocolate, they've lent their famous flavour-profile to a whole host of cookie spin-offs. Peanuts stand in admirably for pecans. Peanut butter in the mix makes them even more rich – but if you want to really go whole hog, add a cup of chopped dark chocolate to the dough as well.
"There’s a world of difference between a good pizza dough and a perfect one."
This variation on the classic ‘icebox’ cookie – where the dough is refrigerated before baking – was popularised by American pastry chef and cookbook author Maida Heatter, dubbed ‘Queen of Desserts’. They’re an addictive combination of sweet, salty and spicy all in the one mouthful.