It's an allure that I may never fully understand, but Kraft Lunchables were the forbidden fruit of my lunch-packing youth. The prepared-with-love lunch from Mom lost all value in the presence of the brightly packaged deli meats and cheeses. But it was a want I could rarely satisfy; they were banned from landing in our shopping cart for being over packaged, over processed, and over priced. But now that I control my own grocery cart and I edit a pizza blog, it seemed like the prime time to indulge my hibernating lust for Lunchables with the Pizza version—a variety that didn't exist when I was a kid.
In the vein of Lunchables, these are ready-made snacks with no heating recommended. Just assembly. I got the Pepperoni version. I know from experience that I don't really like eating pre-shredded cheese any other way than melted and on something. Cold packaged sauce holds just as little appeal. But I can get behind poppin' just about any grade of pepperoni in my mouth. So whatever illusions were to be shattered, my thinking was at least I'd have the pepperoni to fall back on.
First let's have a look at what's inside.
You've got your three dough rounds, exhibiting the Lunchable trademark cookie cutter precision (would you just look at the uniformity in those grill (?) marks), three ounces of Kraft shredded cheese (1 ounce per pizza), 9 pepperonis (3 discs per pielet), and a one ounce package of sauce.
I'm not gonna beat around the bush. Eating these things cold is not an option. Lunchables were designed for cheese and crackers and things that don't get eaten hot 9 times out of 10. Eaten raw brings out the weird fake butter flavor in the crust, the odd powdery coating on the cheese, and the lingering metallic flavor of the sugary sauce. But... I wasn't willing to dismiss them so quickly. I got it in my mind that I could make them edible, and not just by dressing them up with fancier ingredients. My harebrained notion was that by only using the heating implements available in a common motel room (like a nicer Hampton Inn grade of motel), and a little foil, I could make these Pizza Lunchables sing.
First up, The Iron
This method definitely requires a bit of foil. If you try to go commando on this one—sans foil—you're gonna wind up with a real mess on your hands, and a lot of explaining to do to housekeeping.
Working with just the dough round to start, I made a foil envelope and gave the crust a little press. Not only did I end up with a warm base to build upon, but there was the added benefit of toasty coloring. Additionally, the foil envelope helped to generate some condensation and made for a warm and moist crust. The initial efforts were already proving promising!
After getting the sauce and cheese on, I realized that for my purposes, the pepperoni selection was a smart move. See, without them, giving the pizzette a cheese melting press would result in all the cheese clinging to the foil. But with the pepperonis as lifts, the cheese would be protected from total fusion to the foil. Except, maybe I pressed too long or too hard, oops.
Pros: The foil and iron combo allowed some browning and helped the crust retain its moisture. And, gooey, well-melted cheese is a pro in my book. When the cheese is melting to the foil, the iron gives off a really satisfying sizzle.
Cons: This method resulted in too much cheese clingage. Hard to gauge the cooking time. (With some time, temperature, and pressure adjustments, I am fairly confident the cons could be overcome.)
Next, The Blow Dryer
The blow dryer offers a lot of control, but it also requires a little more patience. I started out bringing the dough up to temp with some one-on-one dryer time. By the time it was getting warm, the telltale cracks of dehydration were popping up on the surface of the crust. Eek, a drawback. Once loaded with the rest of the toppings, I got down to melting.
Depending on the strength of your air stream, the shredded cheese may blow around a little. I found you can use the pepperonis as cheese-weights until the initial melting happens. But for great melting to occur, the pepperonis have to take a seat on the sidelines.
And here's what a blow dryer pie looks like:
Pros: The blow dryer yields a lot of control and doesn't run the risk of a cheese meltdown. It offers adequate heating without a lot of fussing with foil origami.
Cons: Blow drying the dough to heat it up results in a dried out crust. Holding a blow dryer over a pizza can get tiring and it keeps you tied to the pie instead of surfing through the pay-per-view movie options.
The Final Heat(er)
If you don't have a window heater in a hotel room, then you probably aren't desperate enough to need a ghetto method to heat your pizza snacks, fancypants (it would be pretty tough to suspend a Lunchable under a wall or ceiling air vent, though with the right foil folding technique, I'm sure it's possible). This approach also has a temperature drawback. In order to get the pizza warm, you're gonna have to be prepared for a warm room. On a cold winter's night, that works; in the dead of summer, not so much.
I got the heat cranking and gave the crust a solo run. Checking back in a little later the dough was warming but also drying out. Once topped, I left it to sit, checking back every couple of minutes. Speed was not one of the attributes of the heater method. After 15 minutes, this was how far melting had progressed:
In an effort to resolve the effectiveness of the heater, I thought a foil pack might help.
Boy! What a difference that made. Not only did it melt a hell of a lot faster and produce a moist and pliable crust just like the iron method, but it also seemed more hygienic than blowing motel air all over the pizza.
Just look at that uniform melting!
Pros: The foil packet yields a moist crust and incredibly melty cheese. Best of all, you can do other things while waiting for the cheese to melt.
Cons: There are some seasonal restraints.
Encouraged by the results of the heater method, I wondered if one final test— a combo method, utilizing the iron and blow dryer—would give me the best of both worlds, without turning the room into a sauna. The crust got its heat and color from a press of the iron, and then a round of the dryer produced this:
A real score! Heated up, that odd buttery flavor in the crust turned into something that almost resembled a more yeasty flavor, there were no signs of powdery cheese coating, and the sauce perked up once melded with a little cheese and pepperoni fat.
Even if the whole Lunchable thing completely turns you off, which it surely does, there is a valuable takeaway here. These methods can revive any leftover slice!
I know when I'm traveling I typically have some pizza places on my to-eat list. And while cold pizza is just fine, it's good to have some re-heat techniques in your back pocket. These methods extend beyond the furtive Lunchable junkie to people like you and me. Wait, er, you. And best of all you can leave the griddle at home.