Summer break has officially ended and we are back in “school mode”. Right. This would require a celebration.
For my kids, this meant pizza with their friends. And lemonade.
Looks like we may need to brush up on spelling.
But first things first…pizza!
The kids took up their regular “baking class” spots around the table, and we talked about how pizza dough was a simple mixture of water, flour, salt and oil, leavened with yeast.
“Anyone remember what yeast is?”
A little nudge from me: “Is it a living thing?”
“Yes!”, “It’s a fungi.”
Me again, shaking the little packet of yeast: “Anyone want to guess what we need to do first when we make any yeasted dough?”
“Wake it up!”, “Put it in water!”
“And what does it do when we put it in our dough?”
We checked the temperature of our water. I explained that yeast, like humans, need warmth, but not too much. The temperature of the water should be about 100 degrees or so, definitely no more than 140. They should be able to hold their fingers in the water without wanting to pull them out.
“Ow!” They thought it was too hot.
I added a little cool water and checked the temperature with an instant read thermometer so they could get a clearer idea of what it should feel like. They all agreed that, at 107 degrees, it was “much, much better.”
We stirred the yeast and some of the water together in a bowl and let it sit for a few minutes .
Then we added the rest of our water, some olive oil, and salt.
Next, we started adding flour, about a cup at a time. I shared my thoughts on measuring and adding flour to pizza and lean bread doughs, as in, I don’t measure exactly, but prefer to go by the feel of the dough. Sure, it is good to have an idea of how much flour you need to have on hand, but depending on your flour, you may use less or more in the end product, and it is a good idea to learn to gauge its quality by touch.
We continued to add flour until the mixture became too stiff to stir with a spoon.
I encouraged the kids to put their hands in the bowl to feel the sticky, elastic dough.
“Does anyone remember what makes the dough so stretchy?”
I reminded them of the composite protein, called gluten, that forms when water and glutenin and gliadin, the two proteins present in dry wheat flour, mix. The action of kneading actually realigns the gluten molecules so that they run roughly in the same direction. I like to think of a messy pile of yarn, and the kneading is the motion of straightening all the strands into a nice, neat bundle. The resulting network of protein gives bread its structure by creating an expandable barrier that will trap the carbon dioxide gas given off by the feeding yeast, much like a balloon filling with air.
I think they get the balloon part.
Next, we scraped the resulting shaggy mass of dough out onto the generously floured table.
We would be kneading more flour into the dough at this point, precisely why we didn’t want to add all of our flour in the very beginning. Dough that is too dry and floury is harder to stretch into pizzas and bakes up bready. Slightly wetter doughs bake up lighter with bigger bubbles in the crust.
The kids took turns kneading, adding only enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to their hands.
We could feel the dough becoming more uniform, and stopped after a few minutes when it was smooth and still slightly tacky. It was placed in a lightly oiled, covered bowl where it would rise for an hour.
While the yeast worked their magic, we turned our attention to wheat, the grain our flour was made from.
A member of the grass family, wheat produces a dry one-seeded fruit called a kernel.
The kids enthusiastically examined the wheat, pulling apart the head and harvesting the wheat berries. As they gathered the kernels, “This takes a long time!”, we talked about the traditional ways the edible part of the wheat was separated from the chaff before winnowing, and the ancient and modern ways of milling it into flour. We looked at a diagram of a wheat kernel and discussed how different wheat flours are made not only from different kinds of wheat, but from different parts of, or, in the case of whole grain, the entire wheat berry.
They examined and compared various kinds of flour: all purpose, whole wheat, whole wheat pastry, bread, cake, and buckwheat, and drew tables where they could record their observations.
“This one feels soft…
or “This one smells good…
One of the girls pushed some whole wheat flour through a fine mesh strainer and discovered what she had left was the extracted bran. Another attempted, unsuccessfully, to grind the sturdy wheat berries into flour with a mortar and pestle, “These are hard! It would have taken forever!”
Next, we added water to each bowl and observed what happened.
“This one sucks up a lot of water!” (whole grain absorbs more than white)
“This is stretchy.” (Indicating the presence of gluten and its level of strength)
“This turned out kinda runny.” (Lower protein cake flour)
“This one doesn’t stretch at all!” (The only gluten-free one we had, buckwheat, isn’t wheat, but a plant used for it’s edible seeds)
They poked, prodded and tasted the resulting mixtures and shared their various opinions.
“This one tastes like dirt.” Fair enough.
“This one tastes like peanut butter.” Okay…
And, “this one tastes like mouth-blood.” Huh?
It’s a good thing our pizza dough was ready because I was beyond hungry.
We could see that the dough had doubled in size.
And that the yeast had indeed eaten and burped.
It was time for stretching!
They enjoyed deflating the dough.
I divided it into 8, 4 oz. pieces and rounded those into balls. Ideally we would let the dough rest for a bit to let the gluten relax after the trauma of being
man kid-handled and divided, but my empty tummies called.
I showed them how to press the balls into rounds and then stretch them on the backs of their fists, letting gravity do its work.
I advised that if the dough wasn’t stretching much, or was fighting back, they should just leave it alone for a minute to let the gluten relax. Easier said than done.
They also tried to stretch the dough by holding the discs up by the edges and quickly rotating it to keep the circular shape.
Some were rounder than others.
A little sauce…
then (a late) lunch!
And they were all very pleased with their creations.
Pizza Dough (makes enough for about 8 individual pizzas, or 2 – 3 large rounds, depending on the thickness of crusts)
A note about this recipe: I use this dough when I’m making it for dinner during the week and I haven’t planned very far ahead. It happens. More often than not. Having said that, when I can think more than a day in advance, I really like this recipe, (with a bit more salt), for its more developed flavor and good chew. Obviously, explaining to the kiddos that they’ll have to wait 3 days to bake the pizzas might be a tough sell. This one is definitely kid friendly.
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 t active dry yeast
2 t fine sea salt
2 T olive oil
About 4 cups unbleached all purpose flour, bread flour, or a combination of whole wheat and one of the others
Place 1/2 cup of the water in a large bowl and stir in the yeast. Set aside for a few minutes to rehydrate. Add the rest of the water, salt and the oil. Add the flour about a cup at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon after each addition. Stop adding when it becomes too difficult to stir. Remove the shaggy mass of dough to a floured surface. With floured hands, knead until fairly smooth and stretchy, using only enough flour to keep the dough from sticking. Tacky is fine. Place dough into a lightly oiled bowl and cover. Set aside for 1 hr. When the dough has risen to about double, remove to a lightly floured surface. Divide dough and form into balls. Let sit for 10 minutes. Stretch dough into rounds, letting dough rest longer if it is hard to stretch or springs back. Top pizzas and bake in a very hot oven, (I heat mine, including a baking stone, for at least 30 minutes in advance to 500 degrees.)