When I first began dreaming of the School of Cooking and Sharing, I knew that our first offering would be a community pizza night. Pizza is the perfect way to begin baking. It is a relatively easy yeasted dough, has a very flexible timeline, and is incredibly forgiving. After all, at the end of the day there is melted cheese on hot bread so you can’t go wrong. Better yet, it is a bread meant for sharing. Anytime there is pizza, there is a party. It is food for gathering around the table, eating with your hands, telling stories and laughing. Teaching people to make pizza at home isn’t just about building a dough – it’s about building a community. I’ve seen this over and over again when I have taught private “pizza for happy hour” classes in the homes of donors, led after-school healthy pizza baking programs for hungry kids, hosted pizza baking parties at the local drop-in center for homeless teens, or grilled pizza in my own backyard with friends and family. One of my favorite things that happens after I’ve taught a class on pizza baking is when my phone lights up the next weekend with pictures of people baking pizza at home for the first time – they are never alone! That’s why over time I have come to think of this recipe as a recipe not just for pizza, but for “community pizza.” I’ve had requests for step by step directions with photos to show what the dough “should” look like at each stage. This past weekend I had some very special pizza chef hand models in town and I can assure you that their results were as delicious as they are beautiful! Each step is important, but as you will see below the timeline is incredibly flexible. You can make crust this afternoon to bake this evening, or you can make crust this evening to bake next week. It’s up to you and your schedule. Just don’t forget that community pizza is as much about the people eating your pizza as it is the pizza itself!
STEP ONE: GATHER
Ingredients for pizza dough are simple so quality matters. I use King Arthur Flour in all my classes because the quality of the flour is consistent and because I know that the company and the people that work there are committed to using their resources to help end childhood hunger. Many of our kid’s baking programs here in St. Louis are possible because of King Arthur’s generous donations of flour, recipe books, and resources. For this recipe you will want their White Whole Wheat Flour (a great way to incorporate more healthy whole grains into all your baked goods) and their higher protein Bread Flour. You will also want yeast (my favorite is SAF), salt and a little bit of olive oil. That’s it! Infused oils like garlic, basil or rosemary can make your dough even more delicious. Play around with the flavor and develop your own “signature” recipe!
While you are gathering your ingredients, don’t forget to gather your friends as well. Call your community and let them know there is a pizza party in the works. One of my favorite things to do is make a few batches of dough in advance and then top and bake the pizzas with friends on a Friday night, but you can make your own pizza community any time of the week.
STEP TWO: BLOOM
Because yeast is alive we want to make sure that it is warm, well-fed, and happy so that it can do what it’s meant to do. Isn’t that what we want for everything that’s alive? When we buy dry yeast it is in a dormant state and we need to wake it up gently. Start by putting 1 3/4 cups of warm water into a bowl. People always ask, how warm? Remember that yeast is alive, so make it a comfortable temperature, like a warm bath. Too cold and it won’t grow, too hot and you can kill it.