A Children’s Pizza Party
What better time than summer vacation to get the neighborhood kids together and have a cooking lesson disguised as a pizza party. Children love to get their hands into the food and they love pizza. Those that don’t love pizza will probably love it by the time they get finished making it. It has been my experience that even children who say they don’t like a certain food (or think they don’t like a certain food) will find that if they make it themselves, all of the sudden it tastes good.
This is a good summertime activity for children. All you need to do is to have a room (or patio) that can accommodate a number of children. Don’t let the numbers get too large or else you won’t be able to get around to helping all the children that need help. It would be a good idea to have another Mother or an older sibling to help. If your kitchen is large enough to accommodate at least 5 children, this would be a perfect number to get started with.
For the Pizza Party you will need some equipment and some food supplies. Ideally, it would be best to have small individual pizza pans so that each child can make his/her own pizza. Barring that, if you have a pizza stone, each child can still make their own. If all you have is large pizza pans or baking pans, make sure that each child gets to have a hand in it and perhaps a section of the pizza that they can call their own.
You can purchase ready-made pizza dough or even better let the kids get their hands into the dough and make it themselves. Kids love to knead and push and mix and they will have a great time and learn something at the same time. Here is what you will need to get started.
Equipment: mixing bowls (if you or the kids are going to make the dough), mixing spoons, measuring spoons and cups, pizza pans or pizza stone and peel, pizza wheel (cutter), spatula and pot holders.
Food Supplies: all-purpose flour, yeast, sugar, salt (or purchase the dough ready made). Crushed tomatoes, oregano, salt, and pepper; pizza toppings such as pepperoni, olives, bell peppers, etc. and of course mozzarella cheese.
For the Kids To Make the Dough: use a large bowl and have all the ingredients ready. Proportions for pizza dough are: 6 cups flour, 1 tbsp. dry granulated yeast, 1 tbsp. sugar or honey, 2 tsps. Salt, 1 Tbsp. Olive Oil and 2 cups warm water. This will make two large pizzas or around 12 small (6″ ) ones.
Place the bowl on a table low enough for the children to reach. Have the children stand around the table. (Sitting won’t give them the leverage they need) Let the kids take turns adding the ingredients to the bowl. Start out in this order:
Warm Water, Yeast and Sugar – let stand for about 5 minutes to allow the yeast time to proof. (Bubbles will form and then you know the yeast is alive – dead yeast won’t give the raising action that you need for yeast dough) Add the olive oil at this point.
Flour & Salt – let the children take turns adding the flour, about cup at a time and mixing with a wooden mixing spoon. When a soft dough has formed (about 4-5 cups flour) place a large pastry board over a damp towel on the table. Place the remaining flour on the board and transfer the dough to the board on top of the flour.
Kneading – show the children how to knead (push at the top, fold from the top; the pushing and folding procedure should continue until a cylinder has formed. Add flour as needed. You want to use only enough flour to keep the dough from sticking. Once a cylinder has formed turn it so the it is vertical on the board and begin kneading and folding again. The dough should be kneaded for about 10 minutes or until it is soft, springy and elastic.
Place the kneaded dough in a large bowl that has been oiled lightly and cover with a clean dish towel or plastic wrap and place in a warm spot for it to raise up.
While the Dough is raising, have the children prepare the other ingredients. Use plastic knives or table knives for the children to cut the vegetables or olives with. Instruct them in the use of a grater – show them how to hold the food so that only the food gets grated (not the fingers) and let them shred the cheese. Once everything is ready you are ready to assemble the pizzas. Make sure the oven is on. (If you are using a stone, it should be heated at 500 degrees for at least half an hour before baking the pizzas.) If using pizza pans, allow the oven enough time to heat up before baking the pizzas. (425 for slower baking and 500 for faster baking). Baking pizzas on the lower shelf of the oven will help to make the bottom of the crust crispier.
Divide the Dough so that you have a portion that will fit on each pan. Again, if you are using large pans, the dough recipe above will make two large pizzas or 3 medium ones and about 12 personal size pizzas. Each piece of dough should be formed into the shape of a mushroom. Show the children how to flatten the dough with the palm of their hand and then to stretch the dough from the center to the edges using the thumb and forefinger. Once the dough is almost large enough to fit the pan, you can place the dough onto the pan. Be sure to spray or oil the pans first or the pizzas won’t come off when baked. If the dough doesn’t fit the pan, just stretch it out some more on the pan. If some parts get too thin or tear, just patch them up with more dough. The nice thing about pizza is that patched up portions will never be noticed because they will be covered up with toppings.
Once the dough is stretched to fit the pan, lightly oil the dough with olive oil and then spoon on some crushed tomatoes. (Keep this light or the crust will get soggy). Add salt, pepper, oregano and basil if desired to taste. Then add the shredded cheese and any other toppings. Bake for 20 minutes at 425 or 15 – 20 at 500 degrees or until the crust is a dark golden brown and the cheese is melted.
Allow the pizzas to cool and set for about 5 minutes before cuttings and serving.
If you have never done this before, you may want to start out easy by purchasing the dough and purchasing the cheese already shredded. If you are working with very young children their attention span is short, so the fewer tasks they have to do in the beginning the more fun they will have and the more likely it will be that they will want to do this again.
Once you have done this event with the children, you may want to attempt other food projects such as cookies or popcorn balls or even sandwiches. Summer is for fun and cooking and preparing food can be a lot of fun and will give the children a good sense of accomplishment!