Classroom Mise En Place

The above picture is something my students may see upon entering our classroom. It’s a snap shot of what we’re making. It gets them guessing. Most guesses are related to cookies. But if the tray contains too much green, it must mean salad and they’ll suddenly throw allergy fits. It’s our mise en place. It sets the scene of what lies in our near future.

I set out ingredients because 1 hour plus 15 students does not equal full prep, cooking, eating and clean up (yes, my students help clean up). Do the math, it doesn’t equate. When it does equate it’s something like yogurt smoothie or pizza bagels. Which is fine, but gets pretty boring. On a smaller scale, in the home kitchen, 1 hour can easily provide enough time for parent and child to move through a recipe, perhaps minus cooking or eating. Sometimes they do all the prep work (shredding, slicing), like for our egg rolls, cranberry corn muffins, or spinach fatayer . Industrious students go into what I call “factory mode” and create assembly lines of prep work. It’s pretty interesting to hear a kindergartener rationalize a time-labor-production equation.
Last week, we made pizza. It was a create-your-own pizza pie, which of course the students loved. Because what child doesn’t like pizza (okay, I actually have one in my class that does not). My students have been waiting all semester for pizza, counting down the weeks. When they don’t guess we’re making cookies, they’re hoping it’s our pizza day. Finally, pizza day arrived.

As in our other dough class, I make Monday’s batch of dough pre-class. In class we make a batch of dough which is refrigerated after rising and used the following day, etc. Each day’s class uses the preceding day’s dough. On Friday, I take the extra dough and make some sort of white pie (no sauce) or focaccia for the staff. It’s a win-win since the students get to participate in the whole process of pizza making and the staff is pleased to receive pretty much anything that exits the kitchen.

So we put together our dough with great excitement for the yeast (is it burping? I can see it burping! I can hear it burping!). Each table (each with 3 to 4 students) rolled out their dough and they each happily added toppings to their quarter of the pizza.

I encourage my students to always be adventurous eaters so I set out some comfortable pizza toppings (broccoli and sweet peppers) as well as some challenging toppings (sun-dried tomatoes and caramelized fennel). I know my readers are saying, “caramelized fennel?!” I will admit most students did not venture into the fennel arena. Some were daring enough to try it. I’m proud of those students.

So my students rolled their dough, added sauce, added toppings, smeared on the cheese and in the 550 degree oven our creations went. Hot sauce burned the roofs of delicate mouths as time could not pass fast enough for the cooling process. It didn’t matter. Everyone, except that one student who doesn’t like pizza, left happy and with a slice to share for the family.

1-Hour Whole Wheat Pizza Dough
Makes 1 16-inch pizza
3/4 cup warm water (105°F to 115°F)
1 envelope active dry yeast
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon sugar

3/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil

Toppings (see below)

Add ¾ cup warm water to a medium-sized mixing bowl. Stir in yeast and let sit 5 minutes. Brush another medium-sized bowl with olive oil, set aside. Into the bowl with yeast, sift in the flour, sugar and salt and pour in the olive oil. Knead the mixture in the bowl until smooth and sticky, about 1 minute. Transfer the dough to the olive oil coated bowl, turning so the oil covers all surfaces. Cover with a clean damp towel and let sit in a warm area until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Punch the dough down. (Here you can refrigerate the dough overnight.)

Heat oven to 450 degrees F. Turn the dough onto a floured surface. Roll out to fit a pizza pan (or cookie sheet). Add choice of toppings. See below for some ideas.

Crushed tomatoes
Mozzarella cheese
Ricotta cheese
Goat brie cheese
Caramelized fennel
Sauteed mushrooms
Red peppers

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