Raising dough on a rainy day

(written for Family Spotlight magazine)

The rain seems particularly self-assured on this day. Falling boldly and bouncing up from the ground with enthusiasm, the audible beat provides a rhythm to the day that seems to declare: Make pizza!

My kids’ playdate with friends is relegated indoors on a day like this, and the wet weather becomes all the more cozy knowing there is bubbling cheese, sweet marinara and crispy, tender pizza crust in our near future.

Preparations

I write out on a piece of paper the instructions for how to make enough dough for four pizzas.

Basic pizza dough is a straightforward recipe. Listing the steps in numbered order and including the ingredients as part of the preparations as opposed to a separate list ensures that the directions are kid-friendly.

I assemble the food processor and set out all the ingredients on the kitchen table. Now, I call to the kids: "Come make pizza dough."

After an impassioned lecture on the dangers of the food-processor blade, I tell them to have at it.

If the rain weren’t so persistent, I’d likely be directing their every move. I’d be helicoptering around them, ensuring that the dough was made as quickly and neatly as possible. This is the typical kind of cooking with kids I do - organized and well controlled.

Today, with hours of indoor weather stretching before us, I’m willing to sacrifice my clean kitchen in exchange for keeping the kids occupied for as long as possible.

Making the dough

The kids are bent over the instructions. Reading aloud, and in near unison, they note that the first step is to "Wash hands."

While the four kids suds up, they debate, coerce and compromise as they divvy up the tasks. Everyone wants to be involved with the yeast. Pushing the buttons on the processor is an equally sought-after job.

I like the plan they arrive at all on their own: They’ll rotate through the steps involved with each having a turn, using the order youngest to oldest.

Now, I can never resist a chance to clang about in the kitchen myself. As they collect measuring spoons, reread instructions and turn the kitchen tap to "Hot," I heave my massive, enamel braising pan out of the pot drawer. While they do the dough, I’ll make a simple marinara. We are buzzing along in side-by-side preparations.

I’m chopping an onion and glugging olive oil. They’re measuring a cup and a half of warm water, with exacting precision, checking and rechecking the thermometer to ensure that the temperature is between 100 and 110 degrees - the ideal warmth for the yeast. There is a consensus that the water is just right.

Someone cuts the yeast envelope open, another sprinkles the yeast into the waiting water and they take turns stirring. With the yeast left to activate, they’re onto the flour, measuring as they go.

Clouds of flour fill the air and heavy thuds of it land on the table, but they manage to get the four needed cups into the bowl of the food processor. Salt is measured and added, too. A few pulses on and off. Next, the warm water and yeast mixture is poured slowly through the feed tube and the blade is left to whirl around on its own for a minute.

The mixture becomes a rolling hunk of dough. They look again at the instructions, then turn the motor off, add the olive oil and pulse the dough until just combined.

I remove the lid of the processor and scoop the dough out onto the well-floured table. The kids use a pastry knife to cut the dough into four even pieces. They knead the dough and throw it in the air, pretending that it’s a beard on their face, a glove for their hand, a Frisbee. I eventually rescue it. Making four neat rounds, I set the dough on a floured kitchen towel and let it rest and rise and do all the wonderful things yeast, flour and water do when together.

We only need two of the balls of dough to make our individual pizzas. That means we can send dough home with friends, too.

Pizza and a movie

When evening comes, we put "Star Wars, Episode III" in the DVD player. I crank the oven to 500 degrees. My husband rolls out the dough - might not be as traditional as throwing it, but I love how thin his strong arms can get the dough.

We make our own pizzas, some with olives for eyes and mozzarella smiles. Other pizzas are scattered with potato, bacon and fontina cheese. The rain is still falling. The fire is going. We are in pajamas watching Anakin Skywalker wrestle with his inner demons and eating some of the best pizza of our lives.

Making the dough

• 1 cup wheat flour

• 3 cups white flour

• 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

• 1 1/2 cups warm water

• 1 envelope active dry yeast

• 4 tablespoons olive oil

Have a grown-up explain blade safety and how to use food processor. Read all instructions before beginning. Wash hands with soap and water and dry well.

Measure warm water into clear measuring cup. Using thermometer, check that water temperature is 100-110 degrees.

Open one envelope active dry yeast and add it to water. Leave alone for a while.

Remove lid from food processor and add wheat flour, white flour and salt. Put lid back on and pulse processor a few times. With food processor on, slowly pour water and yeast mixture into feed tube. Let food processor run for 1 minute - a ball of dough should form. Turn processor off.

Add olive oil through feed tube, pulsing processor on and off after each tablespoon is added.

Have an adult remove dough from processor. Place dough on floured surface, cut into four pieces and knead well. Form tight balls and place on floured kitchen towel. Lay clean kitchen towel on top of dough.

Let dough rest for 45 minutes or more - dough should double in size (refrigerate if using the next day).

Making the marinara

• 5-7 glugs olive oil

• 1 large yellow onion, diced

• 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

• 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce

• Bunch of basil, chopped or torn

• Salt, pepper, red pepper flakes

Over medium heat, sauté onions for roughly 10 minutes or until completely translucent. Add cans of tomatoes, basil, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Bring to a simmer, cooking uncovered for as long as possible or at least 1 hour.

Cooking the pizza

Preheat oven to 500 degrees (or as hot as your oven will go).

Roll out dough, place on pizza pan and brush lightly with olive oil. Add marinara or other tomato sauce.

Sprinkle on cheese and other toppings.

Cook for 10-12 minutes, keeping an eye on pizza to determine doneness

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