Field Report:
I.C.E. Pizza Class
The Dough Also Rises

Rosie, MaceVindaloo, ThePlazaQueen, SteakGril, Diana, Wraith6

On a vacation trip to New York, a whole bunch of us decided to attend a cooking class at I.C.E. (The Institute for Culinary Education), one of the premiere culinary schools in the country. Foodies all, we had registered for a 3-hour family cooking class on pizza making, so that everyone -- younger and older -- could join in (classes normally are restricted to 18 and over, 21 and over when alcohol is involved). Pizza being a universal favorite, this class offered us an opportunity to refine our skills so that we would never more have to stoop to Domino's delivery ... Not that Domino's is all bad ... but you know ... and being a foodie means you need to know how and where this stuff comes from.

But first, we had to figure out where to go ... I.C.E. is located on several floors of what looks like an office building, like any other on the block. A security guard asked us to sign in before misdirecting us to the wrong floor of the Institute, which gave us a bit of a pleasurable detour. Up on the twelfth floor professional students were bustling around purposefully learning their trade and generating delicious, mouth-watering smells in the process. On query for information and a restroom stop later we were directed back down to the seventh floor where the non-professional classes were taught. We were greeted at the reception desk and invited to sit and wait for our instructor to come for us. The waiting area was right outside another classroom kitchen where other recreational students were putting the final touches on the meal they had prepared. It was fun to watch them plate up the various dishes and set the table where they would sample their efforts with real tablecloths, napkins, sliverwear and wineglasses. In fact, we would not have objected to being invited to taste.

The I.C.E. location means nice looking neighbors -- we saw courtyards and rooftops planted with trees and greenery. A very different view of city buildings! As we were oohing and aahing, several other parent-child pairs arrived to participate in the pizza class. Our instructor, Heather came out and invited us to follow her back to the kitchen classroom where we would hone our pizza-making skills. We sat down to a table set with linen and silverware and laden with fresh fruit and juices and bread, peanut butter, and marmalade to snack on. Hey, cooking is hungry work!

As we munched, Heather explained how the class would work: first she would demonstrate how to make the brownie base for the dessert pizza we would be making at the end of the class, then we would make our own brownie bases so they would have time to bake and cool; then she would demonstrate how to make the pizza dough then we would make our own pizza dough. She went on to explain that we would take our own dough home with us later, but due to the time needed for dough to rise and proof properly, we would use premade dough which had already proofed to make our pizzas in the class.

Heather invited the children to stand close to the center table in the classroom with the adults behind them so that everyone would be able to see what she was doing. She explained that the ingredients we would be working with had been prepared in advance to save time and to minimize boredom for the kids from the more tedious tasks involved in cooking, namely chopping and sautéeing veggies and in the case of the brownies, waiting for chocolate to melt. Explaining each step as she went, she put together her batter for the demo brownie while her assistants (there were four who were estagières) put ingredients out on the other tables for us.

By the way, the I.C.E. estagières are basically professional students, which offers a work-study scholarship program. Student work without wages for an equal number of hours as the professional program which they wish to study. A certain number of such scholarships are available annually, and many estagières do their hours at night and on weekends. Mostly they receive and process the foods and materials needed in the school, but they also assist in the teaching classrooms. As the brochure says, "the next superchef might be fetching your parsley for you!" (The kids preferred to refer to them as "house elves," by the way!)

Once Heather's perfect brownie was put into the oven to bake, she sent us off in pairs to make our own. As every good teacher should, she circulated amongst the tables offering helpful suggestions and she took the time to chat with our group to learn a bit about our backgrounds. She was pleased and surprised that we had opted to spend some of our time visiting New York taking this class and was even more pleased when we told her that it was one of the first things we had arranged when planning our trip. Our brownie batter came together as quickly as Heather's had, and off they went to the ovens under the watchful eyes of the house elves.

Back at the center table, Heather proceeded to demonstrate how to assemble the pizza dough, explaining that it was the carbon dioxide gas produced by the blooming yeast that caused the dough to rise. Just like the chefs in TV cooking shows, she quipped that so much TV time had passed that the dough was ready, as she produced another sponge of dough that had already proofed, or risen. This dough, she punched down and reshaped it into a ball before dividing it into four equal parts, enough to make four 8-inch pizzas. Next she showed us how to stretch the dough with our fingertips to the proper size, leaving the edges a little thicker -- so we would have something to grab onto when it came time to eat. Now that the dough was stretched, it was time to top. She recommended going light on the tomato sauce in order to avoid sogginess in the final product. The toppings prepared ahead of time by her house elves included sautéed vegetables, sausage, pepperoni, tomato sauce of course, and five different kinds of cheeses! (I want a house elf!)

Back at our own tables, flour, water, oil, salt, and yeast quickly combined (with only a minimum of flying flour). The younger members of the teams were a little intimidated by the gooey concoctions. It fell to the older partners to start the kneading process that would yield a properly elastic dough. There is a correct technique -- pushing from the center of the dough with the heel of the hand, pulling back and turning the dough, and repeating till a smooth surface is achieved on the dough. Our doughs were then put into sealed carry-out containers and refrigerated till the end of the class.

The pre-made doughs were then distributed to each of us to make our own pizzas. Stretching the dough proved to be a little more difficult than Heather had made it look, but fortunately pizza dough is pretty forgiving and any holes accidentally poked through the dough can easily be pinched closed again. Pizza dough is pretty sticky stuff so just slapping it onto a pan is not really a good idea. The cooked pizza will adhere thoroughly to the pan and only tear when you try to dislodge it. How to get around this problem? A small handful of cornmeal will act like ballbearings keeping the dough from being in full contact with the pan.

So ... Cornmeal down, dough down and we were ready to top our pizzas. One Wooklet decided to stay with the tried and true cheese pizza, but another was convinced to try more than just mozzarella. Yet another decided to be more adventurous: sauce of course, then all five kinds of cheese, spinach, mushrooms, peppers, and pepper flakes. Heather encouraged us to be creative and we were. One of the older Hutties asked if they could use items from the shelves and racks of other spices, seasonings and sauces on the wall over some of the clean up spaces. Heather delightedly let us take whatever we wanted and was happy to see us use more unusual ingredients like pepper flakes, balsamic vinegar, flavored oils -- we really went to town and couldn't wait to taste our creations.

The pizzas were whisked away to be put into the oven by the assistants and Heather brought us all back to the center table to frost the brownie pizza with chocolate icing. She showed us how to cover the entire brownie with the icing, then brought out all sorts of candy toppings: confetti candies, mini marshmallows, gummi peach rings, M&M's, red licorice ... We helped the kids frost the brownies, then stood back as they went crazy adding more sugar. Some of them made candy faces while others just piled on the goodies. The pans the brownies were baked in were made of heavy duty foil and meant to be taken with us so we covered the sweet treats and added them to the dough to take at the end of class.

By this time our pizza creations were coming out of the ovens and Heather was cutting them into quarters. We made ourselves comfortable at the dining table getting more juice for the kids and uncorking bottles of red and white wine for the adults. The cheese pizza queen decided to keep her pizza to herself, but the rest of us swapped pieces to taste each others' creations. That was still a lot of pizza and we could not manage to finish it. No problem though; they had plenty of foil containers to put our leftovers in to take with us. Not only that, they provided plastic half pint and pint containers and allowed us to take leftover toppings home, too. We were surprised at how generous the class was -- we ended up making another meal out of our leftovers on another night.

Heather also advised us as we were packing up the leftovers and the yeast that we should make sure to take pizza dough straight home after class or it will continue to rise, especially today, which was very warm. Alas, the I.C.E. Pizza class was only the first stop in a day of touring ... we'll see if the dough not only rises, but explodes! (P.S., it did!)

While we were chowing down, Heather talked about her experiences as a chef and at I.C.E. She has been a chef for 14 years and had just recently left a position as pastry chef at a popular New York eatery. She teaches both professional classes and recreational classes at I.C.E., which is nice to know. If other opportunities come up to take classes here we will certainly jump at the chance. This one was a unique and enjoyable experience -- and we got to eat our classwork. How can you beat that?

Disclaimer: All contents are personal observations, and no profit or lucre is expected, solicited, advocated or paid by anyone, including those being observed. This is all just for fun. Any comments, please e-mail the author or WOOKIEEhut directly. Flames will be ignored. This report may not be posted anywhere without the author's knowledge, consent, and permission.