Thursday, October 7, 2010

Una notte in Italia - a Young Lawyers Italian Cooking Class

Young Lawyers is an organisation enabling, er, young lawyers to network and enjoy themselves in like-minded company. Though neither Mr Cake nor I are lawyers, some of his colleagues told him of an upcoming event consisting of an Italian cooking class + wine + eating the spoils, which appealed to us and since there was no you-must-be-a-lawyer-to-attend criteria we booked our spots. The class was held in the boardroom of a large law firm - not quite the normal cooking venue, but it worked perfectly (not to mention the spectacular view we had).

The menu for the evening was pizza - dough made from scratch then made into three varieties (plus dough for us all to take home), followed by tiramisu. We had all been told to bring a bowl and an apron, but everything else was provided.

When we arrived we were given a glass each of Lambrusco, a lovely light, refreshing (and, we are assured, cheap!) Italian red, served chilled (a bit like the delicious Brown Brothers Cienna we had at my birthday). We also got a recipe sheet, telling us what we would make. The lovely Marija, who taught the class, asked for three volunteers to begin with, and Mr Cake was one of these. She had premixed the yeast with warm water so that it was already bubbling away, and had also mixed the dry ingredients in bags, so all we had to do was empty a bag in a bowl then add the liquid - super simple! (these steps would have been simple if we were in a kitchen, but given the boardroom setting this was definitely the best option)

Then time to roll up the sleeves! Mr Cake and the other two volunteers went first, mixing everything together then kneading for 10 minutes or so (quite a while - till it bounces back a bit when you press it; you feel the texture change as you knead). The kneading isn't overly hard, except that as a sustained activity you might get a sore arm after a while. ;-) If you try this recipe you'll find it much easier to knead onto a clean, flour-dusted bench or board - but in the interests of cleanliness we kept ours in the bowl.

Did I mention Mr Cake was rocking my awesome schoolgirl apron the whole time? Heh... Perhaps we need to get some manly aprons.

Once it's all kneaded oil a bowl and leave it in that in a warm place for about 40 minutes. It'll grow heaps. We used this interval to pair up and make our own dough to take home (the first three batches were for our dinner). You could use it to put your feet up, or nip down to the supermarket to get pizza toppings if you're a bit on the disorganised side (that'd be us). ;-)

Since Mr Cake was on the demo team I made our batch. I needed a bit of an arm workout. 

My greatest revelation of the night was when Marija whipped out her pizza 'stone' - a big porcelain tile. She recommended we all whip down to Mitre 10 and pick one up, because they do a great job of cooking the pizzas (I can attest to this!) and are only a couple of dollars each. Guess where I'm going this weekend? ;-)

When the dough has doubled in size punch it back and roll it out. The flavours we made, which were all delicious, were;
 - a simple but awesome oilive oil, rosemary and sea salt topped pizza bread
 - Napoli, with mozzarella, anchovies, olives, salami and capers on a tomato sauce base
 - blue cheese and artichoke, with a caramelised onion jam base

We moved through into the kitchen to roll out the dough and put the toppings on [aside: this was the MOST AWESOME company kitchen I had ever seen - gas range, giant stainless steel island, huge fridges (well stocked with delicious cheese etc!)... And a somewhat peculiar computer workstation in the corner. But still. Awesome.], so that we wouldn't mess up the boardroom. Marija got 6 volunteers for this stage, as the kitchen wasn't big enough for all of us... But I sneaked in with the camera. ;-) I really want jars of all good things, now... I can't imagine why I haven't already got a fridge full of olives and capers and artichokes and anchovies but I don't and I want! Topping the pizzas is the easy (and fun) part - and you can really do pretty much anything you like, though if you're stuck for inspiration the ones we made we all pretty good.

The pizza stones were heating in the oven, and when the dough was sufficiently topped Marija and an assistant slid each onto a tray, then onto the waiting stone in the oven. They only take about 10 minutes to cook (which was good, because we were pretty ravenous by this stage, having been up to our elbows in dough and olives and so on) and are scrummy!

We also made tiramisu, something which I've written about before so won't go into detail here, but this is a super-scrummy dessert, and so easy to make - the perfect finale to our evening.

This also incorporated some audience participation - it was very hands on, and great fun.

When the pizzas came out they were gobbled so quickly I didn't get any photos of the finished product, except this lonely photo of one of the pizza breads. My favourite was the Napoli, but all of them were magnificent, with a fabulously crispy base - you just can't beat real pizza dough!

The tiramisu was also super delicious - what's not to like? ;-) Although it doesn't look spectacular on the plate I'm sure you can see all the delicious textures in there. 

It was a fantastic night - we were glad we were allowed to attend, despite not being of the legal profession. Marija was a great teacher (if you're interested in attending one of her classes she teaches here and here, or you can email her directly to arrange your own class) and the food was delicious. And now we have a big bowl of dough so we can have Friday night pizza that is SO MUCH BETTER than takeaways. Win!

Pizza Dough
300ml tepid water
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp dry active yeast
500g high grade/00 flour
1 Tbsp salt 

Dissolve sugar and yeast in half the water. Set aside for at least 5 minutes. Mix flour and salt together. Add the remaining water to the yeast, then pour the liquids into the dry ingredients. Using your hands, combine the ingredients, then knead the resulting dough for 10 minutes, or until the dough springs back when pressed.

Oil the bowl, then return dough to it and leave in a warm place to rise for 40 minutes (you can put it in the fridge to retard the rising if you say, make it in the morning for dinner).

Preheat the oven and pizza stone or tray to 220 C. Punch the air out of the dough and roll to preferred thickness (thicker will take a little longer to cook, up to your preference) and add toppings as desired. Sprinkle the pizza stone/tray with cornmeal and slide the topped pizza onto it (use another tray or board to move it to the oven), then bake for about 10 minutes, or until cooked. Makes two large pizzas.


  1. Have you ever made sourdough pizza? Blows every other pizza out of the water. I highly recommend adopting or culturing your own little sourdough pet starter if you haven't already.

  2. Ooh, I will add that to my list... :-)


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