For Pi Day this year we wanted to do some fun activities with the kids so we taught them not only about Pi but also gave them a life skill on how to cook. Since they are still young we let them do it themselves as much as possible and only step in to help as needed to keep them safe depending on their age. Stirring, mixing, shaping, and adding ingredients are all in their abilities, but they still need help using an oven, and handling a hot pan.
Heck, watching adults in a restaurant handling a hot plate or pan is still above their skill level. I'm hoping to teach my kids that when someone tells them "It's hot.", or they hear the sizzling of a cast iron pan placed in front of them they know not to grab hold them holler and yell abut getting burnt on an obviously hot plate.
Talk about Pi before you start and get their little minds going a bit before starting so they have some idea of what it is and see what they pick up on, on their own as they work on their pizza.
Step 1: Get Your Ingredients and Prep Your Pan
We have done personal pizzas for years. We first started by using Rhodes Dough and an 8" cast iron pan using these ideas already published by the company. We later found pre-made packaged pizza dough at our local grocer. My wife really likes this because they offer a healthy wheat dough. I like both options.
Shop for common toppings your family or friends like. You can save money by getting block cheese and shredding it yourself, or save time by getting the shredded cheese. Pick your favorite or get multiple types for a three cheese pizza. Get canned or bottled pizza sauce, or make your grandmother's secret recipe. Depending on how ambitious we are feeling will depend on if we make it or just use canned which can include alfredo sauce. Our toppings are usually pepperoni, Canadian bacon, real bacon, olives, green olives, mushrooms, spinach, olive oil, dried tomatoes, tomatoes, chicken, hamburger, artichokes, or whatever you like.
Prepping the toppings is a good job for little ones to start to learn how to cook. Olives and mushrooms are easy to cut even with a butter knife, breaking up crispy cooled bacon in a ziplock bag gives little hands something fun to do. They can learn some skills and still be safe. As they get older they can graduate up to some sharper knives, and cooking the hamburger and bacon (simply browning), and eventually cooking the chicken and making sauce.
We have also known we would keep doing this with our kids as our family grows so we started collecting mini cast iron pans. You can get some really good deals at the second hand stores. We have some nice little round skillets and a few of the fajita skillets. The fajita skillets are often over looked and cheap, I'm guessing mostly because of their oval shape. Either use just the center part or get over having a round pizza. They work very well for making calzones.
You usually find them one at a time, or luck out and find 2 at a time for a buck or two each. I lucked out on a set of mini rounds made for little pizzas and cookies with custom made hot pads still in the box and appeared to never been used. They weren't even seasoned.
Even is they are seasoned I strip them down to the bare iron and re-season them. That's the nice thing about cast iron pans you can take off all the seasoning and whatever the previous owner left on it and the heat used in the seasoning process will kill anything that may be hardy enough to survive the cleaning process.
This is a good thing for little hands and eyes to watch and learn as you explain the dangers of heat and how to season the pan. As they get older they can help out spreading on new oil and putting the pan in the oven to season, eventually being able to do the whole thing on their own.
A well seasoned pan is pretty much no stick, but if you want to be sure use a little olive oil wiped/brushed on or sprayed.
Heat the oven. Use the temperature from the dough you use. Ours local grocer dough says 425 F.
Step 2: Layout the Dough and Spread the Sauce
Layout the Dough
My wife worked in a pizza shop in high school so she is very picky about the presentation of the dough and working it on the pan. I was mostly taught to cook by my grandfather who was an old rancher and farmer who cooked simply and was only concerned that it was cooked and filled your belly, not so much with fancy appearance. She never did learn to throw the dough and spin it. I did it in a junior high school cooking class, but it was not appreciated as much by the teacher as it was by the other kids in the class. Apparently throwing pizza dough is a messy affair with a high likely hood of ending up on the floor, which was not noted in the recipe nor adequately mentioned by the teacher.
Note: The 5 second rule has been around for many years and was fully utilized due to quick hands and inattention by others as to what happened, and use of all the expect acting abilities of a 13 year old that the motion was a pizza spinning trick and not a fancy recovery. No one who had some even noticed, no ill affects were observed, and besides the statute of limitations on food borne illness has expired.
Stretch out the dough out to the pan. If you have a high school trained pizza maker she will throw a fancy edge on it. If you are making a calzone lay the dough out but leave the fancy edge until it is filled with toppings and folded over.
Spread on the sauce
Show the little ones how to spoon the sauce onto the center of the dough, then spread it around with the back of the spoon. Watch close that they don't try to fill the dough with the sauce and over do it.
Step 3: Add the Toppings and Cook
This is a fun activity for the little ones were they can pick what they want on it and add it. If your little ones tend to go over board with the toppings give them little cups of the toppings they like. They can add the toppings from the cups and not go overboard with a huge pile of toppings. A little trial and error will tell you how much of each to give them.
Cook according to the instructions on the dough you used with advise to watch to extend the time a bit depending on how thick the toppings are. Our local grocer's dough says 425 F for 15 - 20 mins. If we have heavy toppings we found we need to reduce the temp and add more time to cook the center. This lets the center cook without burning the edges.
While your creations cook you can talk with your kids what Pi day is about, have younger ones pick out all the circles they used to make their Pi(e). Have older kids talk about what Pi means and if they are really smart or older then have them calculate Pi from the pan size,
Step 4: Eat and Enjoy
Bring your personal pizza out and enjoy. Everybody gets their own pizza with just what they want, they get to enjoy something they made and be proud of their hard work.
For our Little ones the use of the Greek Pi letter ( π ) was a bit beyond what they were interested in. But they understood it is connected to circles and how circles were made. I hope that as we continue this they will have at least a little interest and understanding in adding to their understanding of math and Pi as they grow.
If you missed Pi Day this year don't worry Tau Day is just a few months away. Then you can make 2 pies. ;)