A cooking class that includes wine, liquid nitrogen, and a villa in Tuscany? Sign us up, please!
When we were in Florence, Italy we signed up for a pizza and gelato making cooking class with Walkabout Tours. We expected to learn some new cooking skills, but what we didn’t expect was how much fun a cooking class could actually be!
We met at the Walkabout Tours office in Florence at 4:00.
Their office wasn’t your typical office. Their office had antique Fiat’s and an entire row of Vespas inside.
We met our guide Mauro who gave us a brief overview of the night and then walked a few blocks to board a bus that took our group of 26 future chefs to the villa.
It was a quick and scenic 15-minute ride up to the villa.
When we arrived, we were greeted by a row of Fiats. If you listen close enough you can almost hear them saying, “Benvenuto!”
We walked through the gates, then down a gorgeous stairway and made our way to the garden.
The garden had a “guard rooster”. A very cool, very modern, guard rooster.
Our gelato chef Massimiliano was waiting for us when we arrived. Time for a tour of the garden and a lesson on what fruits and vegetables will be perfect in a gelato recipe.
Massimiliano was educational and entertaining as he talked about all of the different plants.
We discovered lots of baby vegetables…..like these peppers.
And this eggplant.
A pomegranate tree.
And a field of fresh strawberries.
It was like a fruit and vegetable nursery!
As we walked around we picked a variety of ingredients from the garden to use in our gelato creations later that evening.
We even picked some fresh flowers that we were going to use in the gelato.
After “working” so hard in the garden, it was time for a well-deserved break of wine and bruschetta.
Enjoying our wine and bruschetta break with a backdrop of the Tuscany countryside.
After our break, it was back to work.
Time to learn about gelato!
Did you know that there are very precise math calculations that go into making the perfect gelato? We didn’t either. But Massimiliano did!
He had a large paper chart (somehow we don’t have a picture of this!) where he meticulously wrote out all of the specific math calculations required in the creation of the perfect gelato. The main ingredients were sugar, protein, and dairy. But the exact amounts and percentages used in each recipe varied based on the extra ingredients you chose to add.
Massimiliano was like a gelato chemist with his charts explaining, “If you add this, then you decrease that by a certain percentage.” He was explaining the calculations in such mathematical detail using words like percentages and grams that Lisa’s eyes glazed over. (She was the only one who was lost by the way. His explanation was very informative and educational to people that don’t have a math-phobia.)
After our lesson, every couple got to pick a recipe and make their own gelato.
We chose pistachio.
Why? It sounded really good and Lisa liked that it only had 4 ingredients.
Faced with an empty silver bowl and a clean whisk, it was time for us to prepare our very own gelato!
Measuring the sugar.
Pouring the milk.
Time to add the pistachio paste. Lisa contemplated licking the giant spoon…..but, against her better judgement….she refrained…
Would anyone see me if I licked this giant spoon covered in pistachio paste???
After the gelato was mixed we had to put it in the refrigerator to cool.
We said goodbye to our little cup of gelato and went back outside to the pizza oven/outdoor classroom.
It was time for another glass of wine and an education on flour and pizza dough creation by our pizza chefs and teachers Enrico and Tiziano.
They explained all about different kinds of flour and which ones are the best to use in a pizza crust. Did you know there was a flour called enkir? We didn’t!
The pizza geniuses explained in detail why water temperature is so important based on the temperature and taught us not to add salt to the dough until after the warm water and yeast is mixed with flour.
Why? Salt kills yeast. We didn’t know that, but now we do!
After the flour lesson, it was time to learn the fine art of mixing the perfect pizza dough.
Sift the flour into the bowl, add the water and mix with your fingers until the flour is absorbed. After it’s mixed, you add the salt and then pull the dough out of the bowl and begin kneading and pulling and stretching it until it becomes elastic. Next, you roll it into a ball and throw it hard on the table 10 times in order to activate the rising process. The final step is to put the dough back into a bowl, cover it and let it rest.
They used the best analogy when describing the process: the pizza dough is a baby.
First, you make the baby. (mix the ingredients)
Second, you massage the baby. (knead the dough)
Third, you discipline the baby. (throw on the table)
Last, the baby gets to rest after the discipline.
Now it was our turn to make the perfect pizza dough. (By the way, the view from this room was incredible.)
We were equipped with everything we needed to make our dough: water, flour, yeast and a big bowl.
Everyone got their own bowl and their own chance at pizza dough perfection. We poured in the ingredients and started making our babies (that was the easy part). The difficult part came with the massaging and disciplining. What sounds easy in theory, is actually difficult when you put it in action. Luckily all of the instructors walked around to help us “master” our skills.
Based on our sticky fingers, looks like we needed more flour!
Did you know that you can use flour to “wash” dough off of your hands?
Just pour a little flour on them, rub them today and like magic – your hands are clean!
Here was the final result after the babies were disciplined: (i.e. thrown on the table 10 times)
Time for the babies to rest. Back into the gelato kitchen to finish what we started.
It’s time to take the gelato for a very cold spin.
We slowly poured our cold gelato mix into a fancy mixer and pressed a button. It started spinning and just like magic, our thin mixture magically turned into thick and creamy gelato! The gelato was sent back into the freezer for one last cool down period.
What can you do if you don’t have the time to let your gelato freeze?
Liquid nitrogen to the rescue!
That’s right. You can pour liquid nitrogen into your gelato mix and it will thicken and freeze instantly! Massimiliano was a mad scientist at work – pouring the nitrogen and mixing the gelato. He also used the liquid nitrogen to flash freeze a rose and basil leaves and sprinkled them into the gelato also.
Their safety glasses are the best!
Click here to see the video of the fun, liquid nitrogen antics of our chefs and teacher at Walkabout Tours.
Now it was time to assemble and cook our pizzas! The pizza oven was ready.
We went back outside where we found lots of fresh ingredients on the table.
Fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, sausage, peppers, mushrooms, olives, artichokes…the choices were endless.
We were each given our own individual dough (baby) and we massaged and stretched him one last time. This part was especially fun since they taught us how to toss and spin the pizza in the air!
The baby anolgies continued:
First, you massage the baby.
Second, you make the baby fly.
Third, you dress the baby. (cover it with pizza toppings)
Fourth, you put them on a bus and send them to school for 90 seconds. (put them on a pizza paddle and put them in the oven)
Last, you cut and eat the baby.
Here was Lisa’s symmetrical baby before she sent him on the bus to school.
Ronnie’s spicy baby.
Time to cook the babies!
Oops, we mean pizzas! 90 seconds is all it took in this amazing pizza oven to achieve pizza perfection.
Lisa was either cold or super excited to eat her pizza. Or, possibly both.
They had the tables all set for our pizza feast.
Both of our pizzas turned out perfectly.
(Don’t let the water fool you. We also had wine with dinner!)
While we were eating, the guys set up the gelato buffet. They created the most incredible gelato lineup complete with all of the flavors created that night and endless toppings. The combinations were endless: pistachio gelato topped with sea salt and sage, lemon gelato topped with marsala wine and raisins, pistachio gelato topped with chocolate, even vanilla gelato topped with frozen rose petals was an option! Every combination was delicious and unique.
Before the night ended, the guys had one last item on the schedule:
An awards ceremony!
That’s right. An awards ceremony. It was so fun. They called up each couple by name and presented a certificate. Of course, the entire room clapped and roared with excitement as the awards were presented. What a great way to end the night.
Not only did we learn a lot and laugh a lot, but we also won a major award!
The entire class lasted 5 hours and every minute was so much fun! Click here to watch “Pizza and Gelato Cooking Class in Florence, Italy – The Movie!”
So educational. So entertaining. So delicious.
We know what you’re thinking:
“Were you able to successfully toss your pizza dough in the air?” Yes, yes we were! We learned “the move” complete with sound effects!
“Do we use our cooking skills now?” Yes and no. Yes, we are making our own pizzas at home, but not gelato. Living in Belize limits us in our purchase of a “gelato freezing machine” and we don’t think we can find a reliable liquid nitrogen dealer on the island.
Or can we???
Thanks so much Walkabout Tours Florence for a memorable evening!