‘Dough With Della’ class in demand after school in La Grange
Della Maffiola keeps watch as Sophia Szymanski, 5, Lilly Renick, 7, Adam Kwak, 6, Beau Brown, 8, and Cano Rogers, 8, take turns adding yeast to flour. | Ruthie Hauge~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 23, 2012 1:50AM
Surrounded by nine first- and second-graders, Della Maffiola wasn’t much taller than her students as she pushed up her pink sleeves and adjusted a white paper baking hat for an afterschool class at Spring Avenue School in La Grange.
The petite grandmother ran a democratic, yet tight ship as children took turns adding flour and a mixture of yeast and warm water into a giant bowl for a batch of pretzels. But after one generous pour, the dough was swimming.
“That’s all right,” Maffiola quickly said, giving the order for more flour. ”Do we have a problem? No, we fix problems.”
Although the teacher provided recipes for each child to take home along with his or her finished, yet unbaked product, students learned in class how to add ingredients without measuring.
“They feel the dough and know when it’s perfect, not too sticky to touch,” she explained.
“Now, everyone stir and get a turn, or you won’t have pretzels to take home. You think I’m here to do your work for you? I don’t think so,” Maffiola said and laughed.
All the students held onto the big bowl as each young baker stirred and the dough got stiffer and harder to mix. When they told her it was just right, Maffiola broke off a chunk.
“We won’t be using the rolling pins today. You’re going to use your muscles,” she said while rolling out a small rope with her fingers. “This can be a pretzel like in the picture, or a heart or whatever you want.”
Students jumped on the chance to be creative and finish off their projects with a variety of toppings.
“This is Bigfoot, and here is a Yeti,” said second-grader Cano Rogers. “See, I put white sugar on the Yeti for the snow.”
While the children twirled and shaped their pretzels, Maffiola said she began volunteering for the afterschool enrichment program when her grandson, Ryan Nabor, was a fourth-grader. He’s now a junior in college, and the youngest in the family, Danielle, is a sixth-grader.
“He said, ‘Nonna, you taught us how to make dough and pasta. Why can’t you do it for the school,’ so I did,” she said. “I also watch the little children while they have their PTO meetings.”
Dough With Della and Pasta With Della are popular classes and keep students coming back. Maffiola said she doesn’t mind making the drive from her home in Chicago and combines her class on Wednesdays with a visit her to daughter’s family in La Grange.
“I’ve been taking the dough class for six years,” said fifth-grader Hannah Kwak. “It’s just a lot of fun and I really like it. We learn how to make different foods from Italy, like calzones and focaccia bread. I like them all.”
Principal Elizabeth Webb-Peterman said Maffiola is a special volunteer, who makes children feel important and capable.
“She’s just a jewel, and we love her very much,” Webb-Peterman said.
In appreciation, students surprised the longtime volunteer with an all-school serenade for her 85th birthday Feb. 8 and a basket of goodies for making pasta.
“I was astonished with all these children singing happy birthday,” Maffiola said. “I almost fell to the floor. It was beautiful.
“I love this school, and I love the kids,” she said.