I bought this book, having never seen it before, because of my appreciation for author Peter Reinhart's other excellent works, as well as a desire to make good pizza of my own. I have Bread Baker's Apprentice and Crust & Crumb, and because these books are specifically about bread, I assumed that American Pie would be all about the crust. This was a gross misconception on my part; this book is much more than a tome on pizza crust.
The book has two sections. The first is a fascinating account of all Reinhart went through to find what he regards as the perfect pizza. This includes details of a trip to Italy as well as places within the United States where he found excellent pizza on his pilgrimage. The second, larger section deals with the recipes (formulas) he has created, and this section is broken down further into three sections -- dough, toppings and sauces, and finally complete pizzas.
Do yourself a favor -- do not skip the first section and plow right into the recipes and formulas. While you may be more interested in getting down to business, you learn a tremendous amount about what the author regards as a great pizza, and more importantly, you learn just how serious the author was when he set out to find what he calls the perfect pizza. As is typical of his other works, Reinhart writes with unwavering passion, pouring everything he's got into the writing. Finally, many of the pizzas he mentions in the first section are recreated in recipe form in the second section, and it's really fascinating to recreate one of the pies in your own kitchen.
The dough section is a collection of approximately a dozen excellent formulas for crust. Each recipe sticks to Reinhart's trademark method -- slow rise, usually an overnight rising. I have not tried all of these, but those that I have tried have not disappointed. I'm getting rid of my old crust recipe.
The toppings and sauces section contains two recipes for nice sauces, neither of which I have attempted yet but will. Where it gets interesting is his "Specialty Toppings" section -- there are things there that I would never dream of putting on a pizza, such as pureed butternut squash, as well as tried and true items such as sauteed mushrooms and garlic oil. While some of these will not appeal to everyone, there is something interesting bound to tempt everyone.
Included is a brief breakdown of baking scenarios and how to deal with them -- home oven/no stone, convection oven and stone, etc. He covers all the bases.
Finally, the actual complete pizza formulas he gives reflect his quest to find a pizza that meets his unwavering standards. Many of the recipes are clearly a result of his trip to Italy, such as Pizza Vesuvio, and others are accounted in his domestic travels. Again, I have not tried them all (and with eggplant as an ingredient in some of these, it's doubtful I ever will), but those I have tried are so far and away better than what I made before.
All this said, an underlying thought I had was that the search for the "perfect pizza" was Reinhart's search. He was going for what *he* considers a perfect pizza, and that could very well be different than that of many of his readers. He seems to prefer a thinner, crisp crust that is mildly charred, with a good crunch and a finely tuned sauce and toppings combination. If you prefer a thick, chewy crust, you may feel like he is "off the mark" in his search. It is important to remember this when working your way through this book and finding your own "perfect pizza".
If you like pizza and want to make pizza of your own that is just flat-out outstanding, this book will serve you exceptionally well. Even if you don't find what you would consider "perfect pizza" here, you'll find something that's a great foundation.
My search for making good pizza at home began with THE ART OF MAKING PIZZA by Dominick DeAngelis. I gave the book a good review, but since reading Reinhart's AMERICAN PIE, I have to say, unless you just don't have the extra money for this book, skip THE ART and get AMERICAN PIE. You may find that AMERICAN PIE is the only pizza book you need.
Comparisons against THE ART are difficult for me to avoid. DeAngelis basically instructs on making one style of pizza - what Reinhart would call a New York style or Americana. Reinhart teaches you to make Napoletana pizza, New York style pizza, Americana pizza, Roman style (thin crust) pizza, grilled pizza (Yes! It's what it sounds like!), Chicago deep dish pizza and a few breads that you may not consider pizza at all, like pita, carta di musica and focaccia. DeAngelis INSISTS that you need to use high-gluten flour (good luck finding it locally) and complains of the inadequacy of the home oven. Reinhart uses (mostly) available ingredients and writes the book knowing that it's going to be used within the limitations of a home kitchen.
But until recently, I've had problems with the recipes. I've tried the Napoletana crust, the Americana crust, the focaccia, the carta di musica, and the prebaked crusts. Despite following his recipes (nearly) to a "T," the dough just did not act as described in the book. It was not as elastic as described, and could tear apart from its own weight. Despite this, if I could get the dough formed into a crust at all, the results were still pretty good! There are two pages on "Ten Tips for Making Pizza Dough." These may be the two most valuable pages in the book, and should be expanded and not relegated to the reduced type size. The recipes call for "instant yeast." I've never found anything in the store called "instant yeast." The ten tips include substitutions for active dry, which I could find everywhere. I tried the following these instructions with no improvement. I had to research "instant yeast." With help from Alton Brown's I'M JUST HERE FOR MORE FOOD and other sources, I discovered that the stuff in the store called "yeast for bread machines" was in fact, instant yeast. Reinhart should discuss this more. Differences in yeasts may seem common knowledge for someone as himself, who is, by all accounts, one of the nation's leading experts on baking, but can confuse the home baker to whom the book is directed.
I finally discovered my problem, again, with help from Alton Brown while watching his bread episode of GOOD EATS where he used the same Kitchenaid mixer as I and momentarily ran the mixer to high to spread the dough when it wrapped around the dough hook. I was dutifully following Reinhart's instructions to knead on medium-low, and my Kitchenaid Artisan really needs medium, if not a bit more to knead. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that I tried to half the recipes (most make a half dozen 12" crusts) and the dough just spun around on the hook for a ride, not kneading at all. Once I corrected this other day, I got the most incredible New York style pizza out of my very oven that would compete with any I've ever had from a pizzeria. Oh - and be warned, depending on the size of your garlic cloves, you might find his sauces to be pretty garlicky.
Of the many doughs, my wife actually liked the prebaked freezer crusts the best. I don't think Reinhart intended this and offers the recipe as an alternative to the popular par-baked crusts in the supermarket. They are great to have on hand when you want a pizza, but could not plan ahead to defrost a dough before you left for work in the morning.
The first third of the book is the author's travels around the world studying the art and types of pizza. He waxes quite philosophical. I expected that this wouldn't appeal to me, but it ended up drawing me in, and I stayed up late finishing the section. He dispels some popular myths. Pizza is NOT traditionally made by spinning it in the air, and it was not invented in America.
My brother's copy of AMERICAN PIE also had the artsy, rough-cut pages, so we think that's normal.
Again, this is the only book on pizza you'll probably ever need. My only suggestions are to add more "diagnostics" should you have problems. Although I usually eschew the idea that a cookbook need glitzy color photos, a few black and white showing, for example, what a focaccia is supposed to look like, would be very helpful. (Some of us have lived sheltered lives!) I am still trying to find my personal holy grail, though: the Pizza Hut thin crust!
I'm looking forward to getting Reinhart's BREAD BAKER'S APPRENTICE. If it's as good as AMERICAN PIE, it will serve as several Christmas gifts this year.
I'm sure there are other books devoted to the pizza, but this is the one which all true foodies will want. For starters, it's written by Peter Reinhart, a major American authority and writer on bread baking. Then, there are connections in the story to culinary luminaries such as Alice Waters, Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali, Rick Bayless, Paul Bertolli, and David Rosengarten.
The first half of the book is a quest to find the best American pizza, after an incident in Reinhart's home town of Philadelphia when he has a pie from a fondly remembered local restaurant, and it simply does not come up to his fond memories of the pizza of days gone by. As one would expect, the quest begins by a visit to sample the pizzas of Italy in Genoa, Florence, Rome, and Naples, the legendary home of the pizza archetype.
Upon returning home, the author and his wife visit famous pizza locations in New York City, New Haven, San Francisco, Los Angles, Chicago, and Phoenix. In case the Food Network has not caught onto this fact yet, some of the very best pizza is made at Pizzeria Bianco by Chris Bianco, a James Beard Best Chef of the Southwest award winner.
The author is not so gauche as to make a pronouncement on the best pizza in the country, but comes to the conclusion that a local `best' is the conjunction of a perception of what the best pizza should be and a very good pizzaioli who can produce a pie to meet those expectations. One of the most difficult problems for maintaining a good pizza in the U.S. is keeping a dedicated pizzaioli at work at that position and not to treat the job as just another station for a chef to master and move on. Even food meccas like Chez Panisse have problems keeping up the quality of their crusts in the face of staff rotation.
The second half of the book is dedicated to recipes and techniques for making pizzas at home. Given the great variety of wood, coal, gas, and electric ovens used to make pizza commercially, it's hard to imagine that with a reasonable amount of dilligence, people cannot get very good results from their home ovens. The biggest difficulty is that the typical home oven cannot manage more than about 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Reinhardt offers three methods to improve your chances with a home oven, both with and without the convection oven.
As Reinhart is a recognized expert on bread baking, I find no basis for my questioning his recommendations. And, since many of his colleagues believe the crust is five times more important for the quality of the pizza than all the toppings put together, I have to believe Rienhart's advice will be a golden addition to your pizza skills.
If there is any question in your mind up to now, be aware that this book deals only with the real deal. There are no short cuts here. The recipes part has chapters on:
The Family of Doughs including Napoletana, Roman, New York, Chicago, Sardinian, and Focaccia dough
Sauces, including tomato, pesto, and specialty sauces
Pizzas, including Mapoletana, neo-Neapolitan, Roman, Grilled, Sardinian, and Pita.
The classic American pizza represented primarily by New York City is a neo-Neapolitan pizza, but people in Chicagoland live and die by their deep dish pizzas. This is the source of Reinhardt's conclusion that one's perception of the best is affected greatly by what you grew up with.
If you don't like chatty books and you just want the recipes, this may not be the best book for you, but if you want the history, the general techniques, plus an excellent presentation of all the classic recipes, this is the book for you, especially at the very reasonable list price for a very well composed hardcover book.
on June 3, 2005
I've made pizza from plain flour and yeast, commercial all-in-one packages, and even tried a bread machine recipe, but the taste and consistency were never as good as a real Pizzeria-made pizza. I beleive in the saying that crust is 80% of a pizza, so I bought this book and tried the first recipe for Neo-Neapolitan pizza dough. Because I'm lazy, I used a bread machine to knead the dough, and topped it with sauce and cheese I picked up off the shelf. To my pure delight, the dough was fantastic. It came out of the bread machine "sticky" just like the book says real pizza dough should be. I cut the ball in half, covered each piece with olive oil, and placed both in plastic bags to rise slowly overnight in the refrigerator, as indicated. The next evening I shaped the dough by applying flour to the backs of my hands as the book said, and baked it on a pizza stone in a conventional oven. The results were incredible. I repeated the feat at my girlfriend's house the next night with the second ball of dough, and she demanded that I leave the remaining pieces at her house for her to eat the next day.
I should mention that I divided the recipe in half because I don't need to make 4 balls of dough at once. And I did make two slight modifications to the recipe: 1) I dissolved the yeast in 105° water for 2 minutes before adding it to the bread machine, then added the olive oil followed by the dry ingredients; and 2) I added 2 tablespoons of gluten to the mix. I buy my flour and other supplies from a local baking store, and they recommend adding gluten to get a better rise. So I just do that out of habit, and it seemed to work perfectly for me. I followed this up with the New York-style crust, which also resulted in a perfectly sticky ball of dough. I may be making pizza every Friday night for the next 10 years, because you can whip this dough up on Thursday night in about 20 minutes, using a bread mixer on the Dough setting. I'm sure I could get gourmet-oriented and try some of the great sauce recipes, and buy some fresh mozzarella cheese, but the pizza tastes great with ordinary sauce and toppings, so for now I'm sticking with these dough recipes for their savory crusts.
As I mentioned above, I use a 15-inch pizza stone which I place in the oven and heat to 450° for 20 minutes while preparing the pizza. A Pizza Peel, the wooden paddle used for transporting the pizza to and from the oven, is essential if you want to bake the pizza directly on the stone. You need to place a generous amount of flour and corn meal on the peel beforehand, or the pizza will not slide off easily. If this happens, have a spatula handy to coax the pizza off the peel and onto the stone. Another way (edit, Apr 11 2013: a piece of parchment paper between the peel and pizza slides right off and on to the pizza stone. Surprisingly, the paper doesn't affect the browning of the dough.) The pizza will cook up quickly and be ready in 8 to 10 minutes.
My favorites are: Neo-Neapolitan, New York Style, Pizza Americana, and Chicago Deep Dish dough. One reviewer here gave the Chicago recipe a low score, but I liked mine. The problem wasn't with the crust, it was with all the ingredients in two layers of crust that produced a heavy and moist pizza. I prefer a thinner crust that results in a pizza that two people can polish off in one meal, but the Chicago Deep Dish is a good change of pace once in a while and leaves lots of leftovers for the next day or so!
Also, I finally got to Phoenix and visited Pizzeria Bianco in October 2008. As Reinhart promised, it was a GREAT crust, baked by the dough-maker in a wood-fired brick oven. I spoke briefly to Chef Bianco and gave him the Thumbs-Up, he was very humble and thanked me. When I mentioned I had read about PB in Peter Reinhart's book, he told me he had just spoken to Peter the day before. Good people, good food.
on December 28, 2003
Reinhart's quest for the perfect pizza has resulted in the holy grail of pizza books.
Reading it will give you an understanding of what makes a good pizza good as well as how you can make excellent pizza at home. Reinhart has the ability to describe what dough is supposed to look and feel like at its various stages of development; he helps you develop a sense of what's happening.
I've made all of the doughs he describes--except the sourdough--and they all taste good. The descriptions of what to expect from each dough gives various reasons for why you might make one over the other. Eventually, Reinhart, says you will find a particular kind of dough that you focus on.
The book itself is beautiful, ragged edged pages and excellent typography.
There really isn't another book like it. It is what all good baking books wish they could be: A combination of clear instruction, insight, knowledge and explanation that results in food that tastes good.
on January 2, 2004
I'm a pizza fan (eater and amateur baker) and I've endlessly explored the possibilities of reinventing pizza at home. I thought I was doing a pretty good job until I made the pizza crust Peter Reinhart has in his book "the bread bakers apprentice". I was hooked on pizza. After that, I bought a couple of books including Pizza Napoletana, American pie, Figs table...in view of further expanding my knowlege. What I love most about this book is that Peter Reinhart gives you an incredible overview about the different aspects of regional pizza. I've learned to appreciate and respect all tipes of pizza while conserving my favorites. With this book, you learn that the important thing is to respect each countries version of pizza, the quality of the ingredients and the feeling you put into it. Tradition and memories play an important part in the liking of any pizza. I strongly recomend this book. I do put in a note of warning: don't expect to find a picture book. You'll have to rely on the authors colorful narrating to create the picture in your head. At fist, when I flipped the books pages, it was a drawback, but when I started reading it........ Wow.... I realy don't miss the pictures all that much....To resume my comment: If you're realy into pizza, the technical and philosophical aspect of it all, this book will be a treasure of your library..........buy and enjoy
on July 30, 2004
I've been baking bread for the past eighteen years. Shortly after retiring ten years ago the doctor put me on a low sodium diet. I soon discovered that low sodium bread is not available, anywhere, so baking all of our bread became a top priority. Although becoming proficient at bread baking, my pizza attempts were a constantly humbling experience. Nothing ever turned out right.
When Peter was writing this book I became aware that he was looking for recipe testers and volunteered. Shortly thereafter he emailed me a set of recipes which would be the foundation for the second half of the book. I followed his instructions verbatim and was amazed at the results. Every recipe turned out primo. With practice they got even better. The ultimate compliment came when my grand kids told their mom that Grandpa's homemade pizzas are better than any pizzeria pizza. Now if you've got grand kids you know that's huge. And to show their appreciation, the grand kids bought me the book for Christmas.
In conclusion, if you're a bad pizza baker and want to become good or a good pizza baker and want to become better, this is the book for you.
on January 2, 2006
Other reviewers have gone into details about what a great book this is and I don't disagree with most of those positive comments. There are a few things to realize about this book though.
First, Peter Reinhart is a bread expert. Therefore he openly states that, for him, the crust is by far the most important aspect of any pizza. So most of the book focuses on the crust.
Second, the book is all about thin crust pizzas. Reinhart travels the world sampling every kind of thin crust pizza you could imagine, waxing poetic every step of the way. But Reinhart's treatment of Chicago style deep dish pizza is both brief and inaccurate.
After admitting that he doesn't much care for it ("it just doesn't do it for me"), he recounts his vists to a few popular Chicago pizzerias, including a trip to Lou Malnatti's with Kathleen Kennedy and Gino's East with Rick Bayless. Amongst the discussions of the finer points of the "cornmeal-flavored doughs" all these supposed experts apparently missed a key point. There is no cornmeal in the crust from either of these pizzerias! No wonder Reinhart's recipe for Chicago deep-dish pizza dough bears no resemblence to the real thing.
You might wonder whether to believe some random reviewer on Amazon over Peter Reinhart. How could I know more about the Gino's East and Lou Malnatti's crusts than the world class expert?
Easy. I ordered these pizzas through the mail, and read the ingredient lists that came with them. Neither includes cornmeal. It would have been nice if Reinhart had bothered to do the same before publishing his book.
What gives these crusts their characteristic flavor and texture is a substantial amount of corn oil. If you make these doughs with all that oil, you then need to let them dry out a bit before piling toppings on them and cooking them, or you will get a mushy crust. The drying can be done in the refrigerator overnight or at low temperature (150F) in the oven.
To summarize, this book is an authoritative guide for anyone interested in thin crust pizzas. But if your primary interest is deep dish pizza, beware that the topic gets short shrift here.
on March 27, 2009
I ordered both "American Pie" by Reinhart and "Ultimate Pizza Manual" by Brunaldo, from amazon.com. American Pie's dough recipes were spectacular, resulting in the best pizza crusts I've ever had. As Reinhart and many reviewers point out, good crust is 80 percent of the pizza experience. This crust is divine.
HOWEVER, as several reviewers have mentioned, the sauce recipes in American Pie are terrible. They are far too watered down and, for American pizza eaters, too weak on flavor. In my opinion Reinhart is dead wrong when he says you don't need to cook pizza sauce (it cooks in the oven along with the pizza). The good news is, the (cooked) marinara sauce recipe in Brunaldo's book is just perfect. So my ultimate pizza uses Reinhart's dough and Brunaldo's sauce. I'm glad I bought both books and recommend using the "best of breed" approach: select a dough recipe separately from selecting a pizza sauce recipe. They don't have to come from the same book.
on February 21, 2004
Peter Reinhart became my baking idol after baking from "The Bread Baker's Apprentice". I couldn't imagine that he could write a book that could top that one, but he did with "American Pie".
Once you try grilling pizza you'll never go back to spending 1 hour preheating your baking stone. It is the best way to make a pizza. Don't let it intimate you...the dough want fall into the fire. I was able to achieve great results with a gas grill.
Everything that I've tried was delicious and can't wait to try the rest of the recipes.