American Pie

My Search for the Perfect Pizza (2003)
American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza (2003)

Peter Reinhart is a major American authority and writer on bread baking. I came across American Pie several years ago while searching the Library catalog for anything else by Reinhart. Since I regularly made homemade pizza, it immediately appealed to me. A week later I purchased my own copy.

American Pie is one part food travelogue (The Hunt) and one part recipe book (The Recipes). The Hunt begins with Reinhart having pizza from his favorite childhood pizzeria; he is incredibly disappointed to realize, however, that it isn’t at all as good as he had remembered. ‘“Maybe,” I said to myself,” it was never as good as I thought it was, just the best I’d been exposed to during my sheltered youth.”’ Reinhart begins looking for a better pizza, and, as he shares his search with others, he is continually met with the objection “But you can’t say something is the best until you’ve tried…” This begins his quest to find, what to him is, the perfect pizza. His journey takes him to Genoa, Rome, and Naples, as well as all across America. Reinhart provides an incredibly interesting and mouth-watering overview on the different aspects of regional pizza, as well as the nature of great pizza and the people and quality ingredients that make it happen. I guarantee if you read the first half you will be dying to make some of the pizzas that follow in the second half.

The Recipes consists of “The Family of Doughs,” “Sauces and Specialty Toppings,” and “The Pizzas.” Because my husband and I love thin crust, first I decided to try the Roman Pizza Dough – an ultrathin dough that typically is not served in the states. I liked it; but it was, incredibly, too thin and crispy for my husband: it almost had the texture and snap of a Wheat Thin cracker without the greasiness. I also adopted Reinhart’s basic recipe for Sautéed Mushrooms, altering it minimally by adding a bit of thyme. In “The Pizzas” section, both my sister and I raved over the Onion Marmalade, Walnuts, & Blue Cheese Pizza. (If you try it, load the onion marmalade thickly on the dough! That recipe is also how I discovered I no longer despised Blue Cheese.)

Until I read American Pie, I used my 1985 edition of Carol Field's The Italian Baker for my go-to pizza dough recipe. Though it is good in a time pinch, it does not compare to the slow, cold-rise dough recipes in American Pie, or, for that matter, my all-time favorite: Sourdough Pizza Crust from King Arthur. (Though easy, the sourdough recipe requires a significant time investment for the best result.) Another thing I learned from American Pie: crank up the heat for homemade pizza – 465 is now the absolute lowest I go.

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