"James McNair's New Pizza", James McNair

Pros: Perfect crust and pizza!
Cons: Overly complex, obfuscated instructions with no simplified version for quick-reference
Rating: 4 out of 5

First published 1/18/2001

Perfect pizza crust. I bet you’ve always wished you could make perfect pizza crust – but somehow it never comes out quite right. It droops. It sags. It won’t roll out into a circle no matter how hard you try. It doesn’t get crispy-crunchy no matter how thin you roll it out.

James McNair will save you. How about a perfectly tender, yet crispy crust? He has the recipe, and the flavors are amazing. There’s a tomato garlic pizza that made us swoon. There’s Roasted Potato and Tapenade Pizza, Garlic-Glazed Chicken Pizza, Barbecued Chicken Pizza.

You’ll find all sorts of foreign flavors: Tandoori Pizza, My Thai Pizza, and Turkish Lamb “Pizza.” You’ll find dessert pizza: Chocolate Berry Pizza, Chocolate-Hazelnut Pizza, Fresh Fig, Blue Cheese, and Honey Pizza. There are deep-dish pizzas: Zucchini-stuffed, Caesar Salad Pizza, Spanakopizza.

The Detail

Perhaps more importantly, James McNair will explain the ins and outs of what makes a pizza crust more or less crispy or tender, as well as how to keep the toppings from making it soggy. There are many pizza crust variations, from cornmeal dough to seeded dough, sweet dough to spicy dough.

There’s information on preparing for baking, forming and bakng, equipment, different styles of pizza dough, “alternative crusts” (how to use commercial frozen dough, sourdough, lavosh bread, and more), grilling pizza, serving pizza, and more. The recipes break down into Classic Pizzas, Contemporary Pizzas, Stuffed Pizzas, and Sweet Pizzas. You’ll find recipes for a seasoned tomato pulp, a tomato sauce, roasted garlic, and roasted peppers.

The DETAIL

In fact, that’s the one problem with this book. There’s too much detail. It’s one thing to tell us everything. It’s another to tell us everything in about five times as much detail as necessary. It takes two whole long pages just to explain how to make pizza dough. It really isn’t that complex a process! Also, since he so helpfully provides basic recipes for all sorts of things (like the tomato sauce and the doughs), every recipe is a maze of “Neapolitan-Style Pizza Dough (page 16),” “Seasoned Tomato Pulp (page 136),” which lead you to other pages: “Shape and bake as directed on page 21.”

When you’re just trying to put together a recipe, it’s enough to drive you batty! Flipping back and forth constantly, losing track of where in the process you are, trying to figure out whether the “preparing for baking” directions or the actual recipe itself says whether the crust gets pre-baked. It was almost enough to make me scream. By the end of dinner we were making rapid-fire jokes about McNair’s entire paragraphs on how to knead the dough.

This book would have worked out much better if McNair had provided all of the complex, detailed instructions in opening sections, and then provided slimmed-down versions in the recipes. That way if you wanted you could look up the details, but you’d have the simple view to get you through a recipe easily.

But when it comes down to it, this is still a great cookbook. We’ve never made such fantastic pizza before. The dough has never been so easy to roll out and shape. It’s never been so stable and crispy. So yes, this cookbook is worth it. Just be prepared for McNair to make things more complicated than they really need to be.

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