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'Pizza Deck' deals out tasty information

| Sunday, Oct. 17, 2004

Prolific cookbook author James McNair's latest release is an attention-grabber.

"The Pizza Deck: 50 Delicious Recipes for Perfect Pizza at Home" is a clever piece of marketing, borrowing from recipe card clubs popular in the 1970s and Richard Simmons' popular Deal-a-Meal weight-loss program.

The "book" is a hardcover box of cards featuring luscious four-color photographs and recipes for pies ranging from simple pepperoni to a rich Dulce de Leche Pizzette dessert.

McNair is a master of cooking, food photography and styling. He's a creative whiz in the kitchen who has written 38 cookbooks illustrated with tantalizing pictures of what lies ahead on the table. His best-selling "Pizza" (Chronicle Books, $14.95), published in 1987, has sold more than 350,000 copies.

The first card in the box is a fold-out guide to making "perfect pizza at home," including specifics on flours, salt, yeast, water, oil, cheese and tomatoes. McNair offers lengthy instructions on forming and baking the dough and serving pizza, as well as suggestions for equipment.

He limits his dough recipes to two basic crusts -- Neapolitan-Style and California-Style -- but lists variations and alternative crusts, including what to do with frozen prepared pizza dough or bread dough, and baked pizza crust. Cooks can choose between homemade Pizzeria-Style Tomato Sauce and Seasoned Tomato Pulp.

McNair's pizzas are simple, using fresh or highly flavored premium ingredients. He steers away from traditional Italian-American pie favorites with recipes such as Roman-Style Spinach Pizza, Salad Pizza, The-Beet-Goes-On Pizza, Garlic-Glazed Chicken Pizza, and Leek, Fig, Pancetta and Fontina Pizza. One of the unusual dishes is Turkish Lamb "Pizza," featuring individual baked 7-inch topped pieces of dough that are baked, rolled into cylinders and drizzled with yogurt before serving.

The hand-size box is convenient to tote to a party and would make a good stocking stuffer for the holidays.


McNair writes that this recipe is based on what has long been a favorite throughout the Spanish-speaking world: dulce de leche , or caramelized sweetened milk that's thick enough to spread. If desired, let the sauce cool and refrigerate for as long as two days.

Editor's note: The card did not list a baking temperature for the dulce de leche , so a similar recipe from Gourmet magazine was used to determine it.

Dulce de Leche Pizzette

  • 1 (14 ounces) can sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated)
  • Hot (not boiling) water, as needed
  • Vegetable oil for greasing pizza pans; or cornmeal for dusting pizza peel
  • Sweet Pizza Dough, well risen (recipe follows)
  • Unsalted butter, melted, for brushing crust
  • 8 cored fresh or canned pineapple slices, well drained
  • 1 cup chopped pecans, toasted

Heat the oven to 425 degrees.

To make dulce de leche , pour the sweetened condensed milk into a 8-inch ovenproof glass casserole or other baking dish and cover tightly with foil. Place the dish in a larger baking pan and transfer the pan to the oven. Pour enough hot water into the baking pan to come up to the level of the condensed milk in the dish. Bake until the milk is thick and a rich tan, for about 2 hours. Check several times during baking, and add hot water as necessary to maintain the water level. Carefully remove the dish from the baking pan.

Oil ventilated baking pans or pizza screens, or dust a pizza peel with cornmeal. Increase the oven temperature to 500 degrees.

Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. Stretch each piece into a 4-inch round and place on the prepared oiled baking pans, pizza screens or pizza peel. Prick the dough all over, using a fork, then brush with melted butter and top with a pineapple slice. Bake until the crusts are golden, for about 10 minutes.

Remove the pizzettes to a wire rack, spread each with about 2 tablespoons dulce de leche and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons toasted pecans. Serve immediately.

Makes 8 servings.

Sweet Pizza Dough

  • 1 cup warm water (110 degrees to 115 degrees), more if needed
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons (1 packet or 1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
  • 3 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose, bread or semolina flour, divided
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus more for brushing bowl

Combine 1 cup warm water and the yeast in a small bowl and stir to dissolve.

Combine the flour with the sugar and salt in a heavy-duty stand mixer. Mix with the flat beater at the lowest speed for 10 seconds, then add the yeast mixture and 1/4 cup oil and mix for 1 minute.

Replace the beater with the dough hook and knead at medium speed for 3 minutes. Pinch off a piece of the dough. If it feels too sticky, continue kneading while gradually adding just enough of the remaining 1/4 cup flour for the dough to lose most of its stickiness. If dry and crumbly, continue kneading the dough while gradually adding warm water, a tablespoon at a time, until it is no longer too dry.

Continue kneading the dough until smooth and elastic, for about 5 minutes total, then form into a smooth ball.

Brush a large bowl with oil, add the dough and turn to coat all over with the oil. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and set in a warm place until the dough is doubled in bulk, for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or refrigerate for as long as 24 hours, punching the dough down 1 or 2 times as it rises.

Makes 8 servings.

Additional Information:

Details

'The Pizza Deck'

Author: James McNair

Publisher: Chronicle Books

Price: $14.95 hardcover box

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