Have you ever experienced the crunchy, cheesy, fresh-from-the-oven, crowd-pleasing thrill of homemade Detroit-style pizza?
Last week’s anti-political rant about the Detroit pizza served to reporters on Air Force One got me thinking: how many people even understand the thrill that is Detroit-style pizza?
It’s easy to make, comes with an element of crunchy, caramelized high like none other, and it’s a total surprise how much people love it.
I’ve made over 1,000 round, flat pizzas recognizable as some evolution of Neapolitan tradition. And people love them. One guy I know says my pizza has ruined him for any other.
But the few dozen Detroit-style pizzas I’ve made are the ones that make people’s heads snap around in surprise.
I suspect that’s because it’s so unexpected. Someone hears “pan pizza” and thinks: high-school cafeteria.
Yet when they meet the melty, fresh-fun crunch monster of the Motor City, the surprise is delightful. I’ve even got a few local fans here who ask for this pizza by name.
I suspect the reason Detroit pizza is so endearing is the visceral, evocative, pillowy quality of homemade bread that’s involved.
Then, it’s striped with a rich and savory sauce atop a voluptuous, liquescent blanket of enchanting cheesiness that intersects with a crusty, Maillard-ified fringe of chewy crisp and browned crust, all of it bringing an almost carnal charge.
I dunno. I have one reader whose homemade pizzas have improved his love life significantly. I do believe that in general, there is something enticing about a man (or woman) who can produce the magical, multi-layered flavor bomb of pizza that entices the potential mate in ways that are difficult to duplicate.
Detroit pizza is merely an even bigger wonder bomb of surprise and joy.
But I digress. Let’s put the clothes back on the pizza and talk about Motor City.
Legend has it that the pan pizza named for Detroit was invented in 1946 at a former speakeasy called Buddy’s Rendezvous. The story goes that Gus Guerra adapted his Sicilian mother-in-law’s recipe for sfincione, which is much like focaccia.
At the time, the only available baking pans were too flimsy for such a task. So Gus bought heavier pans that were used on automobile assembly lines for holding small parts.
The style spread around Detroit, chains were born, and a muscle-car pizza style was firmly bolted to the motor mounts of the city’s culinary landscape.
The label “Detroit style” seems to be fairly recent. And with the pizza madness sweeping the nation like a roaring, big-block V8 running the quarter mile, this pan pizza that’s often mistaken for Sicilian style is gaining in popularity.
There are key characteristics to know about Detroit-style pizza. For one, it’s very wet. The recipe I use (from Peter Reinhart’s book, Perfect Pan Pizza) logs in at 80% hydration.
Especially if you’re used to making a more traditional pizza style, this could freak you out a little. But remember: pan pizza. You’re not going to be stretching the dough into a round. You’ll be pressing it into a pan.
One of the tradeoffs for the simplicity of this pizza is you have to plan ahead. Besides wanting to give your dough time to ferment (I do 2-3 days, typically), you also have to plan your bake. You need to take the dough from the fridge five hours before baking. And during the first hour, you have to perform some simple tasks at 20-minute intervals.
Also, the pizza is baked with only cheese and some of the hardier toppings. The bake is too long for sauce and more delicate toppings. If you’re using a red sauce, it’s typically added after the bake. The traditional Detroit Red Stripe style of pizza is baked with the cheese in place, and the saucy red stripes are added after the pie comes out of the oven.
And saving the best for last: Frico! This is crunchy, caramelized cheese that’s found around the edges of the pie. Before baking, the cubed cheese is pressed around the edges of the pan, and the magic happens in the oven.
Along with the caramelized bottom of the crust, the frico is what helps make this pizza such a delight. And while there’s no reason you can’t make Detroit-style pizza in a big pan, I recommend using a couple of smaller ones. It yields a higher ratio of frico and more corner pieces. This helps dial-down the number of fistfights that erupt over frico and corners.
One of the things I like best about this pizza (besides the crowd-pleasing nature of it) is its portability. Tomorrow, we’re going to a Super Bowl party, and I’ll be transporting a pair of pre-baked pies.
When we get there, heating them up is a snap. The thick crust makes one slice quite filling, which means those two 8x10 pizzas I’m bringing will go a long way. And ultimately, it’s a surprise for everyone involved.
And one of the biggest surprises for you, the pizzamaker, is how simple it is.
If you want to know more about Peter Reinhart’s book and the most popular pans for Detroit-style pizza, I’ve made a page for you on the website.
There are also a couple of quick videos there.
One is the dough in all its high-hydration glory. The other is two pizzas fresh from the oven with the hot oil sizzling around the edges.
Detroit pizza. It’s what’s for dinner. And it’s sexy.
If you’re still thinking about starting your pizza journey, and want to do it in a more traditional flat, round style, one good place to do so is inside Free The Pizza. Really, it’s A Simple System For Making Great Pizza Whenever You Want With The Oven You Already Have. It’s a manual that takes you from zero to pizza with a few laughs along the way. Also, if you buy a hard copy, I'll send you an autographed book plate. If you buy the Kindle edition, know that there are printable cheat sheets on this website so you can take them into the kitchen and spill red sauce all over them.
Blaine Parker is the award-winning author of the bestselling, unusual and amusing how-to pizza book, Free The Pizza. Also known as The Pizza Geek and "Hey, Pizza Man!", Blaine is fanatical about the idea that true, pro-quality pizza can be made at home. His home. Your home. Anyone's home. After 20 years of honing his craft and making pizza in standard consumer ovens across the nation, he's sharing what he's learned with home cooks like you. Are you ready to pizza?
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