Is there a homemade pizza that's easier to make and more crowd pleasing than the one that made the Motor City famous?
This is one of the easiest possible pizzas to make. And it happens by not trying to make pizza.
OK, what does that mean, and is it some kind of stupid zen koan about pizza? Granted, that could be the case. I have all kinds of half-baked zen thoughts about the "not doing" of things. But that’s not what’s going on here. This is much simpler and more on-the-nose.
Say “pizza,” and for most people one image comes to mind: A round, baked disc of cheese and tomato sauce, probably with pepperoni (because that’s America’s favorite pizza topping).
The pizza I’m talking about is much easier to make than that classic pizza. It requires very little skill to shape it or launch it. It does not require a special stone or steel or a peel. It does require a good, heavy baking pan. It also requires that the dough ferment in the fridge overnight.
It’s also worth the wait for the dough because this pizza is an astounding crowd pleaser. I made a couple of these last night for a small cocktail party. People were losing their minds. And not just because they’d been drinking.
Somebody who was NOT drinking at all, and is a confirmed fan of my neo-Neapolitan pizza, said, “I like your regular pizza, Blaine. But I don’t know. This. This!” She ate two small slices, about three inches square, and was fully satisfied.
This morning, my wife said she woke up thinking about this pizza. Waking up thinking about something you ate the night before is a rare and special occurrence. In my book of cooking, that’s a win.
What we’re talking about here is Detroit-style pizza. And now you’re probably saying, “What?” My experience is that, despite the current upsurge in popularity of Detroit pizza, it’s still relatively unknown.
I could say that it’s a pan pizza. And you might say, “I don’t like Chicago pizza.” Different city. Different pizza. Chicago pizza is a thick, dense crust containing cornmeal. It’s pressed into a pan (but a round one). It also takes a long, long time to bake.
This is not that pizza. Detroit pan pizza is made from a high-hydration pizza dough containing a lot of oil. It ends up yielding a light, bready, airy crust. The dough is pressed into a rectangular pan, then covered with cheese—including extra cheese pressed around the edges and into the corners.
That cheese at the edges ends up becoming part of the reason people go nuts for this pizza. When the pizza bakes, that cheese at the edges and corners becomes caramelized. That’s where the fun really begins.
The caramelized cheese goes by the name, “Frico.” Sounds a little like Vinny Barbarino’s lost sidekick from the Sweathogs of Welcome Back, Kotter. But in truth, it’s a tongue-tantalizing, mind-bending flavor bomb of crispy cheese that your pizza eaters can’t get enough of.
If you read Peter Reinhart’s excellent book, Perfect Pan Pizza, he asks, “What the freak is frico?” He answers the question by explaining its origins as a crispy cheese and potato dish of northeastern Italy. Then he tells us that in the context of Detroit pizza, we borrow the term because, “As the cheese bakes, it crisps up into a cracker-like wafer, darker than the crust itself, with a wonderful crispy texture and intense cheese flavor.”
I admit that the first time I made his recipe for Detroit Red Stripe pizza, I was a little shocked. It seemed to be a near-perfect pizza. And it requires none of the learning curve of a traditional, round pizza launched from a peel and baked on a stone.
The story of Detroit pizza is interesting. Dating to the early 1940s, it developed as a bar food when a bar’s owner used a recipe given to him by his mother in law. The baking pans of the time were not heavy enough for properly baking this pie. So they employed the heavy blue-steel pans used for holding parts on auto assembly lines.
These days, the LloydPan is considered the reference standard pan for baking these pizzas. But to get started, you can use any decent, heavy steel baking pan. I prefer the idea of a Lloyd pan. But I’ve made these pizzas in other pans. You just want the pan to be substantial, and not the flimsy, tinny, cheap pans people so often have around the house. You want a proper baking pan that provides some thermal mass.
It's an easy-to-make, crowd-pleasing surprise. Who doesn’t like the idea of that? Since pizza is a process, I’m a firm believer in learning to make pizza by reading a book with a proper narrative. Context is important. I’m also aware that not everyone shares my belief that the path to success is paved with proper books. So I’m providing a decent alternative for the impatient pizzaiolo.
If you’re antsy and you want to just jump in, I have a friend who’s a chef and makes really good cooking videos. His name is Tuan Tran, and he lives in Miami Beach. He has a recipe video for a Detroit-style pizza with two flavors of sauce. You can easily pare it back to one sauce if you like. You can find Chef Tuan's Detroit pizza recipe and video by clicking here.
If you prefer the path paved with good cookbooks, I recommend Peter Reinhart’s book. Its full title is Perfect Pan Pizza: Square Pies to Make at Home, from Roman, Sicilian, and Detroit, to Grandma Pies and Focaccia. It’s a relatively short book as cookbooks go. The photography is good. The recipes are straightforward. Peter Reinhart is a James Beard award-winning writer, not to mention an extraordinary baker. If you want to learn more about his book, you can find it on Amazon by clicking here.
Detroit pizza. It’s what’s for blowing their minds at dinner.
Of course, you might just want to make great, round pizza that everyone expects. Nothing wrong with that, either. I love it and have been doing it for over 20 years. If you’re just starting your pizza journey and want to make the pizza of everyone’s imaginings, you can check out my silly little book, Free The Pizza by clicking here.
(And yes, Free The Pizza dot com is an Amazon affiliate. If you buy something through one of our links, Amazon flings some pocket change in our direction at no additional cost to you.)
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?
When you click those links to Amazon (and a few other sites we work with), and you buy something, you are helping this website stay afloat, and you're helping us have many more glorious photographs of impressive pizza.