Where have you been all my life? It’s never too late to be introduced to the iconic food(s) of my hometown of Detroit, Michigan. I never knew that Detroit even had its very own style of pizza until I returned to Metro Detroit in 2001 after living in Texas for 17 years. Detroit Style “Square” Pizza now holds a place in my heart along with Coney Dogs, Better Made Chips, Faygo Soda Pop, and Vernors Ginger Ale.
The Detroit Style Pizza eluded me when growing up here in Detroit in the mid 60’s and early 70’s. Pizza to me was always round and flat, in the vein of New York style. I still have vivid memories of my dad bring home these kinds of pizzas as a little kid. The corrugated cardboard box would be warm and the smell of the hot pizza waft through the air. Ah…good memories… So why didn’t my parents introduce this rectangle of pizza goodness to us as kids? Well, it all had to do with where we lived. Although the Detroit Style Pizza existed, we never ventured as a family to those few locations that served up this glorious pie. Back then, Detroit Style Pizza wasn’t ubiquitous as it is today in Detroit and its Metro Area. You actually had to seek out this pizza. Growing up in Detroit’s near Westside, our family of 11 rarely made trips out to local restaurants for our meals and especially not a tavern. So I was fated not to cross paths with this Detroit original until later in life.
The Detroit Style Pizza, with Sicilian roots and a mix of Midwestern ingenuity, was born in a small tavern, “Buddy’s” at the corner of 6 Mile and Conant Street on Detroit’s North Side in 1946.
What makes Detroit Style Pizza distinctive is the pan it is baked in and how the pizza is built. The well-fermented dough is patted completely across the bottom of a blue-steel rectangular pan and left to ferment until light and airy. The dough is then topped with slices of savory pepperoni, then a layer of cheese covers the dough from edge to edge, a layer of extra topping can be layered over the cheese, and then finally topped with homemade tomato sauce. Topping the pizza with sauce before baking or after, is up to you. Either way is acceptable. I’ve chosen to add the heated sauce to the top of the pizza after it is baked, this provides the best oven spring and produces a light and airy crumb in the baked crust.
The Pan – Pan of Steel
Detroit Pizzas are baked in a square or rectangular blue-steel pan originally used by the auto industry to keep small parts on the assembly line. The blue steel pans perfectly transfer the heat of the oven to the dough, producing an open crumb and the signature crisp crust and deeply caramelized edges of crust and cheese. This recipe uses 2 – 10″ x 14″ blue-steel pans. A great resource for the Detroit steel pizza pans is The Detroit Style Pizza Company.
The Dough – Building flavor with time!
How do you take all-purpose flour, water, salt, and yeast and turn them into a flavorful crust that you’d want to eat all by itself? The answer is time. The recipe for the Detroit Pizza dough uses an overnight preferment. A preferment allows for the enzymes in the flour to break down the starch into sugars and the bacteria to produce lactic acid. Which in turn produces a rich buttery tasting dough. The use of a preferment also helps develop strength and structure in the dough, allowing the dough to stretch and rise more. The dough hydration (water to flour by weight) is 68%, making for a wet and sticky dough in the initial mixing and kneading. As the dough ferments, folding is used to develop the strength the dough. The dough is then placed into a pool of extra virgin olive in the steel baking pan and coaxed slowly by patting it out to cover the entirety of the pan. Then finally the dough is left to proof until it has risen to double its original size before receiving the toppings and heading to the oven to bake. This develops not only the best flavor possible, but adds to the light and airy texture of the crust. The process is slow, but it’s the attention to these details that will impart the best flavor and texture in your Detroit Pizza crust.
The Toppings – Use the Best! You can’t make great tasting food from ingredients that are not of the best quality. This is a perfect opportunity to visit your local Italian Market to check out the cheeses and cured meats they have to offer. Ask a for taste and suggestions from the staff at the deli counter or owners. Locally we are lucky to have wonderful Italian Markets in the Detroit Metro Area. I like to shop at Cantoro’s Market at their Plymouth, Michigan location for my pizza needs.
- Cured Meats – Pepperoni is traditional for topping the pizzas, but why not try other more flavorful cured meats? Soppressata, Coppocollo, or Salami are made sweet or hot to suit your taste. Each one bringing their own character and flavor to your pizza.
- Cheese – Traditionally Mozzarella and a Wisconsin Brick Cheese (White Cheddar) is blended together to top the Detroit Pizza. I like a blend (2.5 oz. each) of Whole Fat Block Mozzarella, aged Provolone, Wisconsin White Cheddar, and Fontina cheese for the pizza. Chosen for their rich flavor and the ability to melt into a gooey layer across the top of the pizza. A total of 10 ounces (283 g.) of the cheese blend is used for each pizza. I prefer to dice the cheese into 1/8-inch pieces for this style of pizza.
- Tomato Sauce – Pizza Sauce made from whole San Marzano tomatoes imported from Italy’s Campania region that are beautifully sun-ripe and naturally sweet, impart the best flavor to the pizza. With the addition of a few ingredients to accent the deep tomato flavor of this sauce. The sauce is simmered and then served hot over the baked pizza. Simplicity and flavor is the key to this tomato sauce recipe. I like Cento “San Marzano” Tomatoes for their sweet and deep tomato flavor.
- Extras! – Add extra toppings to the top of the cheese; such as cooked crumbled Italian sausage, fresh sweet peppers, onions, olives, mushrooms, and other toppings of your choice. Tailor the pizza to your very own taste.
A complete step-by-step video for Detroit Style Pizza on my YouTube Channel “Just One Bite, Please?” is at the bottom of this post. For this and more videos:
- 2 Quart Mixing Bowl
- Emersion Blender
- 10″ Sauté Pan
- Cutting Board
- Chef’s Knife
Tomato Sauce: Yields – Sauce for 2 Pizzas
- Measured Ingredients
- 28 oz. can San Marzano Whole Tomatoes with Basil (Cento)
- 1/2 cup Water
- 2 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 2 tsp. Garlic (crushed and minced fine)
- 1/2 tsp. Sea Salt (Fine)
- 1/4 tsp. Black Pepper (freshly ground)
- 1/2 oz. Fresh Basil (Whole leaf with stems)
- Add the can of tomatoes with the juice to the mixing bowl. Remove the basil if included with the tomatoes.
- Add 1/2 cup of water to the tomato can and swirl the water around to remove the remaining tomato juice. Pour the liquid into the mixing bowl with the tomatoes.
- Use an emersion blender to puree the tomatoes to a fine texture. The tomatoes can be hand crushed for a coarser texture if so desired.
- Heat the sauté pan over medium heat
- Add the extra virgin olive oil and garlic. Sauté the garlic for 1 minute or until the garlic just starts to caramelize.
- Add the pureed tomatoes, salt, black pepper, and fresh basil and bring to a light boil.
- Turn the heat to low and simmer the sauce for 10 minutes. Stirring occasionally with a heat-resistant rubber spatula.
- Turn off the heat and let the sauce cool to room temperature.
- Remove the basil once the sauce has cooled.
- Cover and store the sauce at room temperature if using the same day or refrigerate until needed.
- Re-heat the sauce before adding to the fully baked pizza.
- 4 Quart Mixing Bowl
- Electric Scale, Measuring Cups and Spoons
- Rubber Spatula
- Plastic Bowl Scraper
- Plastic Wrap
- 2 – 10″ x 14″ Steel Pans (2″ deep”)
Detroit Pizza Dough: Yields – 2, 10″ x 14″ Pizzas
- Measured Weight Grams Ingredients
- 1 cup 8 oz. 227 g. Water (room temp.)
- 1-1/2 cups + 2 Tbsp. 8 oz. 227 g. All Purpose Flour (King Arthur)
- 1/4 tsp. 1/4 tsp. 1 g. Instant Yeast
- In a 4-quart mixing bowl combine the water, all-purpose flour, and instant yeast.
- Beat together using a rubber spatula until the batter is smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap (cling film) and let ferment at room temperature 68º-74ºF (20º-23ºC) for 8 to 10 hours. (Do this overnight)
Mixing the Final Dough:
- Measured Weight Grams Ingredients
- All the preferment from above
- 1/2 tsp. 1/2 tsp. 2 g. Instant Yeast
- 7/8 cup 7 oz. 198 g. Water (room temp.)
- 3 1/4 cups 14 oz. 397 g. All Purpose Flour (King Arthur)
- 1-3/4 tsp. 1/2 oz. 14 g. Sea Salt (fine)
- To the preferment add the instant yeast and water. Beat together using a rubber spatula.
- Add half of the flour and stir to incorporate, then beat the mixture until it becomes a batter
- Add the remaining flour and sea salt and stir together until the dough becomes a shaggy mass.
- Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto the work surface.
- Knead the dough for 6 to 8 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. (The dough will be sticky at this point. Do not be tempted to add extra flour.)
- Lightly spray the bowl with oil and place the dough into the bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap.
- Ferment the dough for 1 hour at room temperature.
- After 1 hour, turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface and stretch and fold the dough. Return the dough back to the bowl and cover with plastic wrap.
- Ferment the dough for a 1 hour.
- After a 1 hour, turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface and stretch and fold the dough. Leave the dough on the work surface, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest for 30 minutes.
- After a 30 minute rest, divide into 2 even pieces weighing approximately 18.5 oz. (525 g.).
- Deflate the pieces of dough and form into a rectangle. Folding the short ends of the dough to the center forming a smaller rectangle. Lightly press the rectangle of dough again and fold the short ends again into the center of the dough.
- Lightly oil the work surface and turn the dough seam side down on the work surface. Cover the doughs with plastic wrap and leave to rest for 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, place 3 tbsp. of extra virgin olive oil into the center of the baking pans and place the rectangle of dough seam side down onto the oil.
- Dip your fingers tips into the extra virgin olive oil and then lightly pat out the piece of dough until it about covers most of the pan.
- Cover the pan with plastic wrap or cover and leave it to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.
- After 30 minutes, uncover the pans and pat and press the dough to the edge of the baking pan.
- Cover the pan with plastic wrap and proof the dough for the final time; 1 hour & 30 minutes or until the dough triples in size to be about 1-inch thick (2.5 centimeters).
- Once the dough has risen the final time in the pan you will be ready to top the pizzas.
Pre-heat the oven to 450°F 30 minutes before baking the pizza
Assembling the Pizzas:
Ingredients for each Pizza:
- 1 Pan – Fully Proofed Dough
- 2 oz Pepperoni or cured meats (Enough to cover the surface of the pizza dough)
- 10 oz. (283 g.) Cheese – Diced or grated; A blend of Mozzarella, Provolone, Asiago, and Fontina 2.5 oz. (71 g.) each
- Extra Toppings – Add whatever extra toppings you like.
- 1-1/2 cups Tomato Sauce (Heat the sauce and top after the pizza is baked and removed from the pan.)
- Starting with the fully proofed dough in the baking pan.
- Cover the dough with slices of pepperoni or cured meat of your choice.
- Add the rim of cheese to the edge of the pizza dough first, then sprinkle the remaining cheese evenly across the dough.
- Place extra ingredients over the top of the cheese if using.
- Place the pizza into the oven on the bottom rack.
- Bake at 450°F for 14 to 16 minutes. The sides of the pizza should be deeply caramelized and start to come away from the pan. *Note: Baking times are approximate since every oven heats slightly different. Check your pizza after 12 minutes to ensure even baking, turning the pans if necessary.
- Remove the pizza from the oven.
- Using a spatula, release the pizza from the baking pan and slip it onto a pizza platter.
- Top the pizza with 2 stripes of the hot tomato sauce.
- Cut into 8 pieces and serve hot!