I like to think of Detroit pizza as the Sicilian’s chubby cousin. Not so rustic as, say, a focaccia, but not quite as soft and fluffy as a New York–style Sicilian slice.It’s special occasion pizza that’s dripping with cheese, fluffy in the middle and laced with crispy edges. This is not every Friday night pizza or you’ll soon be purchasing a defibrillator. But it is really good pizza.
And despite the decadent use of cheese you don’t need a wood-fired oven or 900 degrees to get professional quality. You do sort of need a special pan, if you want to get technical, but this simple and easy dough recipe is perfect for homemade pizza.
What is Detroit Pizza?
Detroit-style pizza has been having a bit of a moment the last few years. While there isn’t a dedicated Detroit style shop in the Boston-area, I did notice it on a few menus recently, like Portland’s Otto.
Detroit-style pizza was created at Buddy’s Pizza in Detroit, of course, more than 70 years ago. It’s known for it’s thick and crisp edges and bottom with cheese that’s almost burnt all the way to the edge. It’s baked in a dark, square (usually 10×14), seasoned pan that helps promote those crisp, cheesy edges. I’m typically not a fan of buying a uni-tasker for just one type of pizza and you can probably get away with making the pizza in something similar but the pan does really help if you’re after authenticity. Bit of a splurge, but I have the LloydPans one and no complaints.
The other defining characteristic of Detroit pizza is the toppings. More specifically, the order of the toppings. It’s all reversed. First, the optional toppings like pepperoni or mushrooms go down first on the dough, then the cheese (more about the cheese in a minute), then sweet, herbed sauce, traditionally laid down in three broad strips.
The final unique thing about Detroit pizza is the cheese. For a truly authentic Detroit pie, you need to use Wisconsin brick. It’s a young, soft cheese similar to cheddar but with a high fat content. It’s hard to find outside of Wisconsin. You can order it online but you are going to pay unless you’re buying a lot. Via Serious Eats, the best combination of supermarket cheeses to try to replicate the buttery flavor of the brick is low-moisture mozzarella and Jack.
Based on my favorite no-knead, no-stretch dough from Serious Eats, this high-hydration dough for the Detroit pie comes together quickly in the food processor and barely needs any stretching to get it to fit all the way into the corners of the pan.
Two to three hours after making it, you’re ready to top and put it in the oven.
Typically, I like to keep any red sauces for pizza very simple. Whole tomatoes, crushed by hand, some fresh garlic, salt, maybe a little sprinkling of herbs. The Detroit sauce is a little more involved. The Detroit pie calls for heavily seasoned crushed tomatoes, maybe to stand up to all the cheese and rendered fat.
I use minced fresh garlic, a little pinch of pepper flakes, and a good amount of dried oregano sautéed in extra-virgin olive oil before adding tomatoes. Finish the sauce by adding a small dash of garlic and onion powder and a bit of sugar. Let is simmer down and reduce while the dough is proofing.