What’s the Secret to a Crave-Worthy Crust on Detroit-Style Pizza?

April 5, 2024

Nothing brings joy to the table quite like a sizzling hot, cheesy pizza. And if you’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting a Detroit-style pizza, you’ll know that the crust can make or break the experience. With its thick, chewy interior and crisp, caramelized cheese edge, the crust of a Detroit-style pizza is a flavor bomb that leaves you reaching for another slice. But how do pizzaiolos achieve this perfect balance of textures in the crust? What’s the secret to creating a crust that is crispy on the bottom, soft and fluffy inside, and crowned with a lacy edge of golden-brown cheese that sends your taste buds to pizza heaven? Let’s uncover the secret behind the crave-worthy crust on Detroit-style pizza.

Choosing the Right Pan

Starting with the right equipment is crucial in creating that perfect Detroit-style pizza crust. This style of pizza originated in the automotive city of Detroit in the 1940s and was traditionally baked in a blue steel pan, similar to the ones used in automobile factories for storing industrial parts. The thick, heavy-gauge steel of these pans is ideal for baking pizza because it conducts heat evenly, ensuring that the bottom of the crust gets nicely browned and crisped up without burning.

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The pan’s deep sides also allow the dough to rise significantly during baking, resulting in a crust that is thick and fluffy on the inside. Most importantly, the cheese, which is spread all the way to the edges of the pan, caramelizes against the hot steel, forming a delectable, crispy cheese crust that is a hallmark of Detroit-style pizza.

The Perfect Dough Recipe

The dough is the foundation of any pizza, and a Detroit-style pizza is no exception. This style of pizza calls for a dough that is light and airy, with a good amount of chew. A high-hydration dough, typically containing about 70% water by weight, achieves this texture. The high water content produces a dough that is very sticky and loose, which may seem challenging to work with, but the end result is a crust that is exceptionally tender and light.

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To make the dough, combine high-protein bread flour with warm water in a large bowl and let it sit for about 20 minutes. This process, known as autolyse, allows the flour to fully absorb the water and begin developing gluten, which contributes to the dough’s structure and chewiness. After the autolyse, add yeast, oil, and salt, and mix until a rough dough forms. The dough then requires a long, slow rise at room temperature to allow the yeast to ferment and the dough to develop flavor.

Optimal Baking Technique

Once you’ve got your dough and pan ready, it’s time to assemble and bake your pizza. The first layer on the dough should be slices of cheese, specifically Brick cheese, if you can find it. This high-fat, mild cheese melts beautifully, and when it comes into contact with the hot pan, it browns and crisps up, forming that signature crunchy cheese rim.

Next comes the sauce, which in Detroit-style pizza is typically ladled on top of the cheese and toppings in thick, hearty stripes. This "upside down" construction helps to keep the crust light and airy as it bakes.

The baking process for Detroit-style pizza is a two-step one. First, the pizza is baked in a very hot oven, typically around 500 degrees Fahrenheit, for 12 to 15 minutes. This initial high heat helps to set the crust and start the cheese melting. Then, the heat is turned down to around 350 degrees, and the pizza continues to bake for another 10 to 15 minutes. This lower temperature ensures that the crust cooks through without burning, and the cheese and sauce have time to meld together.

The Role of Oil

You might have noticed that oil plays a critical role in achieving the perfect Detroit-style pizza crust. It’s used in the dough to keep it tender and moist, it’s drizzled over the top before baking to help the crust brown, and it’s used to grease the pan, which helps to create a crisp, fried-like bottom crust.

The type of oil you use can also affect the flavor and texture of your crust. High-quality extra virgin olive oil gives the crust a rich flavor and keeps it moist and tender, while a neutral oil like canola or vegetable oil allows the flavor of the dough and toppings to shine.

Adding the Final Touch: Pepperoni

Lastly, to make a truly authentic Detroit-style pizza, don’t forget the pepperoni. This classic pizza topping is laid out on top of the cheese, under the sauce, before baking. As the pizza bakes, the pepperoni releases its spicy, smoky oil, which infuses the crust and other toppings with flavor. Plus, the high heat of the oven crisps the edges of the pepperoni, adding a touch of crunch to every bite.

Using Quality Ingredients

The deliciousness of the Detroit-style pizza crust is also heavily influenced by the quality of ingredients used. To replicate the authentic Detroit-style pizza, you must be selective about the ingredients you choose to use. The main components of the crust – bread flour, yeast, and salt – should be of high quality to ensure the ultimate taste and texture.

Start with using high-protein bread flour. This type of flour creates a stronger gluten network, which results in a chewier and fluffier pizza crust. Next, the quality of yeast used is also important. Active dry yeast is preferred for making pizza dough, as it helps the dough rise and provides a distinct, delectable yeasty flavor.

Similarly, the type of salt used matters too. Sea salt is a popular choice among professional pizzaiolos, given its pure, natural flavor that enhances the taste of the dough. Water, although not always considered as a key ingredient, also plays a significant role in the dough’s texture and taste. It’s recommended to use filtered water to avoid any potential impurities that could hinder the yeast’s activity.

The focus on quality should not stop with the crust. The cheese, oil, and pizza sauce used should be of premium quality too. As traditional Detroit-style pizza uses Brick cheese, you would want to source this from a reputable dairy producer. The olive oil should be extra virgin and cold-pressed, as it imparts a rich, fruity flavor to the crust. Finally, the pizza sauce should be made from ripe, well-seasoned tomatoes to lend a tangy-sweet contrast to the crust’s savory taste.

In Conclusion

Making a crave-worthy Detroit-style pizza crust is quite an art, but certainly not out of reach for home cooks. The secret lies in understanding the science behind the crust’s unique texture and flavor. Starting with a proper baking pan is essential for achieving the thick, airy, and crisp crust that has made Detroit-style pizza famous. The dough recipe plays an equally important role; using a high-hydration dough and giving it enough time to rest at room temperature can create the desirable light and fluffy texture.

The baking technique and the role of oil are also critical elements to get right. A two-step baking process and generous use of oil can ensure that the crust is perfectly cooked and has the signature crispy edges. Using high-quality ingredients – from the bread flour to the sea salt to the brick cheese – can also make a significant difference in your pizza crust’s flavor profile.

Last, but not the least, do not forget the toppings, especially the pepperoni. It not only adds an extra layer of flavor to your pizza, but also gives it an authentic Detroit-style pizza touch. Now that you know the secrets, it’s time to preheat your pizza oven, grab your baking sheet and get ready to make a sensational Detroit-style pizza at home!