Detroit Style Pizza (Two Ways: Yeast and Sourdough)
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My introduction to Detroit-style pizza came not by way of Detroit’s legendary Buddy’s Pizza, but rather from Matt and Emily Hyland, the couple behind Pizza Loves Emily, whose New Haven-style pizzas are near and dear to my heart, and whose Emmy Squared slices now follow close behind.
It all began one Friday evening at the height of the lockdown last year. Longing to eat something from beyond my 5-mile radius, I splurged on a trio of pizzas from Emmy Squared via GoldBelly. The small rectangular pies topped variously with everything from pickled jalapeños and banana peppers to Calabrian chilies and smoked gouda each accompanied with little tubs of side sauces, squeeze bottles of dressings, and tiny tubes of honey transported us to what felt like a faraway land.
It was a blast.
The experience sent me on a Detroit-style pizza-making bender, a journey I never imagined taking. If you’ve been reading here for a while, you know I love my Neapolitan-style pizzas (such as this one or this one), which couldn’t be more different in spirit than Detroit-style pizzas. If Neapolitan pizzas adhere to a less-is-more approach, Detroit-style pizzas lean toward a more-is-more path: they’re thick and cheesy with a charred, oily crust.
Typically, this is not the type of food I am most drawn to, but my Emmy Squared takeout dinner showed me that Detroit-style pizza need not be heavy. The dough in fact should be quite light and airy, not unlike focaccia.
After this Emmy Squared takeout dinner, I found myself determined to make this style of pizza at home for two reasons: one because it was delicious, but two because it seemed easy: I loved the idea of making one large pizza in one vessel, presenting it to the family, and then: turning the oven off! (I’ve gotten used to never sitting on pizza night.)
Friends, guess what? Having Detroit-style pizza in the dinner rotation is as dreamy as imagined. Making one and only one pizza that feeds my entire family is life-changing. (Turns out: I like sitting!)
But can I tell you my favorite part about making this style of pizza? You can assemble it days in advance. I have mixed up the dough on a Wednesday, transferred it to its baking pan, and tucked it in the fridge until Friday! On baking day, I simply remove the pan, top it, and throw it in the oven. It feels like a miracle.
The recipe below includes both a yeast-leavened and a sourdough-leavened Detroit-style pizza dough with two topping options: one with sauce, cheese, and pepperoni, the other with the addition of pickled jalapeños and honey, inspired by “The Colony” served at Emmy Squared.
Of course, you can top your pizzas as you wish. The key to finding success with Detroit-style pizza at home, as with so many things, is balance. For me, finding the right balance meant topping the pizzas a little more minimally than many of the recipes I found across the web. And finding ultimate success with this style of pizza came down to borrowing techniques from various sources, most notably from Matt and Emily Hyland (both from their book and a virtual cooking class I attended) and Wes Pikula of Buddy’s in Detroit (from this Pizza City USA podcast episode).
This is a long post, jump ahead if you wish:
- What is Detroit Style Pizza?
- The Dough
- The Secret to a Light and Airy Dough?
- The Cheese
- The Sauce
- The Pan
- Detroit-Inspired Pizza
- My Ideal Detroit-Style Pizza
- How to Make Yeast-Leavened Detroit-style pizza
- How to Make Sourdough Detroit-Style pizza
What is Detroit-style pizza?
Detroit-style pizza is often described as “pan pizza” and it is not unlike a cheesed- and sauced-focaccia. But there are some defining characteristics of true Detroit-style pizza. Let’s explore:
- The dough of Detroit-style pizza should be high hydration (typically this means over 65%), and the baked dough should be light and airy, similar, as noted, to focaccia.
- In the picture below of the crumb shot, you’ll see lots of nice air pockets — this is partially thanks to the 76% hydration dough:
The Secret to a Light and Airy Dough?
As with focaccia, a long, cold proof will make for a lighter, airier dough. Matt and Emily Hyland bulk ferment their Detroit pizza dough in the fridge for 24 to 36 hours; then proof their dough in the pan in the fridge for 2 to 36 hours before using.
Detroit’s Buddy’s Pizza also employs a cold proof. After the dough’s first rise, it gets pressed into the pan, topped with both cheese and pepperoni, and transferred to the fridge to proof again.
I get the best results when I bulk ferment in the fridge for 48 hours before transferring the dough to the pan. Once it’s in the pan, I’ll return it to the fridge for 3 hours at a minimum but often for 24 hours more.
As noted above, this is great for convenience — it’s so nice having a nearly assembled pizza waiting in the fridge — but it’s also beneficial for the dough: the longer dough ferments, the more gas bubbles are produced, and when those gas bubbles hit the hot oven, they expand, creating a light, porous crust.
- Wisconsin Brick Cheese, which is derived from white American cheddar, but has a higher fat content, is traditional.
- In Detroit-style pizzas, cheese goes on the dough before the sauce and is spread all the way to the edge of the pan. This method allows the cheese’s fat to pool at the pan’s edges and fry the dough, creating a near-burnt cheese frico crust.
- Note: In Upstate New York, brick cheese is hard to find. During my experiments, I ordered lots of Wisconsin Brick Cheese (and it truly is a great pizza cheese: very melty and tasty), but for ease, I now use a combination of Cheddar or Monterey Jack and low-moisture, whole milk mozzarella:
I like to cube the above cheeses, but when I’m feeling lazy, these two bags work great:
- Detroit-style pizzas use a cooked tomato sauce (as opposed to an uncooked sauce, which is what Neapolitan-style pizzas and others traditionally call for.)
- The sauce is applied last (over the cheese and pepperoni) in dollops or in two or three “racing” stripes. Detroit-style pizza is not super saucy. Here are two sauce recipes (one made from canned tomatoes, one from fresh) that I love for pizza.
- The story of Detroit’s Buddy’s Pizza, the “original” Detroit-style pizza, is that the owner used his mom’s Sicilian pizza recipe, but placed the dough in rectangular blue steel pans — these were “scrap” pans from the nearby auto plants.
- Lloyd Pans is a company that makes, among many things, Detroit-style pizzas pans — they arrive already seasoned, and they truly make a beautiful crust. I have two. I also recommend baking the pizzas on a Baking Steel for optimal crispness.
- A tip from Emily Hyland: grease the pan with butter because the milk solids in the butter encourage a deeper browning in the crust than oil. I like to use both butter and oil.
The recipe below is inspired by the Detroit canon: the dough is high hydration, like a focaccia, and it’s cheesier and greasier (hey pepperoni!) than the pizzas I’ve grown to love over the years. That said, compared to many Detroit pizza recipes out there, some of which call for 24 ounces of cheese and 12 ounces of pepperoni, this one is not quite so excessive.
If you want more of deep dive into true Detroit-style pizza this episode of Pizza City USA is great.
My Ideal Detroit-Style Pizza
- At least 75% dough hydration. The hydration of both dough recipes is slightly above 75% (76% for the yeast-leavened dough; 77% for the sourdough). For simplicity, I often make a yeast dough for this recipe — under a blanket of cheese and pepperoni, the subtle sour notes of a sourdough pizza crust are nearly indiscernible.
- Butter + olive oil in the pan. As noted above, the milk solids in butter help better brown the bottom of the pizza. I grease the pan with 1 tablespoon of butter; then coat the dough ball in 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
- Long cold ferment: There are several ways to do this: You can mix the dough and stick it in the fridge for 48 hours. Or you can mix the dough, pan it, and stick the pan in the fridge for 48 to 72 hours. I seem to get the best results when I bulk ferment for 48 hours in the fridge, pan it; then return the pan to the fridge for 3 to 24 hours.
- Sauce on top, but not last. In true Detroit-style pizza, the sauce goes on last. I tried this a few times, and it’s not my preferred way of assembly because when the sauce goes on top, the toppings can’t brown/crisp/char as nicely. I like to proof the dough with the cheese spread across it, spoon sauce over the cheese once it comes out of the fridge; then top the pizza with any other toppings I am using.
- About 10 ounces of cheese total. If you’re not using pepperoni, you can use up to 12 ounces, but any more for me is too much. As noted above, I use a mix of whole milk, low-moisture mozzarella and Cheddar. Monterey Jack works nicely, too.
- 1/2 cup of sauce — it won’t feel like enough, but it is. I love a vodka sauce on pizza. This is the simple vodka sauce recipe I’ve been making most often.
- 1/4 cup pickled jalapeños: Matt and Emily Hyland include pickled jalapeños on one of their pizzas, The Colony, which has become one of my favorites to make at home. It’s finished with a honey drizzle out of the oven, and the spicy-sweet combination is irresistible.
- 3 to 4 ounces of pepperoni. I love this Vermont Smoke and Cure:
Detroit-Style Pizza, Yeast Leavened, Pepperoni
Gather your ingredients: flour, salt, water, and instant yeast, SAF is my preference.
Whisk together the flour, salt, and instant yeast:
And stir to form a sticky dough ball.
Cover and let rest for 30 minutes. Then perform a set of stretches and folds or slap and folds (see video for guidance).
Optional: transfer to a straight-sided vessel to rise. This is purely to better gauge how much the dough has truly risen in volume. (Note: I find this most helpful with sourdough, because over-fermenting during the bulk fermentation is such a common problem.)
After the dough doubles (or more) in volume, you can deflate it, and transfer it to the fridge for 48 hours. Or you can proceed with the recipe.
This is the dough after it’s been in the fridge for 2 days:
Ball it up.
Transfer it to a greased pan. Let it rest for 30-60 minutes; then stretch it to fit the pan.
Top with cheese and spread the cheese all the way to the edges.
At this point, ideally you cover the dough with plastic wrap and transfer the pan to the fridge for 3 to 24 hours (or longer).
When it’s time to bake: Top with sauce, pepperoni, or any other ingredients you wish. Let the pan rest at room temperature for at least one hour before baking.
Bake at 500ºF for 15 minutes on a preheated Baking Steel or pizza stone.
The beauty of a long, cold proof:
Detroit-Style Pizza, Sourdough Edition, Pepperoni + Pickled Jalapeños
Combine 50 to 100 grams of active, bubbly starter with 185 grams water. (I prefer using 100 grams starter.)
Add 6 grams of salt:
Stir to combine.
Add 255 grams flour.
Stir to form a sticky dough ball.
Cover and let rest for 30 minutes. Then perform a set of stretches and folds or slap and folds (see video for guidance). Do two sets of these stretches and folds total at 30-minute intervals.
The dough will feel smooth and elastic after the second set. Transfer to a straight-sided vessel and let rise until doubled in volume.
When the dough has doubled or nearly doubled, you can transfer it to the fridge for 48 hours or proceed with the recipe.
From here, the process is the same as outlined above with the yeast-leavened dough. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and shape it into a ball. Transfer to a prepared pan, let it rest, stretch to fit, and top with cheese.
Once the dough is topped with cheese, you can let it proof at room temperature for several hours or, preferably, transfer it to the fridge for 24 hours.
On baking day, gather your ingredients. This one is inspired by The Colony at Emmy Squared: cheese, red sauce, pepperoni, and pickled jalapeños. Let topped dough sit at room temperature for 45 minutes to an hour before baking.
Same baking instructions as above: 500ºF on a preheated Baking Steel or pizza stone for 15 minutes.
Out of the oven, drizzle lightly with honey.
In closing, this is a nice tool to add to your arsenal of pizza-making gear: a mezzaluna. I’m not linking to the one I purchased because I wish it were a little sharper, but I love the shape and idea of it. If you have one to recommend, I’m all ears.
5 Secrets to Foolproof Bread Baking
See how easy bread baking can be in my free ecourse!
Below you will find two methods for making Detroit-style pizza dough: one leavened by yeast, one leavened by a sourdough starter. Apart from the leavening agents, the make-up of the dough is nearly identical in terms of quantities of water and flour. The yeast version is 76% hydration; the sourdough is 77% hydration. Which one to use? Most often I use the yeast-leavened recipe here. I find the nuanced flavors found in a sourdough pizza crust get a bit lost under the blanket of cheese, pepperoni, and any other toppings. The video below is for the yeast-leaved Detroit-Style Pizza. Here is the video for the sourdough Detroit-Style Pizza.
As always, for best results, please use a digital scale to measure everything. Volume cups simply are not accurate.
Water: I typically use lukewarm water for yeast-leavened doughs, but here I call for room temperature or cold tap water. This is because it’s such a small amount of dough, and the dough will reach the ambient temperature of your kitchen very quickly. For sourdough breads and pizzas, I always recommend using cold or room temperature water. If you are making this in the winter, however, lukewarm water will help the process progress in a timely manner.
Flour: I have had success using all-purpose flour, but if you can get your hands on bread flour, that is ideal, especially if you live in Canada or abroad. Moreover, if you live in Canada or abroad, you may need to reduce the water amount. Consider holding back some of the water (25 grams or so) during the mixing process to ensure you don’t end up with a soupy mess. You can always add it back in slowly if the dough is too dry.
Cheese: Wisconsin Brick cheese is traditional but it can be hard to come by if you live in the Northeast. A mix of whole milk mozzarella and Cheddar or Monterey Jack works great. Generally, I prefer block cheese as opposed to grated, but I have had great success using a mix of Cabot grated sharp cheddar and Sargento’s grated whole milk, low-moisture mozzarella.
Sauce: I love a vodka sauce on pizza, such as this one or this one. This is my favorite fresh tomato sauce recipe. Of course, use your favorite tomato sauce here. I love all of the Rao’s brand sauces.
Pan: I hate to encourage spending money on yet another piece of equipment, but a Lloyd Detroit-Style pizza pan does make a difference. I love my 9×13-inch USA pan, but a Lloyd Pan truly creates a crisper, more golden bottom. Furthermore, if you have a Baking Steel or pizza stone, baking the pizza on it will encourage even better browning.
Timeline: Plan ahead. As noted in the post above, a long cold ferment makes for a light, airy dough. Ideally, mix the dough 48 hours before you plan on baking. There are several ways to do this:
- For the yeast-leavened dough, you can mix the dough and stick it in the fridge for 48 hours. Or you can mix the dough, pan it, and stick the pan in the fridge for 48 to 72 hours. For the yeast-leavened dough, I seem to get the best results when I bulk ferment for 48 hours, pan it; then return the pan to the fridge for 3 to 24 hours. That said: I have made the dough the night before I’ve served it, and no one (but me) seemed to notice a difference in the texture of the crust.
- For the sourdough, you can mix the dough, perform the stretches and folds, then let the dough bulk ferment at room temperature. When it doubles or nearly doubles, proceed with the recipe or stick the dough in the fridge until you have time to move on to the next step — this is what I do in the video. After you get the dough in the pan and top it with cheese, ideally it should spend 24 hours in the fridge before you bake it.
The toppings: As far as Detroit-style pizza goes, this one is on the light side. You may want to up the amount of cheese and or pepperoni depending on your tastes and preferences. The pickled jalapeño and pepperoni pizza below is inspired by “The Colony” served at several of the Matt and Emily Hyland pizza restaurants, the recipe for which also can be found in their book, EMILY: The Cookbook.
For the yeast-leavened pizza dough:
- 275 grams (2 heaping cups) bread flour
- 6 grams (1.5 teaspoons) kosher salt
- 4 grams (1 teaspoon) instant yeast, SAF is my preference
- 210 grams (3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons) water
For the sourdough pizza dough:
- 255 grams (1.75 cups + 1 tablespoon) bread flour
- 6 grams (1.5 teaspoons) kosher salt
- 50 grams (1/4 cup) to 100 grams (1/2 cup) active, bubbly sourdough starter — I prefer using 100 grams
- 185 grams (3/4 cup) water
For each pizza:
- 1 tablespoon (14 g) softened butter
- 1 tablespoon (14 g) olive oil
- 5 ounces (142 grams) Cheddar or Monterey Jack
- 5 ounces (142 grams) low-moisture, whole-milk mozzarella
- 3 to 4 ounces (85 – 113 grams) pepperoni, I love Vermont Smoke & Cure, sliced as thinly as possible
- 1/4 cup pickled jalapeños, to taste, optional
- 1/2 cup tomato sauce, such as this one or this one, or your favorite jarred sauce
- light drizzle honey, optional
To make the yeast-leavened pizza dough:
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and instant yeast. Add the water. Using a rubber spatula, mix until the water is absorbed and the ingredients form a sticky dough ball. Cover the bowl with a tea towel or plastic wrap. Set a timer for 30 minutes. After the 30 minutes, dampen your hands with water; then pull the dough up and into the center. Turn the bowl quarter turns and continue this pulling 8 to 10 times. (In the video, I employ a “slap and fold” technique.) By the end, the dough should feel smoother and stronger. You can repeat this “stretch and fold” one more time 30 minutes later if time permits or you can simply set the bowl aside in a warm spot to rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the dough has doubled in bulk. (In the video, I transfer the dough to a straight-sided vessel — this is to better show the dough doubling in volume.)
- Dust a work surface or cutting board very lightly with flour. (If you are comfortable using no flour at all, do that.) Turn the dough out onto your floured surface. Using floured hands, shape the blob of dough into a ball — it helps to use the pinkie-edges of your hands to pinch the dough underneath each ball or to use a bench scraper. At this point, you can transfer the dough to a lidded vessel and store in the fridge for up to 48 hours or freeze for up to 3 months. Skip to preparing the pan for baking.
To make the sourdough pizza dough:
- Place the water in a large bowl. Add the starter and stir with a spatula to combine. Add the salt and stir again; then add the flour. Mix again until the flour is mostly incorporated. Use your hands if necessary to briefly knead in the last bits of flour. Cover vessel with a tea towel or cloth bowl cover and let stand for 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes have passed, reach into the vessel and pull the dough up and into the center. Turn the vessel quarter turns and continue this pulling 8 to 10 times. Let the dough rest for another 30 minutes; then repeat the stretching and folding. After these two sets of stretches and folds, you should see a difference in the texture of the dough: it will be smoother, stronger, and more elastic.
- If you have a straight-sided vessel, transfer the dough to it; then cover it with a tea towel or bowl cover and set aside to rise at room temperature (70ºF/21ºC) for 4 to 8 hours (the time will vary depending on the time of year, the strength of your starter, and the temperature of your kitchen) or until the dough has roughly doubled in volume. (A straight-sided vessel makes monitoring the bulk fermentation especially easy because it allows you to see when your dough has truly doubled.)
- Turn the dough out onto a work surface and shape into a rough ball. I like to do this without flour, but use flour as needed — the dough will be sticky. Use the pinkie-edges of your hands to pinch the dough underneath to create a ball. Skip to preparing the pan for baking.
Prepare the pan for baking:
- Grease the pan with the tablespoon of softened butter. Pour 1 tablespoon of olive oil into the center. Place the dough ball in the pan and turn to coat. Let rest 30 – 60 minutes. With lightly oiled hands, stretch the dough to fit the pan. You may not get it all the way to the edges. When the dough resists, let it rest again, for 5 to 10 minutes or so; then stretch it to the edges.
Top the pizza:
- Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the pizza, spreading it all the way to the edges.
- Lay a sheet of plastic wrap over the dough and transfer pan to the fridge for at least 3 hours but ideally 18-24 hours. Note: If you are rushed and want to bake the pizza immediately, you can let it proof at room temperature: 1 hour for the yeast-leavened pizza, 3 to 4 hours for the sourdough-leavened pizza.
Prepare the pizza for baking:
- If you have a Baking Steel or pizza stone, place it on a rack in the lower third of your oven, and heat your oven to 500ºF. Finish topping the pizza: spread the 1/2 cup of tomato sauce evenly over the top. Spread the pepperoni evenly over the surface. If you are using pickled jalapeños, scatter them evenly over the pizza, keeping in mind heat tolerance — they make the pizza very spicy. Let the topped pizza rest at room temperature for at least one hour before baking.
Bake the pizza:
- Transfer pizza to the oven and place on heated Baking Steel or pizza stone for 15 minutes or until the edges look very caramelized — nearly burnt. Remove the pan from the oven and let the pizza rest for 5 minutes in the pan. Run a paring knife or spatula around the pan’s edges. Then, carefully remove the entire pizza from the pan, transferring it to a cutting board. If you are using the honey, drizzle it over top. Cut the pizza into 12 pieces and serve.
- Prep Time: 24 hours
- Cook Time: 15 minutes
- Category: Dinner
- Method: Oven
- Cuisine: American
Keywords: Detroit, style, pizza, pepperoni,