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August/September 2017

Detroit-Style Pizza

We hit the streets and then hit the kitchen to uncover the secrets of this topsy-turvy Michigan favorite.

Why This Recipe Works

Our challenge in creating a recipe for Detroit pizza—a crispy, buttery pizza from the Motor City—was figuring out how to mimic the tender crumb, the mild and melty cheese (which can be found only in Michigan), and the vibrant tomato sauce that covers the pizza. The stand mixer did most of the kneading for us; the rich, hydrated dough required a 15-minute rest and a 2-hour rise to produce the tender, buttery crust we were after. We topped the pizza with handfuls of Monterey Jack cheese, which we found to be the only acceptable substitute for the brick cheese typically used on Detroit pizzas. A combination of dried herbs, sugar, and canned crushed tomatoes gave our sauce authentic flavor and texture.

Ingredients

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Instructions

Serves 4

Ingredients

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Pizza

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 ¼ cups (11 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 ½ teaspoons sugar
1 cup water, room temperature
¾ teaspoon salt
10 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (2 1/2 cups)

Sauce

1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon salt

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Instructions

Serves 4

When kneading the dough on medium speed, the mixer can wobble and move on the counter. Place a towel or shelf liner under the mixer to keep it in place, and watch it closely. To add more toppings, such as pepperoni or sausage, to your pizza, press them into the dough before adding the cheese.

1. FOR THE PIZZA: Spray 13 by 9-inch nonstick baking pan with vegetable oil spray, then brush bottom and sides of pan with oil. Using stand mixer fitted with dough hook, mix flour, yeast, and sugar on low speed until combined, about 10 seconds. With mixer running, slowly add room-temperature water and mix until dough forms and no dry flour remains, about 2 minutes, scraping down bowl as needed. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand for 10 minutes.

2. Add salt to bowl and knead on medium speed until dough forms satiny, sticky ball that clears sides of bowl, 6 to 8 minutes. Turn dough onto lightly floured counter and knead until smooth, about 1 minute.

3. Transfer dough to prepared pan, cover with plastic, and let rest for 15 minutes. Using your well-oiled hands, press dough into corners of pan. (If dough resists stretching, let it rest for another 10 minutes before trying again to stretch.) Cover with plastic and let dough rise at room temperature until nearly tripled in volume and large bubbles form, 2 to 3 hours. Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 500 degrees.

4. FOR THE SAUCE: Combine all ingredients in bowl. (Sauce can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours.)

5. Sprinkle Monterey Jack evenly over dough to edges of pan. Spoon three 1-inch-wide strips of sauce, using 1/3 cup sauce for each, over cheese evenly down length of pan.

6. Bake until cheese is bubbly and browned, about 15 minutes. Let pizza cool in pan on wire rack for 5 minutes. Run knife around edge of pan to loosen pizza. Using spatula, slide pizza onto cutting board. Cut into 8 pieces and serve.

On the Road

It couldn’t have happened anywhere but in Detroit.

As a child in Sicily, Connie Piccinato grew up eating squared-off wedges of focaccia studded with leftover meats. As an adult in 1946, while working as a waitress at Buddy’s in Detroit, she found herself craving the pies of her youth. But she faced a dilemma. Food-grade rectangular pizza pans simply didn’t exist at the time, so “square pizza” wasn’t known in the States.

But Piccinato found inspiration in a discarded rectangular “blue steel” pan used for collecting errant nuts and bolts in the string of automobile-related factories along Six Mile Road. She and Buddy’s owner August “Gus” Guerra pressed a batch of dough into one of the pans, nudging it into the sharp corners; topped it with cheese and sauce; and baked it off. The square pizza was a hit, and it gave Buddy’s, originally a “blind pig” speakeasy selling contraband booze during Prohibition, a new lease on life.

The rectangular pans, then made by a company named Dover Parkersburg, were “blued” at high temperatures to resist rust and came in two sizes, just right for small and large pizzas. After repeated use, the deeply seasoned pans gave the crusts an extra kick of flavor and a noticeably lacy, cheesy crunch, similar to the crusty edge of a baked lasagna.

“The pans became part of the folklore as to why this pizza tastes the way it does,” says Wesley Pikula, vice president of operations for Buddy’s. “Everything about it was contrary to what the current pizza styles were.”

Pikula describes Buddy’s pizza as “a Neapolitan-style dough, with a Sicilian assembly, baked in Detroit scrap-metal pans.” Back then, the pans were cheap and readily available. Nowadays, Buddy’s Pizza pays five to six times the price they once did to have the pans specially made.

The city has changed over the years, but the pizza, popular as ever, remains the same. The folks at Buddy’s care deeply for their product; for them, it’s personal. “There’s only one way to make a great thing,” Pikula says.