22 September 2011

Tarte flambée – Flammkuchen

Flammkuchen is a cross-border specialty that can typically be found in the French Alsace region as well as in the Baden and Pfalz regions of Germany. Although it is not entirely typical of my own home region, I wanted to include it in this blog because a) it is incredibly tasty and b) it is a somewhat more elegant version of my last recipe, the Zwiebelkuchen. Flammkuchen literally translates as ‘flame cake’. This is because, traditionally, they were baked in wood-fired stone ovens while the flames were still too hot for baking bread. Villagers thus made most of the firewood; and the time it took to bake a Flammkuchen allowed them to gauge when the oven was ready for the bread. 

I remember going to a traditional restaurant serving Flammkuchen in the city I grew up in. The waitress kept bringing out large Flammkuchen on wooden boards to be shared by everyone around the table until we asked her to stop. The meal was usually finished with a sweet variation of the tart, topped not with onions and bacon, but with cream and fruit. We didn’t get to go there often and it always was a really special treat.

If only I had known back then how quick and easy those Flammkuchen are to make. Only very recently, having just returned from a cycling holiday through the vineyards of Alsace and Baden, I decided to give it a go and I was amazed how easy it is to recreate an authentic looking and tasting Flammkuchen. (I am also now, with hindsight, amazed at the prices they get away with in Alsace). This crispy and savoury tart can be served with a salad as a main meal, but it is also excellent as a snack with a nice glass of wine.

The following recipe is for two pizza-sized Flammkuchen (they are very thin so two people will easily eat this with a salad as a main meal).

For the dough:

200g flour (I used a mixture of type 00 and plain white)
120 ml water
A few pinches of salt
2 tbsp oil

For the topping:

150 g crème fraîche or sour cream
1 large onion, halved and cut into thin slices
80 g bacon lardons or bacon cut into thin strips
Salt and pepper

Mix the flour with water, salt and oil and knead until you have a smooth and elastic ball of dough that is not sticky (add more flour or water if required). Cover in cling film and leave to relax for a while.

Preheat the oven as hot as it will go – 270 degrees are ideal.

Divide the dough into two pieces and roll these out on a floured surface as thinly as you possibly can – they should be almost paper thin. This takes a bit of patience, because the dough is reluctant at first to keep its shape. Top the dough with the crème fraîche or sour cream – two heaped tablespoons per pizza-sized Flammkuchen are enough. Traditionally the onions and bacon are added raw, but I find that cooking them first results in a better flavour (this is probably because it is difficult to recreate the extremely hot temperatures of a bread oven in a conventional kitchen). Melt some of the fat off the bacon in a hot frying pan, then remove the bacon and soften the onions in the same pan for a couple of minutes. Top each round of dough with half of the onions and bacon and season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper.

For the crispiest results (unless you have a proper pizza oven) the Flammkuchen are best baked on a pizza stone – a large and thick ceramic tile that is preheated in the oven for at least 45 minutes. However, it is also fine to bake the Flammkuchen on a preheated baking sheet. It is easiest to transfer the raw Flammkuchen into the oven if you place the rolled dough on a chopping board covered with baking paper before you add the toppings. You can then pull the Flammkuchen with the paper directly from the board onto the hot stone or baking sheet.

Bake for about 10 minutes or until the edges are crispy and brown and the toppings are bubbling. Cut into pieces and eat straight away.

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