TARTE FLAMBÉE (Flammekueche)

To the northeast of France lies a region that I find truly fascinating. In many ways, Alsace finds itself between worlds. The original Alsatian dialect bears a more than striking resemblance to Swiss German (although, since WWII, fewer residents continue to speak the language). Its people are also not what you’d consider “typically” French, but something of a mix between French and German. To me, Alsace puts an unexpected spin on French cuisine. To most of France, for instance, the baguette is sacred (of course there’s no better bread, how dare you?), so the sheer variety of breads, cakes and pastries in Alsace always takes me by surprise. In general, I find Alsatian food to be hearty, rich and earthy - the kind of food I like to make at home for family and friends. And Tarte Flambée (or Flammekueche), is one of my favourite crowdpleasers.

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I know of one or two people who would push me over the Pont-Neuf for saying this, but Tarte Flambée is basically an Alsatian pizza. Of course, the flavours don’t resemble those of a Neapolitan classic in the slightest, but the concept of adorning a flat bread with your favourite toppings more or less qualifies it as a pizza in my book. But just like you don’t get a Margarita without tomato and mozzarella, there are a few base ingredients you need for the topping to call your tarte Flambée.

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With your egg yolk, back bacon, crème fraîche and sautéed onions waiting in the wings, you can now proceed to choose your style. It’s a bit like deciding between a Regina and a Marinara. In Alsace, you’re likely to find two main variants on a Tarte Flambée at most restaurants: French and German. The French version mixes the crème fraîche with a generous helping of Gruyère cheese (which is Swiss, by the way), while the German version is mixed with yoghurt. The caraway seeds in the German-style flammekueche gives it a slightly sweet taste, while the combination of thyme and additional onion in the French version is invariably more savoury. Whichever way you decide to go, they’re both delicious, and since I can never choose, I usually make both.

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TARTE FLAMBÉE

(FLAMMEKUeCHE)

cooking time: 2 hours / makes: 2 tartes flambées

INGREDIENTS

for the dough (enough for 2 bases)

  • 10 g instant yeast

  • 2,5 ml sugar

  • 5 ml salt

  • 420 g (750 ml) cake flour

  • 250 ml warm water

  • 15 ml olive oil

for the French-style topping

  • olive oil

  • 2 onions, halved and thinly sliced

  • 250 g back bacon, diced

  • 250 g crème fraîche

  • 100 g Gruyère cheese, finely grated

  • 1 egg yolk

  • salt and freshly-ground black pepper

  • 1 small red onion, sliced thinly

  • 4 – 5 sprigs of fresh thyme

for the German-style topping

  • olive oil

  • 2 onions, halved and thinly sliced

  • 250 g back bacon, diced

  • 250 g crème fraîche

  • 75 ml Greek-style yoghurt

  • 1 egg yolk

  • salt and freshly-ground black pepper

  • 15 ml caraway seeds

METHOD

for the dough

  1. Place the yeast, sugar, salt and flour in the mixing bowl of an electric mixer with the dough hook. Mix the dry ingredients and add the water and olive oil.

  2. Mix until a dough forms, then let the dough knead for 10 minutes in the mixer.

  3. Rub a clean bowl with olive oil and place the dough in the bowl. Rub some olive oil over the top of the dough and cover it with a clean kitchen towel.

  4. Let the dough rest in a warm place until it doubles in size. This can take up to an hour or longer, depending on how warm it is.

  5. Place the dough on a floured surface and divide it in two. Then, roll it out thinly and place the bases on two lined baking sheets.

for the French-style topping

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 °C. Heat some olive oil in a saucepan and add the onions. Add about 30 ml water and fry over a low heat for about 5 minutes. Close the saucepan with a lid and fry until the onions are soft and translucent. Take the saucepan off the heat and keep it to one side.

  2. Heat a little oil in a saucepan and add the bacon, frying it until cooked but not crispy. Take it off the heat and keep it to one side.

  3. Mix the crème fraîche, Gruyère cheese and egg yolk together, season with salt and pepper, and mix well.

  4. Spread the crème fraîche mixture over the base of the dough, spoon the fried onions onto the créme fraîche and spread them out evenly. Then, scatter the bacon and red onions over the fried onions. Strip the leaves off of the thyme sprigs and garnish the top. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and place it in the oven.

  5. Bake for 30 minutes until the base is crispy. Take it out of the oven and slice immediately. Serve warm.

for the German-style topping

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 °C. Heat a bit of olive oil in a saucepan and add the onions. Add about 30 ml water and fry over a low heat for about 5 minutes. Close the saucepan with a lid and fry until the onions are soft and translucent. Take the saucepan off the heat and keep it to one side.

  2. Heat some oil in a saucepan and add the bacon. Fry until it’s cooked but not crispy. Take it off the heat and keep it to one side.

  3. Mix the crème fraîche, yoghurt and egg yolk, then season it with salt and pepper.

  4. Spread the crème fraîche mixture over the dough and cover it with the fried onions. Scatter the bacon and caraway seeds evenly over the top, drizzle with a bit of olive oil and place it in the oven.

  5. Bake for 30 minutes until the base is crispy. Take it out of the oven, slice it and serve warm.