Tarte flambée, or Flammkuchen (what you call it depends on which side of the Rhein you’re from)
When we lived in Germany, we lived very near the French border. Across the Rhein river (the border) was Alsace, a region with a rich gastronomic history (apparently it has more “starred” restaurants than any other region in France!). Alsace has been alternately German and French over the past few centuries, and this has resulted in a unique combination of the best of both countries, as far as I am concerned.
If you go to Alsace, you will notice that many restaurants offer Tarte Flambée, or Flammkuchen. These thin-crusted “pizza-like” concoctions are cooked in wood-burning ovens and served in their magnificent crispiness to happy diners. So delicious! Every restaurant has its own little touches, but they are all essentially the same…bacon (you can have them without, and they are equally tasty – see ** note at bottom of recipe), cheese, and onion. Doesn’t sound all that exciting, but it is the type of cheese that gives it its distinct flavour.
For years I could not figure out how they did it, and tried various toppings which, while tasty, did not have an authentic flavour. Then…success! This takes a bit of advance prep with the dough, but assembly and cooking take very little time and the results are spectacular. It is the creamy texture of the crème fraîche-cheese combination that give this recipe its close approximation to the real thing 🙂
If you are a whiz with a pizza peel and bakestone, this will be delish cooked that way. You know what to do. For those who are less skilled, like me, use a large metal pizza pan, and the directions below are for that method of cooking.
For the dough (do this the day before):
1-1/2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon yeast (yes, one-quarter, not a typo)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1-1/4 teaspoons salt
3-3/4 cups flour (all-purpose unbleached or bread flour, your choice)
Mix all in a bowl which will allow the mixture to expand to twice its volume. Cover loosely with cling film, and forget about it for 12-18 hours – I mix around 8 or 9 at night to make for the following night’s supper.
NOTE: This recipe for the dough will make enough for two large 12″ or three medium 9″-10″ Flammkuchen, wrap and refrigerate what you don’t want to use – it will keep for 3 days – you can use it to make regular pizza, too!)
To make ONE 12″ LARGE Flammkuchen, use the following quantities of ingredients:
2-3 tablespoons cornmeal
1/2 cup crème fraîche (available at good grocery stores, or you can make your own by mixing one cup of whipping cream and two tablespoons of buttermilk and leaving it to stand at room temperature until thick – this will keep covered, in the fridge, for 10 days)
pinch each freshly ground nutmeg and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
75g (about 3-4 ounces) pancetta, chopped into 1/2″ cubes (obviously, omit for vegetarian version, see **note at end of recipe)
1/2 large onion, sliced thinly
1 clove garlic, minced
about 1/2 cup “pizza cheese” – I like the prepackaged, pre- grated ones that have provolone, gouda, mozzarella in them – they are more interesting than plain mozza
Preheat your oven to 500 degrees (yes, five hundred degrees). Put a rack right under your broiler, and another one in the middle of your oven.
While oven is preheating, take your dough and tip it onto a very well-floured surface and cut into two (or three, depending of how big you want your flammkuchen). Poke the dough to collapse it, roll it in the flour until the surface is dry and easy to handle, and cut it into two pieces.
Heat olive oil, and over low heat fry pancetta pieces (if using), garlic and onion, until golden and fragrant. Keep the pancetta tender, do not cook it until crisp.
While onion/pancetta/garlic mixture is cooking, grease pan *very lightly*, and sprinkle cornmeal on your pan. Put the dough piece on it, well-floured, and spread it gently with your fingers into a rough 12″ circle. It does not have to be a perfect circle, it is supposed to be rustic-looking. Be careful not to pull the dough too thin (translucent is too thin) and mend any holes that form while you are stretching it.
Mix the crème fraîche with the nutmeg and pepper. Spread this mixture over the dough. Sprinkle the onion/pancetta/garlic mixture over top, and distribute pieces evenly. Sprinkle with the pizza cheese. Do NOT use a lot of cheese, you want this to have a light, cheesy topping, not a thick stringy “North American style” one.
Place the pizza in the oven and bake at 500 degrees for 7 minutes, or until golden and puffy looking. Turn oven off, light broiler, and immediately transfer pan to broiler and broil for 3 minutes or so until topping is nicely browned.
Let cool a couple of minutes, slice and enjoy as an appetizer or as a main meal, with a simple green salad 🙂
**As mentioned, for a vegetarian version, the pancetta can be omitted – I would suggest trying a smoked Gouda mixed with mozzarella as the cheese, as I think that would replace the smokiness given to it by the bacon.