When we get to spend time at my parents’ vacation house in the Vosges, a mountain range in the Northeast of France, one of our favorite daytrips is to drive over to Colmar, a historic Alsatian town on the other side of the mountain.
We’ve been going for as long as my parents have had the house, a little over twenty years, and though Colmar is as gorgeous as Alsatian towns get (i.e. very), with paved streets, pretty canals, and amazing architecture, the capital-D Draw for me is the flammekueche we get for lunch.
Also known as tarte flambée, the flammekueche (pronounced flam-küsh*) can be described as the Alsatian pizza: a super thin round of dough topped with cream, finely sliced onions, bacon strips, and sometimes mushrooms (la forestière) and cheese (la gratinée), baked in a woodfire oven until the edges are golden brown and crisp.
Sitting at one of the outdoor tables outside our favorite restaurant in Colmar, we make conversation as we wait for our tartes flambées to arrive, and our collective joy vibrates through the air as the waitstaff brings them out, all hot and fragrant, on wooden boards.
I would never have thought to make my own had it not been for Frédérique, the textile designer and special correspondent who will be sharing her guide to Strasbourg next month, and offered her recipe for flammekueche as a bonus. As she explained, it is a popular dish to make for a casual meal with friends throughout Alsace. In fact, it is so common that supermarkets sell ready-made rounds of dough that you can just garnish and bake.
I’ve never come across those in Paris, and soon found out the dough is so easy to make there is hardly a need for a shortcut: it’s just flour, salt, oil, and water — no yeast to intimidate the cook.
And once you’ve got your dough rolled out thinly, it’s just a matter of scattering a few toppings over it, and bake in a very hot oven. Within minutes, you can have your very own tarte flambée sizzling on your table.
Indeed, I can’t think of a more festive food to share with friends over drinks. But it comes together so fast Maxence and I have also enjoyed it for a weeknight dinner. In fact, I did a test run one night, and we loved it so much we had tartes flambées for dinner four. nights. in a row. We called it Alsatian week.
* Alternate spellings are numerous depending on the region and the dialect: flammkuche, flammkuchen, flammekuechle, flàmmeküeche…
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- 250 grams (2 cups) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 3 tablespoons organic canola oil
- About 120 ml (1/2 cup) water
- 6 tablespoons very thinly sliced onion, red or yellow
- 75 grams (2 2/3) thick-cut uncooked bacon, sliced into 1-cm (1/3-inch) strips (called lardons in French)
- 60 ml (1/4 cup) thick crème fraîche (substitute sour cream) (see note)
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Freshly grated nutmeg
- 6 tablespoons freshly grated cheese, such as Comté or Gruyère (optional)
- Chives, snipped
- Optional additions: sliced mushrooms or sliced French Munster cheese
- First, make the dough. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, salt, and oil. Stir in the water slowly, using a fork or a dough whisk, until it comes together. (The exact amount of water needed will vary depending on the quality of your flour, how you've measure it, the humidity, etc. Adjust accordingly.)
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead lightly to form a ball. (If preparing the dough in advance, place the ball on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for up to a day.)
- Preheat the oven to 250°C (480°F) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Divide the dough in 2 equal pieces; cover the one you won't be using right away.
- On a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out the dough into a thin, approximate circle, about 35 cm (14 inches) in width.
- In a bowl, combine the crème fraîche with the salt, black pepper, and nutmeg.
- Spread half of this on the circle of dough. Top with half the onion and lardons. If using grated cheese, add it now.
- Bake for 10 minutes, until the crust is golden brown at the edges and the filling is bubbly.
- Transfer to a cutting board. Sprinkle with chives, and cut slices with kitchen shears or a pizza wheel. Make a second flammekueche with the remaining ingredients.
- Some Alsatian cooks make flammekueche with just crème fraîche, others with just fromage blanc (a fresh cheese that's the consistency of yogurt), others yet with a mix of the two. I've used crème fraîche only for simplicity.
- More is not better when it comes to tarte flambée toppings: don't pile on everything you've got, or it will be soggy and out of balance.