One of the very few “pizzas” that France can call its own (like New York Style… I wonder if they have a regionally rivalry with some place in Languedoc making Deep Dish versions), Alsace is home to what they call Flammekeuche; it’s also known as Tarte Flambe in the rest of France, Flammekeuken in Germany, and multiple variations of the same name depending on who you ask. At the end of the day, they all mean the same thing, “Flamed Tart” (or “Fire Cake” or “Burning Flatbread,” there’s at least 10 ways to translate this to English I’m sure).
I love how this particular food started. So, back in the day, when bakers or any other French/Alsatian/German shop heated up their big, wood-fired brick ovens, they needed to test whether it was hot enough (you know, enough to say, melt a cast iron pan or something… those ovens get hot, damn). So they’d thinly roll out some bread dough, put some random chops of onion and bacon on top (a classic German combo, like mirepoix but with meat), maybe with some cream or fresh white cheese, and slide it in like a pizza. If the edges browned and everything cooked and bubbled in 1-2 minutes, the oven surface was good, and they had lunch (or maybe breakfast or something).
Of course as popularity went on, some refinement happened over time, recipes call to ensure thin slicing and the use of crème fraicheor other dairy sources. I can’t even tell, from the multiple sources, if the original versions of this used raw onions+bacon on the “pizza” and moved to lightly cooked and caramelized for each, or if they started cooked beforehand and nowadays focus on raw. Either way, the raw-on-top before oven cooking seems to be prevalent in recipes, and the style I’m focusing on today.
A Word On…
Dough:Don’t really know too much about dough to say anything about what’s “required” for certain types, and there’s nothing stated in flammekeuche history that hints at any particular unique aspect to its bread, other than it being able to roll out Thin. So just find a recipe that seems to work, if you have a good one you’ve used before then go for it. I’ve even seen someone use puff pastry… which sorta feels insulting, but whatever floats your boat.
Dairy/Sauce:One of the three ingredient cornerstones to this dish is the creamy “white sauce” spread heavily with the other generous food items. This is nowadays usually Crème Fraiche based, but it doesn’t have to be all crème fraiche; in fact, most recipes I’ve found mix it with an equal portion of soft, fresh curds. Fromage Blanc, Farm Cheese, Ricotta, even Cottage Cheese; for fun, I decided to make my own, both the Crème and Cheese. The links to their recipes are in the ingredients list lower down.
Bacon:Truly, any bacon will do (from what I’ve seen), no particular “Alsatian/German style” we need to worry about. Though, as I always say, if you’re gonna do a real “Bacon” dish, ya gotta get it thick cut. Any place that has it in the counter as a whole slab and slice it to order can get it to wherever you want; the pre-sliced stuff can just has that good width ya know?
Now, we should also talk about “cooking” this. Whether one likes it or not, if you want to make it how it’s classically done, then you’ll be putting it on the pizza raw. I know, it scares you, scared me too, but it WILL cook all the way while baking on the pizza (if you do it as directed). For argument’s sake, though, I actually decided to make two of these flatbreads for the dinner; I had extra dough anyways.
One was the highly classic, raw bacon and raw sliced onions; the other was a “cooked” version. Bacon sizzled in the pan until crispy, removed, and then I sautéed some thicker onion slices in the leftover fat and used both to top the fraiche/cheese covered dough.
It tasted pretty good, the cooked version. Wasn’t classic, but who can say no to crispy fatty bacon and almost-caramelized onions? Wish I had more of it though… and more sauce (sorta just soaked into the crust with no raw onions to coat).
Baking:Classically done, as all good pizzas are, in a fire-fueled brick oven. I’m guessing most people don’t have access to one of these to play with (I mean, I don’t… if you do then bravo sir, bravo); one could possibly attempt substitution by building a wood fire in a non-propane-designed grill, getting it to those blazing embers and setting a baking stone on top to heat up. Lotta work though, and not quite sure it would go exactly as planned… so oven it is. Just get it super hot; I prefer all my pizzas at the height of 500F, a pizza stone inside while it heats up, to allow for fast cooking and browning, one of the most important aspects of pizza construction. The recipe I found called for 450F though, so I just went with 475; anything in this 50 degree range seems to work.
1 cup Water, lukewarm
1 packet (2 ½ tsp) Active Dry Yeast
2 ¼-2 ½ cups Flour
2-3 tsp Salt
½ White Onion
½ cup Crème Fraiche
½ cup Fromage Blanc or other fresh, white Cheese, preferably Homemade
3-4 slices Thick-cut Bacon
- Combine Water, Yeast, and 1 cup Flour in a bowl, stirring until all blended. Leave 5 or so minutes to Bloom/Proof the yeast (with the flour mixed in, the appearance won’t really change; it may smell MORE yeasty).
- Slowly stir in remaining Flour and 1 tsp of the Salt, mixing until it’s too stiff to stir.
- Turn onto a lightly floured surface, flour your hands, and begin kneading thoroughly at least 10 minutes (or, if you’re me, 30… I probably should have gone longer too). It will remain lightly sticky throughout the kneading process; if it’s ESPECIALLY sticky, add more flour while working.
- Once ‘smooth and satiny,’ aka when it feels like actual dough, place in bowl, cover with plastic wrap (pressed onto the skin), leave to proof in warm area until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
- Punch down, re-cover, and let double again, another hour.
- While this is resting, thinly slice the Onion and combine with Crème Fraiche, Cheese, Black Pepper and rest of Salt. Leave to sit at least 15 minutes to mingle and “soften” the onions.
- Chop Bacon into small chunks, reserve.
- Place a Pizza or other thicker Baking Stone/Pan in oven and turn to 475-500F.
- Take out as much of the prepared dough as needed/desired and flatten onto a lightly floured surface with the palm of your hands.
- Roll out, trying to keep the desired rectangular shape, until as thin as one feels comfortable making it. If unable to get the shape one wants, and is quite adamant about the final appearance, cut the dough with a bench scraper or pizza cutter.
- Heavily sprinkle (more than what’s seen in the picture) the Cornmeal on whatever transfer paddle/pan/etc one is using (you WILL need one). Carefully and quickly lift and transfer the naked dough onto this.
- Spread the cream-coated onions evenly over the base dough, going almost all the way to the edge. Follow by sprinkling the raw bacon evenly on top, getting as much as desired on top.
- Crack a fresh seasoning of black pepper over the top and move to the oven, transferring onto the stone with a quick push+backslide of the pan and tug of the dough (if there’s enough cornmeal, this should be a snap).
- Bake 12-20 minutes, depending on various factors, until the dough edges are dark brown and crispy.
- Remove, slice, and serve immediately; no need for resting. Enjoy.
Crust ended up a bit too thick for what I was going for (still worked and tasted good, just wasn’t technically a “thin crust” item); maybe next time, besides ensuring it’s rolled even thinner, I’ll dock the dough as well to prevent more rising. Maybe slice the onions in half too; the thin rings tended to pull on some bites. Other than that, I liked it; the flavors were a little more muted than I would have thought with onions and bacon. But it was creamy, with a bit of that black pepper and onion spiciness, soft topping and crunchy handle. It felt like something I would eat in that little corner between France and Germany. I really liked how soft the onions got, and the different flavors of the raw-baked bacon. Which is something else to note; despite worries I had starting out, the raw bacon cooked all the way in the oven; it may not have gotten that thorough “crispiness” we’re used to, but it’s still hammy, delicately smoky goodness.
At the end of the day though, it’s crunchy, creamy, delicious pizza/flatbread, and that’s all that really matters.
Primary Pairing – Alsace Pinot Blanc
Just because a dish is from Alsace doesn’t mean it has to automatically be paired with Riesling or Gewurztraminer, which I keep finding on Flammekeuche webpages. I don’t really know why, there are some quite notable aspects of this food item that immediately preclude both these wines, if one knows anything about Alsatian vinification practices.
Let’s start with something immediately noted; tart crème fraiche, milky cheese, BACON, this dish has some fat and lactic acid. Not too much, but it needs the same acid in its wine to cut through a lot of it and stand up to our sour dressing. Gewurztraminer has NO acid (okay, some, but it’s not a lot at all), it’s low and flabby and highlights an oily texture for those spicy aromatic; just NOT what we want here at all. Now, Riesling has plenty, but like Gewurz it has something else the winemakers in this region like to give. Ripening their grapes to their fullest extent, they then take these sugars and ferment ALL of it out, stereotypically making very DRY wines with BIG bodies; well, if they have enough sugars. The Riesling often does, and unlike its German counterpart is known for large, fully bodies and mouthfeels; which would hold true even for those French winemakers who are transitioning to sweeter products (it’s a big thing, and I talk to much as is, so I’ll stop now).
And this is not a “big” dish; thin crispy crust, some onions and fresh/lighter style cream, and gentle flavors, any full-bodied wine would easily overpower this. Which is why I love that they use Pinot Blanc; it’s a higher acid, low body grape which, with this climate and winemaking practices, changes to a medium-ish acid and body white. It’s a great food wine for all the non-hearty or uber-Germanic foods (see Choucroute once I get into it). Plus it’s usually more price-conscious than other offerings; not a lot of character to it either, but that’s nice too, not as “distracting.”
My Bottle: 2011 Zinck Pinot Blanc
A convenient and well-pairing option, the price-conscious Zinck quaffed itself down easily, providing nice little simple citrus and white floral tones over the general winey flavors. It’s somewhat musky (which I enjoyed with the black pepper) and fills the mouth just enough, as any decent Alsatian wine should, to swim along the bacony-oniony bread. Overall, it’s a viable option for any searching; would be nice to try some of the more expensive Blancs for super-refined freshness (such as the well-known Zindt-Humbrecht).
Secondary Pairing – Märzen/Oktoberfest
When we’re on the cultural border of France and Germany, one just can’t count out the inclusion of beer. I feel I’ve been doing a lot of white, wheat, light-malted, etc beers for my pairings so far; some of which would definitely fit right into drinking here, but I’d like to change things up a bit.
The traditional Oktoberfest beer, Marzen’s origins lie in the need to make large quantities of beer in later winter, while the temperature was still cool and perfect for clean fermentation, and holding in chilled caves during the summer. Often made in March, thus Marzen, these biers were often given darker malts and more hops than usual to cover up any off flavors resulting from the warming temperatures and long “ageing” in cellar as they waited for consumption. Those still left by October would develop rich, toasty malt bodies and mellowed hops.
There has of course been much refinement of this up to today. Thus, the main thing to focus on is a leaning towards those medium-toasted, caramel-toffee flavored malts, using just enough to give that characteristic burnt orange color. Alcohol, as it says historiclally, was made “high” to last during storage, but it really only comes up to 5-6%, a great beer range to pair with this food. And finally, a stronger than mild but not intense use of hops will serve the same way as our acid.
A tasty beer to celebrate the seasons, along with a flatbread to eat on a sunny summer day. Truly an almost perfect expression of Germanic influence.