Au revoir, Paris! Ann Mah takes us off the tourist path on a culinary tour of France's favorite regional foods.
The name translates literally to "flame cake," but flammekueche is neither a cake, nor is it on fire. Instead, it's a cross between a savory tart and a pizza, a thin sheet of unleavened dough spread generously with crème fraîche, and sprinkled with slivered onions and bacon. The result is a study of contrasts: crisp-chewy crust, tangy cream, and nuggets of salty, smoky pork.
Flammekueche — or, as it's known in French, "tarte flambée" — comes from Alsace in eastern France, on the German border. In the past 150 years, the region has shifted several times between France and Germany, labeled as war spoils. As a result, Alsace has developed a unique identity, with its own language (similar to Swiss-German) and a robust, slow-simmered cuisine that includes dishes like choucroute garnie, or homemade sauerkraut generously festooned with ham, sausages, and other cuts of cured pork.
Flammekueche is known as a plat du pauvre — a dish of the poor — traditionally made on bread-baking day, while the villagers waited for the heat of the communal oven to abate. In a blazing wood oven, the tart takes only a minute or two to cook, but I also got excellent results with a regular oven and longer baking time. Traditionally topped with soured cream (or crème fraîche), lardons, and thinly slivered onions, some Alsacians also like to add a sprinkle of Emmenthal cheese (they call this version la gratinée), and/or a sprinkle of thinly sliced mushrooms (called la forestière). Personally, I find additional toppings make the tart too heavy, bordering on soggy, and I prefer the pure, clean flavors of the original. For a vegetarian version, I sometimes replace the bacon with smoked Gouda, which lends a rich, smoky flavor.
In Alsace, flammekueche is often eaten as a first course, cut into squares, and shared with a large group as part of a larger feast. But it's also delicious as a simple supper, with green salad on the side. And because the dough is unleavened, there's no need to wait for it to rise, making this a truly quick meal to assemble.
Flammekueche from Alsace (Tarte Flambée)
Serves 4 to 6
- For the dough:
canola, vegetable, or olive oil
room temperature water, divided
- For the toppings:
medium yellow onion
sliced bacon (about 3 1/2 strips)
sour cream or crème fraîche
- Optional toppings:
white button mushrooms, thinly sliced
grated Emmental cheese
Make the dough: Place the flour, oil, and salt in a large bowl and stir to combine. Using a fork or dough whisk, slowly stir in 1/2 cup of the water. Continue adding drops of water until the mixture forms a shaggy dough. (You might not need all the water.)
Turn the dough out onto a clean, floured work surface along with any loose flour in the bowl. Knead until all the flour is incorporated and the dough loses its stickiness and becomes smooth and elastic, about 1 minute. Cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel while preparing the toppings.
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 500ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Peel the onion, quarter it, and slice it into paper-thin slivers. Cut the bacon strips into 1/4-inch-thick strips called lardons; set both aside.
Place the sour cream, salt, pepper, and a tiny sprinkle of nutmeg in a small bowl and stir to combine. Taste and season with more salt, pepper, or nutmeg as needed; set aside.
Roll the dough out on a floured work surface into an oval measuring about 10 inches wide by 16 inches long. Transfer the dough to the parchment-lined baking sheet.
Spread the sour cream mixture evenly over the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Sprinkle with the onions, followed by the bacon lardons. If you're using them, sprinkle with the mushrooms, followed by the cheese.
Bake until the tart is well-browned, the bacon fat has started to render and sizzle, and the tart's edges have turned golden and crisp, about 20 minutes. Remove to a cutting board, slice into squares, and serve immediately.
Vegetarian version: Replace the bacon with 1/2 cup grated smoked cheese, such as smoked Gouda.
Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Reheat in a 350ºF oven for 5 minutes.
A Culinary Tour de France!
Join Kitchn and celebrated food writer Ann Mah as we take a tour of France's tastiest regions. On this trip, we're skipping Ile-de-France, home of the city of light, and celebrating the foods and flavors of Occitania, Côte d'Azur, Normandy, Brittany, and Alsace. We'll cook our way through an iconic dish from each region and explore how they've helped France earn its status as one of the gastronomic hubs of the world.