Farmers in the ancient Franco-German region of Alsace had a unique way of testing the temperature of their wood burning ovens. Before they consigned their bread to the embers, they would first bake a Flammekeuche. If that was done to their liking, they could then trust the oven to bake the loaves that would feed the village for the upcoming week. Not only did they conserve precious fuel and food, but there was also a delicious snack to eat while the oven did its work.
What is a Flammekeuche you ask? Think of a marriage between a pizza and quiche, with a creamy custardy topping, finished with salty bacon and you will come close.
Now that Alsace is firmly under the flag of France, it is more commonly known as tarte flambe, and usually comprises a topping of crème Fraiche and fromage Blanc, bacon lardons and onions or leeks.
The base of thinly rolled bread dough is sometimes replaced with simple puff pastry. My recipe features a lighter more pillowy bread dough (a happy accident, which I have frequently repeated) and has a dual topping designed to please both meat eaters and vegetarians. To accompany it, there is a winter salad of sharp flavored leaves, fennel and citrus, with a tangy lemon and honey dressing.
Flammekeuche aka Tarte Flambe
This bread dough takes minutes to make, and you can use a stand mixer to save time. I usually knead by hand and give the dough about 20 seconds in the food processor to get it started. Just pulse for a short time as the machine may heat the dough up, which can kill the yeast. If you like a thinner crusted tart you will have enough dough for two.
3 ¼ cups flour
1 ¼ cup warm water
1 package instant yeast
1 tsp. fine sea salt
Olive oil for the bowl
Place the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Stir in the water, which should be slightly warm (110-115 F) and mix with your hands to make a shaggy dough. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, until it is smooth and pliable. To kick-start the process, you can pulse for 20 seconds in a food processor, before continuing to knead by hand, or use a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook for the entire process.
Form the dough into a smooth round and place in a lightly oiled bowl covered with plastic wrap. Place in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size.
Remove from the bowl and punch down to deflate, giving it a couple of turns. The dough is now ready to use and can be wrapped and stored for a day or two in the fridge or frozen for up to a month.
Good quality crème fraiche and imported mascarpone are easily available at local supermarkets. I purchase 4 oz. packs of cubed, uncured pancetta which are ideal for the topping, but you could substitute cubed thick-cut bacon.
Miso is an ingredient you should always keep in your fridge. It is an amazing flavor enhancer and adds a rich and meaty savor to the portabella mushrooms. I added shallots to this base as they are mild and sweet and no pre-cooking is needed. If using leeks or onions lightly cook them first.
8 oz. crème fraiche or sour cream
8 oz. Mascarpone cheese at room temperature
½ cup finely grated parmesan cheese
3 large shallots, thinly sliced (about 1 ¼ cups total)
Freshly grated nutmeg
2 tsp. finely minced fresh thyme leaves
½ tsp. fine sea salt
Mix the mascarpone and crème fraiche together in a medium bowl, before stirring in the scallions, parmesan, nutmeg, salt and thyme. If not using immediately, you can store in the fridge for up to an hour.
2 large portabella mushrooms, cleaned; stalks removed
3 Tbsp. softened butter
1 Tbsp. white (mellow) miso
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Mix the softened butter and miso together in a small bowl and set aside. Slice the mushrooms crosswise into quarter-inch thick slices. Heat the olive oil to medium in a large non-stick pan and add the mushrooms in a single layer. Cook on medium heat for about a minute, before adding two tablespoons of the miso butter, spread across the pan. It will soon melt in and start to flavor the mushrooms. Continue to cook, turning the mushrooms once, until light brown but not overcooked, then remove to a plate.
3 oz. pancetta cubes or thick cut bacon cubed
1 Tbsp. olive oíl
Heat the olive oil in a non-stick pan and add the cubed pancetta. Sauté until lightly cooked but not browned. Remove from pan and set aside.
Fresh thyme leaves
1½ Tbsp. parmesan cheese
Fresh ground black pepper
Line a heavy 15 x 10 baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll out the dough into a rectangle and press into the sheet pan to fill all the space. Spread with the topping base and sprinkle one half with the cooked pancetta and layer the other half with the mushroom slices. Finish with the additional parmesan, thyme leaves and a generous amount of fresh black pepper. Place on the middle shelf a 410-degree pre-heated oven. After 10 minutes, reduce the heat to 375 degrees and cook for a further 15 to 20 minutes, until the crust is slightly browned and the topping has set. Remove from the oven and set aside for 20 minutes to allow the topping to firm up. Place on a wooden board and cut into slices. Leftovers taste good reheated or cold. It can be frozen or wrapped and stored in the fridge for a couple of days.
Winter Salad with Honey Lemon Dressing
3 cups watercress
2 cups arugula
1 head white endive
1 medium bulb fennel, trimmed
2 seedless clementines, peeled
Juice of half a lemon
1½ tsp. clear, mild flavored honey
1/3 cup olive oil
Fine sea salt
Wash the greens and dry thoroughly. Thinly slice the fennel using a mandolin or sharp knife. Separate and wash the endive spears and slice lengthwise down the middle. Slice the clementines crosswise and separate pieces into smaller segments.
In a small bowl, whisk the lemon juice, honey and olive oil. Season to taste with fine sea salt. Mix the arugula and watercress on a platter or shallow bowl. Layer on the sliced fennel and spoon over two thirds of the dressing. Arrange the endive spears on top and then the clementine pieces. Drizzle with remaining dressing and a dusting of fine sea salt.