Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Adventures in Alsatian Cooking: The Flammekueche (Plus Random Adventures)

Ruins of the Schlossberg in Forbach
As I'm a huge fan of cooking (and eating!), I've decided that there's no better time to channel my inner Julia Child and whip up some French cuisine than while living in France.  With a gamut of "exotic" French ingredients readily available at the local supermarket, strolling the aisles and picking something new to try is always an adventure.  Recently, I've cooked up confit de canard (duck thighs preserved in duck fat and then roasted in the oven - my favorite!), crêpes, coq au vin (chicken simmered with mushrooms, carrots and onions in a delectable red wine sauce), boudin (blood sausage) with balsamic-glazed apples...the list goes on! And a few nights ago, Meike and I decided to cook something which is more of a regional specialty: flammekueche

The Alsace-Lorraine region of France
Though this dish is technically from our neighboring French region of Alsace (we live in Lorraine), our two regions are often lumped together in terms of cuisine and tourism and collectively known as Alsace-Lorraine (close enough!).

What is a flammekueche, you ask? Also known as a tarte flambée, or more simply a flamm, it's essentially a thin-crust pizza traditionally baked in a wood-burning oven.  Comprised of very thin dough covered with crème fraîche (similar to sour cream), Bibeleskäse (fresh cheese with a yogurt-like consistency), or some combination of the two, the flamm is topped with a dash of salt, pepper & nutmeg and then sprinkled with thin-sliced onions and chunks of French smoked bacon - what's not to love? Throw a little grated Gruyère cheese on top and you've got yourself a flamm gratinée.  Swap out the cheese for mushrooms, et voilà, a flamm forestière is born. The possibilities are endless!

At a restaurant, you usually eat your flamm right off a wooden pizza peel!
With humble rural origins, the flammekueche is traditionally served as an appetizer and paired with a chilled glass of crisp Alsatian wine like Riesling, Gewürztraminer or Pinot Gris. Since the 1960's, their popularity has grown and now many restaurants serve flamms as a main course as well, just as you'd order a personal pizza in the US.  Originally a meal for the working-class, farmers would use them to celebrate their bread-baking day (which occurred only once every 2 to 3 weeks) by saving a bit of their bread dough and turning it into this sumptuous, bubbly treat.  Flamms would be popped into the oven while it was heating up to cook the bread, and the workers would all gather around the oven to warm up and hopefully grab the first one to come off the fire.

We've enjoyed numerous flamms at local restaurants, so Meike and I decided we'd take a shot at making our own!

Before baking...
Here's the recipe we used (although the variations on the crust recipe are infinite!)...

Flammekueche for 4 people
Oven: as hot as it will go

Ingredients for the crust:
- 250 grams flour (2 cups)
- 50 mL vegetable oil (1/4 cup)
- 1 pinch of salt
- 1 glass of lukewarm water (very specific, I know...I just added enough until I had a pizza dough consistency)
- no leavening agents

Mix the flour with the salt and then add the water and knead well until you obtain something that feels like pizza dough. Form it into a rectangle on a cookie sheet and try to make it as thin as possible without tearing.

- 20 cl of thick crème fraîche (a little less than a cup)
- 100g fromage blanc (about 1/2 cup of farm fresh cheese - plain yogurt might be the closest substitute?)
- 3 onions
- smoked bacon cut into matchsticks
- salt & pepper to taste
- dash of grated nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1. Preheat the oven as hot as it will go without using the broiler. (You want the heat to come from the bottom of the oven just like for pizzas).

2. Mix the crème fraîche and the fromage blanc in a bowl. Add the oil, and then season with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. (If you're using particularly salty bacon, go easy on the salt!)

3. Thinly slice the onions (preferably on a mandolin) so they'll be able to cook quickly in the oven.

4. Spread the cream/cheese mixture on the crust, but be sure to leave a border around the edge of about 1 cm. Top with bacon and onions, but don't overdo it - remember: this is supposed to be a light pizza. Add additional toppings (like grated cheese or mushrooms) if desired.

5. Pop the flamm into the oven, but keep an eye on it.  Cook for between 8 and 12 minutes - the crust should start to become golden and the onions should look cooked. Slice it up and serve hot!

**We ended up needing to double the dough recipe - as we don't own a real rolling pin, stretching the dough extra thin was quite difficult. The amount of toppings was perfect though!

After baking!
Although a bit labor-intensive, the end result was pretty tasty! If you're ever passing through Alsace-Lorraine, make sure you try one of these French "pizzas" - you won't be disappointed!

And as for my recent adventures outside the French culinary sphere...

At the Phoenix concert in Paris (check out the awesome Hall of Mirrors background from Versailles!)
I spent a weekend in Paris with Kasey at the beginning of the month - we had tickets to see the French rock/electronic band Phoenix live in concert at the Palais des Sports.  (They're from Versailles, just outside of Paris, but sing in English - the lead singer's actually married to American director Sofia Coppola. While not hugely popular in the US, they do get some airtime on the radio - check out a video from the concert below!) The sold-out concert was absolutely spectacular and we had a fun weekend full of late-night/early-morning debauchery as well...

And then Meike and I spent the next weekend back at her house in Germany with her family.  Her oma (grandma) turned 80 and there was a party for her at a restaurant on Sunday to which I was invited , but we got some relaxing and sight-seeing in as well.  We went for a dip at the local pool, checked out the architecture at the cloistered Schöntal Abbey (founded by the Cistercians in the 12th century), and did important things like catch up on DSDS (the German version of American Idol - has the same intro music and all, but no Ryan Seacrest...) and Der Bachelor (you guessed it, The Bachelor - equally superficial and ditzy here too!).  It was great to spend a weekend away from Forbach with some familiar faces in a family setting, and I'm hoping to squeeze in one last visit before I return to the US!
The church at Schöntal Abbey
Impressive baroque decor inside the church
Meike and her brother Stefan at Schöntal Abbey
I'm just wrapping up 8 weeks of continuous teaching (a whopping total of 96 hours of work!) since the last break and am looking forward to having the next two weeks off - my parents get to Paris on Sunday morning and then it's time to do some travelling together!  Stay tuned for news from my coming adventures!


  1. That "pizza" looks awesome! I need to try that when I'm there :)

    1. There's a really good restaurant in town with all sorts to choose from - we'll be sure to go when you guys are here!!