Imagine a savory tart akin to a thin crust pizza topped with a deliciously creamy, delicately tangy, slightly nutty mix of creme fraiche and fromage blanc seasoned with nutmeg. Smoky lardon adorning the top of the dough like jewels in a crown with thinly sliced white onions that offer their sweet taste and supple bite. The crust, a perfect mix of thin and crispy, with just the right amount of chew to compliment the ingredients. Imbued with the magic of being baked in a wood fire oven, it’s the perfect vehicle to showcase the utter deliciousness and simplicity of its contrasting constituents. Tarte Flambée, or flammekueche (flame cake), is a specialty of Alsace, a region of France on the German border. The cuisine here is heavily influenced by its Germanic roots. Think rustic farmer food with loads of delicious pork laden warming dishes perfect to enjoy on a cold day. The food is unapologetic, full of soul, and unabashed. Food that has no need to come adorned with needless garnish, but rather focuses on filling stomachs and warming hearts. It’s the food of agricultural people in need of rich but humble sustenance to continue with the day’s work.
Communal wood burning ovens are a staple of the region, where locals from small surrounding villages come together to bake their bread. The ovens are fired in the early hours of the morning, burning with smoky intensity. The fire rages long before the dawn breaks and needs time to die down before the villagers can bake their bread. They take advantage of this time and reward their patience with a satisfyingly sweet, and umami-laden salty snack. The tart flambèe benefits from the power of the oven, baking as quickly as frying an egg on a hot skillet, forming a shatteringly crispy crust with lightly charred edges.
I was in search of the perfect representation of this delectable treat during my time in Alsace.
The journey led me to Colmar, a fairy tale like town that you would imagine to come out a Hans Christian Andersen story. I meandered through this town of cobblestone streets lined with small houses painted in bright pastel colors reinforced with heavy oak beams. The streets are punctuated with gingerbread shops, smelling of fragrant warming spices. The doorways constructed of heavy stone, marked with roman numerals a reminder of ancient times past.
My gastronomic mission led me down a cobblestone alley into a ‘très petite’ restaurant, La Soï. The facade of the restaurant is warm and inviting ,and gives the impression of someone's home. The window, festooned with ornamental holly, is dressed with red and white checkerboard curtains, and a reflection of the friendly hospitality. The narrow dining room is composed of a few wooden tables, small bar, and open kitchen. Decorated with ceramic pigs, local wines, and handwritten chalkboard menus. The tarte flambèe is fresh and made to order right in front of you. It is served to you sliced on a big wooden pizza peel, still hot from the oven with dark almost burnt edges. The aroma is smoky and sweet, building anticipation for that first bite. Your eye’s roll to the back of your head as soon as the hot Alsatian pizza greets your palate. Welcoming you with its sweet onions, rich tangy sauce, and smoky luxurious lardon. Suddenly you’re transported back to that oven, back to the fire, to that feeling of home, to that sense of community.
Weight in Grams
Large Onions(Sliced thinly)
Mix flour, salt , oil, warm water, and mix by hand or machine for a few minutes until all the flour is incorporated (3 mins).
Scrape down the mixing bowl and continue to mix the dough until it becomes smooth and develops some elasticity.
Cover the dough and rest for at least one hour.
Render the lardons browning them lightly, and drain the fat. Spread on a compostable paper towel to soak up remaining fat.
Add butter to your pan, and lightly sweat the onions on low heat for about 5 mins, without browning.
Make the cheese mixture by incorporating the fromage black, creme fraiche. Season the mixture with salt, pepper, and fresh nutmeg grated with a micro-plane.
Lightly flour your work surface and roll out your dough to about 1mm thick or roughly the thickness of a U.S. dime. Place on a lightly floured baking sheet.
Spread cheese mixture evenly over the entire surface of the dough. Top with lardon and onion.
Bake in a preheated oven at 530F for 8-10 mins or until the edges are well browned.