The first description I remember hearing for Flammkuchen came from the Architect. He said “it’s like pizza, but not good”. I think it was on out trip to Strasbourg, where Flammkuchen (tarte flambée) was served on this and that street corner. I wanted to try it then, but didn’t get around to it and of course it wasn’t available in Paris where we went next. Paris did however have croque monsieurs made with thick cut ham and huge slices of French bread, perfectly delicious in their own right. A couple of weeks ago we were taking lunch at a local café here and out of curiosity I decided to try their Flammkuchen (naturally the ham & cheese variety). I was served a large, extremely thin disk of dough, covered with a white cheesy mix, onions and some very strong Tyrolean ham, which really is, in reality, borderline bacon. So was it like pizza, except not good? Well sort of, it was a bit like pizza and it was definitely good. What I liked most was the thin crust, very crispy on the edges, that tasted rather like water biscuits. It was like having a giant water biscuit with warm toppings and I thought to myself this could definitely use some improvement.
I know, here I come, the foreigner, “improving” local traditional recipes. Well that’s the way the biscuit crumbles today and that’s that.
The first things I thought of adding to the Flammkuchen were cherry tomatoes and rucola, not before baking mind you, but on top of the finished pie. Then I thought of switching up the toppings, perhaps prosciutto or ordinary ham instead of Speck. Then later a discussion with someone in Finland nudged me towards trying smoked salmon. The Architect thought he might like sardines and anchovies and more cheese. Well to be fair, I also thought I might like a bit more cheese, but I’ll come to that later.
So after a while I went online in search of a recipe and of course found several. As I suspected, the basic recipe is very simple. The crust is nothing but flour, water, oil and salt and the traditional toppings are just crème fraîche, salt and pepper, cheese onions and Speck. The dough comes together in a snap and the toppings are likewise quickly thrown together. Of course any fancy additions, such as extremely finely sliced shallots, add to the preparing time.
So here’s the recipe, in its most basic form.
FLAMMKUCHEN (2 pieces)
200C, for about 15 minutes, mid-level. Or until the edges look golden and crisp.
2-3 tbsp oil
salt (e.g. ½ tsp, whatever you like)
-Put ingredients in a bowl. Mix.
Well, actually there’s a bit more to it than that. The ingredients mix well until the mixture is rough and crumbly, then it’s best to tip them over to a work surface and to knead till there’s a nice, smooth ball of dough.
-Wrap in plastic, let rest in fridge 30min -> 1 day. Resting times outside of this time interval may work, but haven’t been tested by the author.
-Cut in half, roll out into thin crusts. As in really thin, seriously the crust can be translucent and it’ll still work fine. I can spread this amount of dough into two crusts almost the size of a baking sheet. You may prefer thicker crusts or smaller tarts, up to you, I would recommend experimenting to discover what you like best. Sprinkling flour on the work surface helps a lot, even if you’re working on a non stick pastry sheet.
-Add toppings, place on baking sheet, bake in oven.
-Add extra uncooked toppings before serving.
2-3 tbsp crème fraîche or other suitable sour cream product
lightly cooked chopped onions or very thinly sliced shallots
Speck, i.e. cubed bacon or strong ham
-Flavour the sour cream with salt and pepper, spread on the crust. Sprinkle the onions and ham on top. Bake.
Whatever the hell you want.
Well, in all seriousness, here’s what I put on my first one.
The sour cream mix as above, a bit of grated cheese, half mixed in with the sour cream and half sprinkled on top. Ordinary smoked ham, thinly sliced shallots. After baking I added rucola and chopped up cherry tomatoes on top. The Architect doesn’t like the sour cream mix, nor the onions, so I made his without and it turned fine. If you hate the idea of either, they’re not essential.
The Architect also had sardines and anchovies in lieu of ham, I’m told that was all right too.
On the second go I added more cheese, which turned out to be a mistake, more of that later. I again had the sour cream, seasoning and the onions, but topped that with prosciutto and capers on one half and smoked salmon on the other. I put on half the salmon before baking and half after, to see which I liked better. The cooked salmon came out tasting with a very strong taste, a veritable bitch slap of smoked salmon right in the nose. Not that it was bad, there just was a bit too much of it. I enjoyed the uncooked smoked salmon much more, but the cooked one might work as well if only there were much less of it. Pro tip, this might be a good way to stretch out a small amount of smoked salmon to cover several Flammkuchen. The salmon side would’ve been nicer without the onions. The prosciutto side was very salty, probably better either without capers or with vinegar preserved rather than salted capers. This time I also added rucola and cherry tomatoes after baking.
The Architect had prosciutto, anchovies and capers and a selection of cheeses (and rucola). I’m told it was “ok”. Upon being pressed, he added “would eat again, but not with salty capers at the same time”. He also had his second Flammkuchen with a Belgian beer, and I’m told they went very well together. The Architect does feel that the edges become tougher when cooling down than those of a pizza, and thus difficult to eat. I haven’t noticed such a problem, so it’s clearly yet another personal preference.
Here are photos of the second Flammkuchen meal we had. This is a dish which photographs very well and looks fancy without too much work, as such it might also be a good option for guests. The crust can happily sit waiting in the fridge for hours, which is something I quite like, as it allows me the luxury of pacing my cooking comfortably.
So what did I get out of all this, apart two rather filling meals?
I think Flammkuchen is better than pizza. That’s right, you read that right. I don’t think pizza is as good. To be honest I’ve grown a bit tired of pizza and these days I find pizza a bit soggy and greasy and altogether a bit too much. I like the thin cracker like base of a good Flammkuchen much better and it’s easy to make a Flammkuchen lighter and fresher. I’m by no means turning into a health nut, I just find that large, heavy meals leave me feeling a bit queasy these days. With a Flammkuchen I can have the satisfaction of a nice, large savoury pie without the accompanying bloated feeling. And now some pointers based on my extensive experience of making four (4) Flammkuchen and eating two of them.
DON’T BE GREEDY
The temptation to roll the crust till it fills out as much of the baking sheet as possible is strong, but do try to resist. Chances are you really don’t need that much of a good thing, honestly a slightly smaller tart will be perfectly satisfying. I would also caution against loading the Flammkuchen up with toppings. In my opinion this dish is best when kept relatively thin and light. This brings out the crust and also makes it easier to actually finish the Flammkuchen, without having to be wheeled off when leaving the dinner table.
The best quality of old, traditional recipes is that they typically allow for endless variation. The principle of a Flammkuchen is a very basic one so just as you can put pretty much anything you want on a pizza, you can do the same with a Flammkuchen. My preference would be to stick to one or two toppings, though of course a single Flammkuchen can be divided into parts with different toppings on each. I’ve even seen references to sweet Flammkuchen, topped with e.g. apples, perhaps that would be worth a try.
In all the images I’ve seen the crust has been very thin, but there’s really no reason why you couldn’t make a thicker crust if you prefer. I would advise to start with a thin one just to see what that’s like, but there are really no hard and fast rules here.
DON’T OVERDO THE CHEESE
There can never be too much cheese, right? Wrong.
If you add too much cheese onto a Flammkuchen, it’ll release too much grease, making everything wetter so to speak, and the tart will be much heavier to eat. Best to use cheese here as a spice rather than a main ingredient. I would also recommend using drier cheeses, such as parmesan or grana padano, if you know yourself to have a tendency to be heavy handed with cheese. My first Flammkuchen had a very small amount of I think emmental and that also worked very nicely.
FEEL THE EDGES
Towards the end of the baking the edges may go from white to overdone quite fast so it’s a good idea to keep an eye at the Flammkuchen after the 10-11 min. mark. I found that feeling the edges with my fingers when the tart was almost done gave me a good indication of when they had crisped up.
THIS IS NOT A PIZZA
This isn’t supposed to be “a healthier pizza” or any other pizza modification. It’s a Flammkuchen. Don’t think of it as a pizza and you’re probably less likely to overload it, use too much cheese, leave the crust thicker than it needs to be or be disappointed when it’s not what you thought it would be.
So there you have it. Flammkuchen, Tarte flambée, Flàmmaküacha, or whatever you want to call it. Just don’t call it “like pizza, but not good”, because that would be incorrect.