Tarte Flambée (Flammekueche)

Today’s Musings:
During my semi-regular pilgrimage to the Mecca known as Trader Joe’s, I follow a specific ritual.  After anointing my red shopping cart handle with sanitizer, I weave my way through each aisle, starting at the first station, flowers and fresh vegetables, and completing my procession at wine and cheese, before ultimately paying my tithe to the cashier.  In the frozen food aisle, alongside the frozen pizzas, without fail, I slightly genuflect, reaching into the freezer to pull out one, if not two, Tarte Flambée. 

I discovered Tarte Flambée in 2006 while visiting my grandfather’s hometown of Strasbourg, FR.  Strasbourg and the surrounding Alsace Lorraine region is unlike any other in France.  Situated along Germany’s border, Strasbourg has, at certain points in history, been annexed to both France and Germany, a result of various wars.  In fact, my grandfather considered himself German, while his sister, Lucette, was decidedly French. Oui?  The official language is French, but the indigenous language spoken is Alsatian, which is its own beast – a southern German dialect influenced over time by French. So, although part of France, they don’t really speak French, the city doesn’t look French, and their food in undeniably heartier than most French fare. 

On arriving in Strasbourg, our hotel proprietor recommended we dine at a local neighborhood winstub.  Winstubs, as you can probably guess by now, are distinctly Alsatian – and unlike any French bistro I’ve frequented.  These charming little wine bars are snuggled within old, half-timbered buildings, and chocked full of Alsatian charm – rustic tables, low ceilings, wood-burning stoves, and comfortable, cozy nooks where you can relax, sip a local wine and order something to nosh. 

This particular winstub was brimming with locals; we being the only foreigners.  The limited menu catered to our adventuresome palates.  I recall braised rabbit, choucroute, foie gras, and something called Tarte Flambée.  Neither my tablemates nor I were familiar with Tarte Flambée and asked our server to explain – of course, we don’t speak Alsatian (or German or French), and she didn’t speak English, but from what we could gather through hand gestures and vigorous head-nodding (and after a trip to the kitchen to show us the ambiguous “herb” she managed to translate),  we discovered Tarte Flambée is similar to a crispy thin-crust pizza (although any Alsatian would slap me for even mentioning pizza) with a creamy sauce of crème fraîche and fromage blanc (a fresh cow’s milk cheese), sparingly sprinkled with lardons (thin slices of slab bacon), and onion,  grilled hot and fast for a crispy, cracker-like crust, and sometimes garnished with “herbs” (typically parsley or chives).  Oh heaven!  We devoured our first Flambée in minutes and then proceeded in the next week to make our way through Alsace Lorraine ordering Tarte Flambée whenever we had a chance, usually for lunch with a salad or pâté.  During our travels, we happened upon a few variations which included adding a sprinkle of local Munster cheese (la gratinée), or thinly sliced mushrooms (la forestière), although I prefer the simpler version. 

Trader’s offers a pretty damn good frozen facsimile in a pinch and I enjoy one almost weekly.  Eschewing the directions on the box, I bake the frozen (and therefore stiff) version directly on the oven rack (no sheet pan) and tend to cook it in a bit longer than recommended (I’m aiming for a crisp crust from edges to middle).  The serving suggestion of 2-4 people makes me giggle – serving for one is more like it. 

Today’s Recipe:
When I have more time – or I don’t want to trek to Trader’s, I use the following recipe.  The trick to an authentic Tarte Flambée is “restraint” which, for anyone who follows this blog, knows isn’t a strength of mine.  However, if you pile on the bacon and onions and add tons of cheese, you’ll never get the crisp crust holy grail you are looking for.  Also, I’ve simplified the recipe a bit – substituting the fromage blanc for 100% crème fraîche.  Finally, unlike pizza, this crust doesn’t require yeast, making it quicker to throw together.


Tarte Flambée

  • Servings: One 12” tarte
  • Print

Tarte Flambée is similar to a crispy thin-crust pizza with a creamy sauce, sprinkled with bacon and onion, and then grilled hot and fast for a crispy cracker-like crust.


Ingredients

  • 2 strips thick-cut bacon, chopped
  • ⅓ cup onion, thinly sliced and then chopped
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoons canola oil
  • ¼ cup water, plus more if needed
  • ¼ cup crème fraîche
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon freshly-ground pepper
  • ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
  • parsley or chives (optional)

Directions

  1. In a small pan, partially cook bacon until fat renders, but not until bacon is crispy. Remove bacon and drain on a paper towel. Partially cook onion in bacon fat until soft, but not brown. Add to bacon.
  2. In a medium size bowl, combine flour and salt. Make a well in the center and add oil and ¼ cup water. Slowly combine using your fingers until it becomes a shaggy dough. If the dough is too dry, add additional water 1 teaspoon at a time. Knead dough 2-3 times and shape into a ball. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and let rest for 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, preheat a baking pan on the lowest rack of a 550⁰ F. oven.
  4. While the dough is resting and the oven is preheating, combine crème fraîche, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a small bowl and set aside.
  5. Dust dough with flour and roll into a 12” circle between 2 pieces of parchment. Remove top layer of parchment and spread crème fraîche mixture over dough leaving a ½” border. Dot with bacon and onions and decoratively pinch border of dough.
  6. Using lower parchment sheet, transfer Tarte Flambée to preheated baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Do not be alarmed if edges of parchment darken in the very hot oven. Remove from oven, let cool for 1-2 minutes, sprinkle with parsley or chives (if using) and cut into wedges. Enjoy immediately.

Almond-Orange Bostock Pastries

Two Almond Orange Bostock on a plate

My guy wanted to sample a loaf of freshly baked bread I had made earlier in the week. I knew it wouldn’t survive with maximum freshness until Saturday, when I’d see him next, and I was trying to determine the best way to supply him with the baked goodness he craved. Toast with jam? Yawn! French toast? Been there, done that! Then, I remembered bostock.

Oh yes, bostock!

If French toast and a bear claw had a love child, bostock would be the result. This addictive breakfast confection is made by soaking a thick slice of enriched bread, like brioche, in flavorful syrup, slathering it with a generous layer of homemade almond cream paste and finishing it off with crunchy sliced almonds. The pastry is then baked until the almond topping is puffed, golden and crispy. It needs nothing more than a sprinkling of powdered sugar to finish it off. Fancy enough for a brunch gathering, this tasty treat first appeared in Europe as a way for bakers to use up day-old brioche bread but became such a beloved treat that bakers had to start baking more brioche just to keep up with the demand.  I’ve seen some bakers sandwich a layer of jam between the syrup and almond paste to gild the lily, but I prefer the simplicity of the original.

It may seem like a lot of work for a busy weekend morning, but it’s actually simple to prepare. The syrup and almond cream paste can be made the day before. Then, in the morning, just slather the bread with the syrup and almond cream while the oven heats up, sprinkle with almonds, bake for about 20 minutes while you have your first cup of coffee (or some morning canoodling) and they’re ready. Breakfast is served!


Almond-Orange Bostock Pastry

The REAL French toast. Crispy almond cream paste topped pastries flavored with orange flower syrup.


Ingredients

    Orange Flower Syrup
  • ½ cup water
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon orange flower water
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • Almond Cream Paste
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup almond flour a.k.a. almond meal, toasted until fragrant
  • ¾ cup powdered sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 1 large egg
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract
  • Bostock
  • 6 slices brioche, challah or other enriched bread, sliced 1” thick
  • ¼ cup sliced almonds
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting

Directions

  1. Make Syrup: Heat water and sugar in a small saucepan until sugar has dissolved. Turn off heat and add orange flower water and zest. Set aside.
  2. Make Almond Cream Paste: In a medium bowl, stir butter, toasted almond flour, powdered sugar, and salt together until well combined. Add egg and extracts and blend well.
  3. Make Bostock: Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Brush both sides of brioche slices well with orange flower syrup. Liberally spread tops of slices with 3-4 tablespoons of almond cream paste and sprinkle with sliced almonds. Place bostock on lined sheet pan and bake 18-22 minutes until tops are golden and almond cream is slightly puffy. Dust with powdered sugar and serve warm.

4 bostock on a sheet pan and dusted with powdered sugar

Sticky Gingerbread Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting

A gingerbread cupcake drizzled with salted caramel

I’m a list keeper. I keep shopping lists, lists of books to read, lists of desserts I want to make, lists of writing topics, and my never-ending to-do list. Of all my lists, my favorite is one I’ve entitled “Things I Love” and it captures some of the things, from the silly to the sublime, that put a smile on my face. If you want to know what makes me happy, you can read my list here.

Looking back, I can’t recall why (or even when) I started this list. Remembering how crazed my work world used to be, I was likely attempting to bring a little contentment into my life. By reminding myself what truly brought me happiness, I could remember to appreciate these simple delights.

Christmas light displays didn’t make the list, but they’re a much-loved part of my holiday season. When I was little, my siblings and I would squeal from the station wagon’s back seat, “Pretty lights! Pretty lights!” whenever we’d drive by a festively lit house. As adults, we road trip to other neighborhoods – and other cities (Portland!?) in search of flamboyantly adorned holiday houses. If Jesus, Santa, Snoopy, AND a giant snow globe all make it into one tableau, our holiday is complete!

I’m thinking about Christmas light displays today because I’ve had a request to bake a few treats for a neighborhood holiday light stroll next month – a request I happily accepted. These sticky, spicy gingerbread cupcakes are my first contibution, adapted from Gramercy Tavern’s Gingerbread. My coworker, John, took a bite and said, “This is dangerous.” He then took a second bite and said, “This is really dangerous.” By his third bite, the cupcake was gone. Others agreed.


Sticky Gingerbread Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting

  • Servings: 24 cupcakes
  • Print

Dangerously sticky, spicy, not-too-sweet cupcakes topped with lashings of cream cheese frosting, salted caramel and candied walnuts.


Ingredients

    Gingerbread
  • 1 cup Guinness Stout
  • 1 cup dark molasses
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 Tablespoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil
  • Salted Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 16 ounces cream cheese, chilled
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
  • ⅓ cup good quality salted caramel, plus more for drizzling (It’s worth making your own!)
  • 24 candied walnuts

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 24 muffin tins. Bring stout and molasses to a boil in a large saucepan and remove from heat. Whisk in baking soda, and then cool to room temperature.
  2. Sift together flour, baking powder, and spices in a large bowl. Whisk together eggs and sugars. Whisk in oil, then molasses mixture. Add to flour mixture and whisk until just combined.
  3. Fill muffin tins ¾ full and rap pan sharply on counter to eliminate air bubbles. Bake in middle of oven until a tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs adhering, about 25 minutes. Cool completely.
  4. To make frosting: In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter together on medium-high speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the confectioners’ sugar and salted caramel. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds, then increase to high speed and beat for 3 minutes until creamy. If frosting is too soft, refrigerate for 15 minutes before piping.
  5. Frost cupcakes, drizzle with additional salted caramel, and garnish with a candied walnut.

5-minute Coconut Almond Fudge

This is my go-to fudge recipe – super quick and easy fudge you make in the microwave. What’s not to love?

Quick Coconut Almond Fudge
Over dinner, a good friend was lamenting her systematic eating of leftover Christmas fudge over the three weeks following the holidays – a piece or two every night. I laughed to myself imagining fudge, or anything sweet for that matter, would even last a week, let alone three, in my house. And then my mind faded from the conversation at hand and I began to be preoccupied with fudge. My internal conversation went something like this:

“Mmm…Fudge…Why didn’t I make fudge for Christmas?!…I haven’t made fudge for a while…I have an awesome fudge recipe…that’s easy too…super chocolaty…never gritty…why am I not making fudge this very minute?!…fudge…I need it…yummm…”

Needless to say, I pulled my super quick 5-minute fudge recipe out soon after that. I convinced myself I was performing a pantry-cleaning service by using up leftover coconut, almonds and almond paste in the process. Anything for a good cause.

As expected,  it didn’t last the week.


5-minute Coconut Almond Fudge

If coconut and almond aren’t your thing, you can substitute your favorite mix-ins in place of the coconut, almonds and almond paste.

Ingredients

  • 1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
  • 12 oz. good quality bittersweet chocolate (at least 60% cocoa)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened coconut, toasted
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted
  • 1/3 cup almond paste, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons flaky sea salt such as Maldon (optional)

Directions

  1. Line an 8×8” pan with aluminum foil and coat with cooking spray.
  2. In a microwave, heat sweetened condensed milk and chocolate on high for 1 minute. Stir to combine. Heat an additional 30 seconds if needed until chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Stir in vanilla, coconut, almonds and almond paste.
  3. Pour fudge into pan and smooth. Sprinkle with sea salt (optional). Cool in refrigerator for 1 hour.
  4. Use aluminum foil to remove fudge from pan, cut into 1” squares. Store in an airtight container. Fudge does not need to be refrigerated.