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.
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 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.
- 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)
- 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.
- 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.
- Meanwhile, preheat a baking pan on the lowest rack of a 550⁰ F. oven.
- While the dough is resting and the oven is preheating, combine crème fraîche, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a small bowl and set aside.
- 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.
- 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.