Sorta Pizza: Tarte flambée a.k.a. flammkuchen a.k.a. flammekueche

A sign of a good regional delicacy is a fierce debate over its name. It means people love and care about it enough to spend countless hours, days, months, years, and sometimes centuries arguing over what it should be called. Is a sandwich made with a long bread roll a sub, a hoagie, a hero, or a grinder? Is the stuff that goes inside Thanksgiving turkey stuffing or dressing? Should New Jersey’s famed breakfast meat be called pork roll or Taylor Ham?

In this installment of “Sorta Pizza”, we’re visiting western Europe to take a look at a dish with many names: tarte flambée, also known as flammekueche or flammkuchen.

What is it?

Tarté flambee is a speciality of three regions on the German-French border, hence the many different names for the dish. At its most basic level, it’s dough — rolled out into a rectangle or oval — and topped with some sort of Crème fraîche or fresh white cheese, plus onions and lardons. 

What’s with the name?

The French and German names for the dish, tarte flambée and flammkuchen, both translate to the same thing: “pie baked in the flames”. Contrary to what the word “flambée” may suggest, the dish is not flambéed – it’s cooked in a wood-fired oven, just like Neapolitan pizza. If you’re a purist, or eager to show off your minor in Linguistics, you might call it by its Alsatian name, flammekueche (pronounced fla-me-kush). 

How’s it made?

For this one, we’re gonna turn to the French Cooking Academy on YouTube to show you how it’s made: 

First, a dough, similar to pizza dough, gets rolled out on the counter and stretched across a baking tray. Then, a “sauce” is made with crème fraîche and some sort of white cheese (e.g. fromage blanc or cottage cheese) and ladeled across the base. Finally, the dish is topped with onions and bacon (or lardons) that have been sliced razor thin before it’s put into a hot oven. After cooking, stuff like chives or fresh herbs can be added for garnish. 

What’s on it?

The “pure” version of the tarte flambée recipe calls only for dough, a “sauce” of cream and fresh white cheese, onions, and bacon. 

Rules were made to be broken, of course, and tarte flambée can also be found with toppings like gruyere cheese (“graitnée”), mushrooms (“forestière”), bell peppers, arugula, and more. 

How’s it eaten?

Tarte flambée is cut into slices and eaten with your hands, just like most pizza!

Where can I get it?

Unlike pide, which is a common menu item in Turkish and Mediterranean restaurants, tarte flambée / flammkuchen is a little harder to find. Still, it can often be found on the menu of many French bistros and German restaurants in the U.S. 

So, is it pizza?

It’s stretched like pizza, it’s topped with a white sauce (that contains cheese), and cooked in a wood-fired oven, so there’s definitely an argument for it being considered a type of pizza. In fact, it’s quite similar to a white pizza, which also skips the traditional tomato-based sauce 

French cuisine, however, is notoriously rigid in its traditions and definitions, so we’re sure that such a designation might actually be unpalatable to some tarte flambée fans around the world. We don’t want to make anyone angry, so we’re going to say non.

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