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jende

Alsatian onion and bacon tart

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I've been asked to do a French-themed cooking demo for my local community ed, and one item I'd like to make is an Alsatian onion and bacon tart. As I'm doing research I'm finding that there seems to be two types: one is quiche-like with eggs and cream in the filling, the other is more like a pizza with just a little cheese and the onion and bacon as toppings. The pizza-like recipes also seem to alternate between using puff pastry and pizza crust.

Is one more traditional than the other? I'm leaning toward the quiche-like one as that seems to be the one that the most reliable sources use.

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I spend a lot of time in Alsace for the purpose of eating, and have devoted much (happy) time to this question, so here goes.

They're different items, both traditional. The tart you're probably referring to is called "Tarte a l'Oignon", and it's a tart shell filled with a custard of eggs, cream, onion, and bacon. The shell is made of "pâte brisée", which is a "short", or flaky pastry dough, of course not sweetened.

The pizza-like item you're referring to is a "Tarte Flambée". On my first two trips I thought the names were interchangeable, and eventually did some serious asking. The reason for my confusion is that a lot of bakeries will make the "Tarte a l'Oignon" in a giant rectangular pan, and sell it by the slice, which they also do at the many outdoor markets in Alsace at Christmas time.

gallery_11181_3796_38218.jpg

(Tarte a l'oignon)

When I began my research in Strasbourg, I was told "no, you can't eat Tarte Flambée in the city - it's a country dish and you have to drive out of town to experience it."

So the hotel suggested a tavern about 30 minutes out of town and gave me directions, and called ahead to let them know we were interested in learning about Tarte Flambée, and after we ate our first one, they took us out back to the little shack with the oven and explained it all to us.

The Tarte Flambée starts with a small bit of bread dough - no yeast, and no oil, and is rolled out as thin as possible - in fact, even the smallest places now use a machine with rollers because you want it a little thinner even than is easily done by hand. The dough is spread with a well creamed mixture of Fromage Frais (a fresh cheese similar to cottage cheese) and crème fraîche (the two are blended together until smooth), and then it's topped with chunks of bacon, and slivers of raw onion.

It goes into a blistering hot wood burning oven for a maximum of 60 seconds, where as soon as it hits the oven it starts buckling, and the edges start to char (hence the name 'flambée) and it's cooked and out in one minute. The countryside is dotted with taverns that have signs advertising "Tarte Flambée at Night" - traditionally, restaurants in cities don't serve them, and traditionally they're only served at night.

The two are never confused in Alsace. The "tarte a l'oignon" is made its way with a flaky crust and a custard, and the "tarte flambée" is made with an unleavened bread dough with no oil or fat.

I'm sorry I don't have photos of "tarte flambée" - the day we had this adventure, we had the video camera with us, although you can google photos of it. It looks like a rustic pizza, and after it's sliced, it's traditional to roll the slices to eat them - they would otherwise droop when you go to pick them up.

Unless you have a blistering hot wood burning oven, you're better off making a "tarte a l'oignon" and getting a very authentic result. (And remember, no cheese!)


Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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I spend a lot of time in Alsace for the purpose of eating, and have devoted much (happy) time to this question, so here goes.

They're different items, both traditional.  The tart you're probably referring to is called "Tarte a l'Oignon", and it's a tart shell filled with a custard of eggs, cream, onion, and bacon.  The shell is made of "pâte brisée", which is a "short", or flaky pastry dough, of course not sweetened. 

The pizza-like item you're referring to is a "Tarte Flambée".  On my first two trips I thought the names were interchangeable, and eventually did some serious asking.  The reason for my confusion is that a lot of bakeries will make the "Tarte a l'Oignon" in a giant rectangular pan, and sell it by the slice, which they also do at the many outdoor markets in Alsace at Christmas time.

gallery_11181_3796_38218.jpg

(Tarte a l'oignon)

When I began my research in Strasbourg, I was told "no, you can't eat Tarte Flambée in the city - it's a country dish and you have to drive out of town to experience it."

So the hotel suggested a tavern about 30 minutes out of town and gave me directions, and called ahead to let them know we were interested in learning about Tarte Flambée, and after we ate our first one, they took us out back to the little shack with the oven and explained it all to us.

The Tarte Flambée starts with a small bit of bread dough - no yeast, and no oil, and is rolled out as thin as possible - in fact, even the smallest places now use a machine with rollers because you want it a little thinner even than is easily done by hand.  The dough is spread with a well creamed mixture of Fromage Frais (a fresh cheese similar to cottage cheese) and crème fraîche (the two are blended together until smooth), and then it's topped with chunks of bacon, and slivers of raw onion.

It goes into a blistering hot wood burning oven for a maximum of 60 seconds, where as soon as it hits the oven it starts buckling, and the edges start to char (hence the name 'flambée) and it's cooked and out in one minute.  The countryside is dotted with taverns that have signs advertising "Tarte Flambée at Night" - traditionally, restaurants in cities don't serve them, and traditionally they're only served at night.

The two are never confused in Alsace.  The "tarte a l'oignon" is made its way with a flaky crust and a custard, and the "tarte flambée" is made with an unleavened bread dough with no oil or fat.

I'm sorry I don't have photos of "tarte flambée" - the day we had this adventure, we had the video camera with us, although you can google photos of it.  It looks like a rustic pizza, and after it's sliced, it's traditional to roll the slices to eat them - they would otherwise droop when you go to  pick them up.

Unless you have a blistering hot wood burning oven, you're better off making a "tarte a l'oignon" and getting a very authentic result.  (And remember, no cheese!)

Thanks so much for all the great info (gotta love egulleters)! I will definitely go with the tarte a l'oignon, and I'm thrilled to have so much info to share with the students.

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You're welcome!

I did some googling and found you a perfect photo of a Tarte Flambée

They also make a dessert version of it (oh, those French). The dough and cream layer are the same, but then it's topped with thinly sliced apples and sugar before it goes in the oven for a minute.

At most places, the oven has traditionally been in a little shack behind the restaurant, as it was in the first place we went to, and as it was winter in Alsace, the cooked tarte has to be carried from the hot oven through the outdoor courtyard to the restaurant. Still, it arrives sufficiently hot at the table that when they pour a bit of Calvados over this one and light it, it bursts into flames. Then with the flames going, they sprinkle it with sugar and cinnamon, and you get a sparkling effect until the flames go out. And it's sooooo delicious! (And again, this should not be confused with the other Alsatian Apple Tart, which is made, just like the other bacon-and-onion tart, in a flaky crust shell filled with an egg-custard with apples. That's another one you could make very easily for your meal, actually.)


Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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He's famous for that, but it is absolutely not the traditional Tarte Flambée because he's using puff pasty, not bread dough. (Still, it's incredibly delicious, of course, whatever it is!)

Another difference is that the onions and bacon are not precooked, nor does the tart bake for more than a minute, because the oven is so hot that everything cooks in precisely one minute. However, those are just adaptations for a standard oven.

I found a great NY Times article about Tarte Flambee.

I'm going to try to dig out my video of the visit to the Tarte Flambée oven and post it later.


Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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gallery_11181_3796_38218.jpg

(Tarte a l'oignon)

That looks incredible! I have to find me a recipe before I go shopping tomorrow... _drool_

Thanks for sharing that great piece of information, along with some mouthwatering images...

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Oh, you're very welcome!

Here's where that slice came from. Alsace is one of the places on earth known as the "pastry crust capital of the world" (I'm sure there are others), and things in tarte shells, and things "en croute" are an obsession there.

Here's a long view of the bakery display, and then a close-up. Sadly, it was late in the day, and the display was mostly all gone.

gallery_11181_3796_25418.jpg

gallery_11181_3796_35145.jpg

Then there's also the flaky (puff) pastry obsession as opposed to "short" pastry obsession. Here's a video of an apple tarte at a favorite restaurant in Alsace that was so crunchy that one night we asked everybody in the restaurant to be quiet for a moment so we could film it to hear the crust!

(For a little more description, it's from this page of my Alsace diary.) I'll get the tarte flambee videos up later.


Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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Tarte Flambée is also known as Flammeküeche.

Here's an Americanized recipe that can be prepared at home. The ricotta cheese and yogurt substitute for fromage frais and crème fraîche, respectively. If you can get the real ingredients, use those. I don't have a baking stone, but if you do, feel free to experiment with baking directly on the stone at higher heat for a shorter time.

My husband has a distant cousin who is French and lives in Alsace. I didn't get this particular recipe from her, but we've eaten Tarte Flambée/Flammeküeche out when we've visited her.

Tarte Flambée or Flammeküeche (Alsace, France)

1 cup ricotta cheese or fromage frais

1/2 cup yogurt or crème fraîche

1 cup lukewarm water

1 package active dry yeast

about 2-1/4 cups flour

3/4 teaspoon salt

2 onions, sliced in thin rings

12 ounces slab bacon, cut in to small cubes (lardons)

pepper

Place ricotta cheese and yogurt in a blender. Blend until smooth. Transfer to a bowwl and cover; chill at least 8 hours.

Combine water, yeast, and 1 cup flour in a large bowl. Let stand 5 minutes until foamy. Add salt, then gradually add remaining flour, until dough is too stiff to stir. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and satiny, about 10 minutes. Form into a ball. Place in a bowl, cover, and let rise at room temperature until double in bulk, about 1 hour. Punch down and let rise again, covered, until double in bulk, about 1 hour.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 450°F. Combine cheese mixture with onions. Let stand 15 minutes to soften the onions.

On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a rectangle to fit a large baking sheet, about 12 x 15". Spread onion mixture over the dough to the edge. Sprinkle lardons evenly on top, then sprinkle generously with pepper.

Bake 15-20 minutes, or until crust is crisp. Serve hot, cut into smaller rectangles.


SuzySushi

"She sells shiso by the seashore."

My eGullet Foodblog: A Tropical Christmas in the Suburbs

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Just chiming in to say how much I love tarte flambée. I have a very fond memory of visiting a friend in the area, and the whole family going out for a tarte flambée dinner. The waiter just kept them coming, along with carafes of white wine. For something with so many rich ingredients, they are somehow very light, we ate a shocking number of them. There are a couple of restaurants here in Boston that offer them on the menu, and occasionally I get the craving and order them. But they don't quite measure up. Somehow I imagine that the tarte a l'oignon would be easier to replicate without the special oven.

thanks for the memories!



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The simple wines of that region, the Pinot Blancs, are just spectacular, and as everybody notes, you quaff them in great quantities with the tarte flambée. The particular town that we used to go to is Dahlenheim, 13 miles from Strasbourg, which is in the Bas-Rhin. Just about all of the famous wineries of Alsace, and just about all the wines imported to the US come from the Haut Rhin. But the unknown wines of the Bas-Rhin are stunningly delicious. The first time we went to Dahlenheim, the restaurant sold its own Pinot Blanc, and we bought a dozen liter bottles to take home; they were less than a dollar. The restaurant was afraid to sell them to us because they didn't have an export license (totally irrelevant), and they finally agreed to sell them to us without labels. Those wines were absolutely delicious a year later. On subsequent trips we've visited other wineries there that were literally in people's garages and had wines more delicious than can be described. (They don't limit themselves to Pinot Blanc, but that's what's usually poured with the tarte flambée.)


Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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As promised, I posted the first video of the visit to the Tarte Flambée oven, and because I have several to post, I spun off a separate Tarte Flambée thread for it. I hope you enjoy the video.

http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=98485&hl=


Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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Across the border, the German version of this is zwiebelkuchen. A literal translation is onion cake, but it is truly a tart. Some have bacon, some don't. It is a stable in the weinstuben of the Pfalz, and is typically served with the neuer wein (wine made from the current harvest that is still in the process of fermenting). It goes very well with fully fermented, bottled wines from the region as well.

As is the case with many of these regional specialities, everyone makes them slightly different -- each, of course, thinking their way is best.


We cannot employ the mind to advantage when we are filled with excessive food and drink - Cicero

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Oh, my gosh, I agree with Lindak!

We were in Alsace many years ago, had tons of flammekuche in many towns, most notably Mulhouse and Ammerschwihr. The taste has not been duplicated anywhere.

They are all very good renditions of an Onion Tarte, but not that country taste...

Even in Paris, it's not the same.

What great food memories!


Philly Francophiles

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Mark, I just watched your video! That's amazing!

That's the same restaurant (in a different village) that we had our incredible tarte flambee in!

That taste!

It's driving me CRAZY!

AAARRGGHHH.


Philly Francophiles

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I had two tartes flambees last week...one at Les Halles, and one at The Modern - both were good, though The Modern's was a bit more traditional and cracker/pizza-like...pics here!


"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

Queenie Takes Manhattan

eG Foodblogs: 2006 - 2007

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