This dish turned out to be a pleasant surprise. The recipe was unbelievably easy to prepare. The final result was much more sophisticated and refined than I had imagined. I can’t believe I waited over 20 years to make it. Talk about procrastinating!
I first discovered this recipe back in the early 1990’s. It was featured on a television show called “Julie Child Cooking with Master Chefs”. The program aired on PBS. It showcased both, rising star chefs and those already considered to be culinary legends. The episode that introduced me and the rest of the audience to flammekueche featured acclaimed Chef Andre Soltner. He was a superstar in the kitchen long before the age of celebrity chefs and the birth of the Food Network.
Chef Soltner grew up in the Alsace region of France and trained at some of the finest restaurants in the area. As a young man, he continued his training in Paris and quickly rose through the kitchen ranks to become head chef at Chez Hansi. In 1961, an ambitious restaurateur with a keen eye for talent offered Chef Soltner the head chef position at a fledgling restaurant in New York. The restaurant was named Lutece. The two built Lutece into what was once regarded as the best restaurant in America. Chef Soltner eventually bought out his partner and became the sole owner. My admiration for him is not based on culinary talent alone. He was also a very savvy businessman. As owner-operator of Lutece, he maintained the restaurant’s world class reputation and kept is running as a profitable business for over thirty years. No small feat considering how many restaurants go broke in the first year of operation.
Shortly after the episode aired, I found a copy of the show’s companion cookbook at a local book store. To my delight, the recipe for flammekueche was included. I promptly purchased a copy with the intention of making the recipe in the near future.
Flammekueche or Tarte Flambee draws upon Chef Soltner’s Alsatian roots. It is a humble dish that has gained in popularity over the years. The term flambee does not imply the tarts are set ablaze on top of the stove. It refers to the traditional baking technique used to prepare them. In his book, Chef Soltner explains how the tarts were placed in a baker’s oven while it was being lit. The flames would cascade down over them and brown the tops. Upon learning this, I became even more enamored by this recipe and vowed to prepare it as soon as possible.
The next thing I knew, a few years had passed by. Flammekueche still eluded me. I was reminded of it after attending a demonstration Chef Soltner gave at the French Culinary Institute in New York. He had recently authored a cookbook about Lutece. I purchased a copy beforehand and had him sign it after the demonstration. That night, I began flipping through its pages and found another recipe for flammekueche. “I have to make this!” I proclaimed and swore an oath to do so soon.
Then about fifteen more years had slipped away. I had relocated several times during that time period. The books came with me each time. I was determined to make flammekueche in my new residence, where ever it may be.
Finally, the day arrived last Saturday. After a late lunch, my wife Janine asked me to make something light for dinner. A soufflé was my initial thought, then I remembered the flammekueche recipe. I grabbed Chef Soltner’s cookbook off the shelf, scribbled down the ingredients and headed off to the market.
The dish took about 20 minutes to prepare and about 20 minutes to bake. The tarts emerged from the oven golden and flaky. Pieces of crispy bacon and spirals of tender onion slices were set in a lightly browned bed of creamy cottage cheese and crème fraiche. It was a delicious decoupage in gold and bronze tones.
I served my wife Janine her portion first and then returned tom the kitchen to fetch mine. I knew it was a winner when I heard “Yum!” shouted from the dining room.
Although it took me over two decades to finally make this recipe, it was certainly worth the wait. I have since made it twice in the last week. I guess I’m trying to make up for lost time.
- One 17oz package of frozen puff pastry dough
- ½ cup cottage cheese
- ½ cup crème fraiche
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 4 slices of thick-cut, bacon cut into 1” pieces
- Half of a medium onion, sliced very thin
Prepare the Pastry-
Defrost the puff pastry dough according to the directions on the box. Roll out each sheet on a flat work surface. Cut an 8-inch disc from each. Place the discs of dough on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Crimp or roll the outer edge to form a decorative border. Pierce the surface of the dough with the tines of a fork every inch or so until the entire area of the disc inside the border has been punctured. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before assembling the tart.
Prepare the Filling –
Place cottage cheese in food processor. Process the cheese until it is very smooth. If necessary use a rubber spatula to scrape down the cheese that clings to the side of the processor bowl. Add crème fraiche, flour, vegetable oil and salt and pepper to taste. Continue to process until the ingredients are well blended. Taste the mixture and adjust seasoning. Cover and refrigerate until you are ready to assemble the tart.
Prepare the Topping –
Place bacon in a frying pan over medium heat. Cook bacon until most of the fat has rendered and the pieces are semi-crispy.
Note: Do not cook the bacon all the way through. It will finish cooking in the oven as the tart bakes.
Remove bacon from pan and set on folded paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of fat from pan. Add onions and return pan to heat. Sauté onions until crisp but not fully cooked through. Remove onions from pan and cool completely.
Finish the Tart –
Preheat oven to 415 degrees.
Ladle about ¼ cup of the filling onto each disc of dough. Spread the filling evenly over the surface of the tart leaving about 1/4” of dough exposed around the inside of the border. Sprinkle onion and bacon topping evenly over the top of the filling. Place the baking sheets that contain the tarts into the preheated oven. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes until the crust is golden brown. Flammekueche can be served either warm or cold.