The headline above is bound to tick some purists off. But it's not a pizza! they cry. That's true: Just because this glorious Alsatian flatbread is topped with a layer of cheese (in this case, fromage blanc), onions, and bacon, and baked in a hot oven does not make it a pizza any more than having four legs and a wagging tail makes a dachshund the same thing as a golden retriever. And yet, for those unfamiliar with tarte flambée, describing it as a pizza is the quickest and surest way to recognition.
Known as flammekueche in Alsatian and flammkuchen in German, tarte flambée is incredibly simple. Typically made on a piece of thin, rolled-out bread dough, it has only three other main ingredients: the cheese, the onion, and the bacon.
The cheese in question is fromage blanc, a fresh, spreadable white cheese that's made with skimmed milk and has a very sharp, lactic tanginess—think very sour yogurt, and you'll have the general idea. Packages in the States will often boast its "0%" fat content, but make no mistake, those aren't no-fat versions of what is typically a creamy cheese: fromage blanc is inherently no-fat.
Most recipes have you mix the fromage blanc with a lesser amount of crème fraîche, its full-fat creaminess helping to balance out the leanness of the fromage blanc, and that's what my recipe calls for here. But since fromage blanc can be difficult to find in some areas, I also picked up a bunch of other fresh cheese and cultured dairy products to see what would make the best substitute.
The single best substitute I found is quark, a full-fat fresh cheese that, all by itself, tastes quite a bit like the mixture of fromage blanc and crème fraîche. But, of course, if you can't find fromage blanc, quark isn't likely to be an easy find either.
The second best substitute I found was to blend together equal parts cream cheese and buttermilk, which together imitate the body and lactic tartness of the original.
The onion in tarte flambée is thinly sliced and not cooked until the whole thing goes in the oven. Since I'm not a big fan of raw or undercooked onion, I like to slice mine extra-thin, to make sure it doesn't retain any of that raw-onion bite. A mandoline makes quick work of it (see our recent equipment review here), though you can also slice them by hand.
For the bacon, I go for thick-cut slices, cross-cutting them into thin strips.
Once everything is prepped, it's time to fire the tarts. I played with two methods: a classic one using pizza or bread dough, and a riff on J. Kenji López-Alt's bar-style pizza method using a cast iron skillet and flour tortillas. They both work great.
Classic Tarte Flambée
The classic recipe uses basic bread or pizza dough as the base.
Tarte flambée usually has a very thin crust. I pressed, stretched, and even used a rolling pin to get my dough as thin as I could, though, as you'll see below, I still got some impressive oven spring that led to a slightly puffy texture around the edges—it's a texture I happen to love, so I wasn't complaining.
As you can see in the photo above, I spread the cheese mixture all over the dough, nearly to the edge. Tarte flambée doesn't usually have the wide ring of crust around its edge like a pizza does, so there's no need to try to make one.
Once the bacon is on, it's ready to go in the oven. I cooked it by setting a Baking Steel on the top rack of my oven (right under the broiler) and preheating my oven to the highest possible temperature, 550°F. Then, right before sliding the tart in, I switched the broiler on to help cook and char the top while the dough cooked on the Baking Steel from below.
The result is this beautiful pie here.
Bar-Style Tarte Flambée
"If you really want that cracker-like crust, this is the way to go."
Not too long ago, J. Kenji López-Alt debuted a very clever technique for making bar-style pizzas using flour tortillas and a cast iron pan. Given the thin crust a tarte flambée is supposed to have, I thought the method might work really well here too, and indeed it did! If you really want that cracker-like crust, this is the way to go.
Start by oiling your skillet while heating it.
Then toss in the tortilla and spread the fromage blanc sauce all over, right to the edges.
Top with onion...
...followed by bacon.
Then throw the whole thing under the broiler until the top is browned in spots.
You can quickly wipe the skillet out and make the next round while everyone digs in on the first one.
Just be nice to anyone who accidentally calls it a pizza.