Building the clay oven was one thing, but sometimes the time it took to build the oven feels like nothing compared to the time it actually takes to make a pizza. It takes hours of log feeding and fire stoking to get the oven hot enough to bake good pizzas. This pretty much makes the oven a special occasion kind of thing.
Last weekend, the occasion was my friend Mike coming to visit from Coventry. Luckily the weather was nice and we had plenty of sauce-making, veggie-chopping, beer-drinking and conversation-having to do while we tended the fire.
One aspect of the pizzas was easy to prepare: the dough. I had a few dough balls in the freezer leftover from our summer BBQ, one of which was made by our chef friend, Alex. Alex introduced us to German Flammkuchen (or tarte flambée in French, or flammekueche in Alsatian), a pizza made from a very thin dough, topped with creme fraiche, leeks and bacon (hold the bacon for us vegetarians). Sounds weird, right? Guess what: it’s surprisingly awesome. Creme fraiche as pizza sauce is a total revelation. And leeks? Sublime.
But last weekend, we were going for something more traditional. I usually work with the Neo-Neapolitan Pizza Dough from Peter Reinhart’s American Pie, but on this occasion, Alex’s flammkuchen dough did a much better job. It was easy to roll out and rose beautifully in the oven.
Okay, so perhaps I still need some practice avoiding those burnt edges. Or do I?
According to legend, the creators of flammkuchen were Alemannic farmers who used to bake bread once a week and they’d make a tarte flambée to test the heat of their wood-fired ovens. The embers would be pushed aside to make room for the tarte in the middle of the oven, and the intense heat would be able to bake it in 1 or 2 minutes. The crust that forms the border of the tarte flambée would be nearly burned by the flames. The name itself comes from this method of baking, the English translation of the original Alsatian name being “baked in the flames.”
So maybe I shouldn’t worry so much about the burnt edges. But I do worry about the heat of my oven. My pizzas certainly don’t cook in 1 or 2 minutes, but no matter how much fire I give it, the floor doesn’t seem to hold the heat once I push the embers aside. I blame this on using traditional bricks rather than fire bricks. Live and learn. This oven was only my first.
I was going to post Alex’s dough recipe, but I couldn’t read his handwriting (either that, or it was written in German – who can tell?!). Here’s another flammkuchen recipe. I highly recommend it (without the bacon, of course).
Cheers to Moff for the first photo from our BBQ. And cheers to Mike for taking photos last weekend, all except the next one. This is what happens when you keep two hungry guys waiting for their flammkuchen: