Flammkuchen: Quick & Easy Rustic German Fare
German cuisine has an unfortunate reputation. Best known for huge plates of meat and mounds of pickled cabbage and dumplings, it’s often considered to have an obsession with all things pork. German menus are not renowned for their light bites.
Since moving to Germany’s beautiful Riesling region in 2010, I’ve discovered there’s much more to the German cuisine than sausages and sauerkraut. I’ve been won over by regional German culinary traditions and local specialties, and the German approach to eating local, seasonal produce.
Sadly, however, my experience with the average German party spread has fit the stereotype. Few non-Germans are won over by a hedgehog formed from raw ground pork (a mettigel), despite its beady little black olive eyes and spines made from shards of white onion. And I’ve yet to see a bowl of nudelsalat (pasta salad) that was anything but a dull mix of pasta, sausage, pickles, and mayonnaise.
So, when feeding a large group of friends German-style, I veer away from traditional party pickings. A raw pork hedgehog just doesn’t cut my (British) mustard. What works well for me is a table laden with wooden boards of thin-crusted, golden flatbreads covered in toppings to suit all tastes. Such a spread looks beautifully rustic and casually refined, but is surprisingly filling and as easy to make as it is to eat.
Flammkuchen (literally: flame cake, known in French as tarte flambée) is a specialty of Alsace, France, a region that has changed hands between the French and the Germans several times over the last 150 years. Some (the French) would argue it’s more French than German, but flammkuchen is widely eaten across the neighbouring German regions of Baden and Pfalz – and beyond – with various regional names to match. So when it comes to German party dishes, it’s German enough for me.
This crispy cousin of the pizza is traditionally baked in a wood-fired oven, a thin rectangle or circle of dough spread with sour cream and sprinkled with sweet or savory toppings. Very nearly as good baked in a standard oven, the dough and toppings are quick and straightforward to prepare and can be stored covered in the fridge for a good couple of hours, or even overnight, until you need them. The flammkuchen itself can be assembled speedily on your own or collaboratively for fun, but either way without much concentration: simply roll out the dough, smear on the cream, scatter on your chosen toppings and after just 15 minutes or so in the oven, you have your party food hot, crisp, golden and ready to be devoured. And devoured it will be.