Monday, March 22, 2010

Flammekueche!! Or Flamm, if you prefer!

One of the many highlights of my recent March Break in Montreal was that I convinced the gang to eat at 3 Brasseurs no less the three times -- in three different locations! So there are 9 brasseurs implicated in this tale, and I am thankful to them all.

My favourite thing at 3 Brasseurs (next to the awesome beer -- which, sadly, can't leave the premises unless it's in your body ... actually, that's not SO bad) is the Flamm. A flamm (or flammekueche if you prefer the long name, which no one does) is basically a variation of the pizza from the Alsace region of France (although I am sure some Belgians must have been involved in its creation, since it is simply too perfect with Belgian beer for this not to be the case).

ANYWAY, this little vacation inspired me to dig out my flamm recipe and give it a whirl. Kind thanks to The Best International Recipe from Cooks Illustrated for the basic plan of attack. 

The ingredients are a thin crust pizza dough, creme fraiche, some fine cheese, onions, and bacon. (Seriously, onions and bacon -- how could this be any more awesome?!)

However, like one of those movies that start with some kind of present day teaser and then throw you into the backstory, our recipe began two days ago...

Two days before you plan to Flamm:

A real flamm is made with creme fraiche (basically, it takes the place of tomato sauce in a pizza). Creme fraiche is not something I've seen commercially (although, admittedly, I haven't looked -- I am not a big fan of plastic, and most dairy stuff comes in plastic tubs). But, never fear, you can make it! In only two days!!

To make creme fraiche, you need some buttermilk and some whipping cream. All you have to do is mix 1/4 cup of buttemilk into 1 cup of whipping cream, then...

heat it up to about 85 degrees F, transfer it to a bowl, cover it, and let it sit on your kitchen counter for 24 hours. 85 degress is luke warm, and it takes about 7-8 minutes on medium heat to get warm enough. I've seen recipes that don't call for heating, but my kitchen is always too cold for these to work. You want to give the buttermilk bacteria a chance to colonise the cream and start chugging along. The next day you can pop it in the fridge until you need it or leave it on the counter a while longer if it hasn't thickend up enough (it should be like youghurt when it's done). If you pop it open and it smells like ammonia -- too late, start all over again.

This may sound like a food safety nightmare, but it has worked for me so far. This recipe is from Joy of Cooking.  If you're leery of the whole procedure (or think it's a crazy waste of time) then you could just use sour cream instead, or cottage cheese (but it may be too bland), but come on! Give it a go! It's fun, and worth it!

One day before you plan to Flamm:

This "pie" is cooked on a thin pizza dough -- we're talking cracker here. This is a bit of a challenge to pull off, but if you give a dough a 24 hour stint in the fridge, it builds up a massive amount of gluten (sorry Alison!) and can become a thin and wonderful thing.

To make the dough, you need 2 cups of flour, 1/2 tsp yeast, 1/2 tsp honey, 1/2 tsp salt, 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp water (don't blame me, this measure is in the book), and 1/4 cup of vegetable oil.

The Cooks Illustrated team go on to describe a food processor method that looks like it is finished before you even start. I am a bit of a Luddite, however, and prefer the wooden spoon and bowl technique. For the Luddite version...

proof your yeast. I do this any time I make dough just to make sure my yeast is still alive. Take your water (it should be lukewarm), add the honey, add the yeast and stir. Wait about 5 mins, and you should see the yeast start to dance, and it will smell all boozy. Once this happens, you're good to go. If it doesn't make sure your water is warm enough -- if it is, go buy new yeast.

Mix the dry ingredients, but use only half the flour.

Add the yeasty water and oil and start stirring with your trusty wooden spoon. You'll get a gloopy mess.

Gradually add the last half of the flour. It will become really hard to stir towards the end, but soilder on -- it's good for your pipes! You'll end up with a nice ball at the end. Knead the dough a bit in the bowl if stirring becomes impossible. Just grab an edge of the ball, pull it to the centre, press down, and keep working your way around the ball and the bowl until you feel like you're done and all the flour has disappeared.

Turn the dough out onto a nice floured surface...

and knead it a couple of more times until you have a nice, not too sticky ball.

Then pour a little olive oil on top and spread it around to coat the ball. Finally, pop it in a bowl, cover it, and put it in the fridge until the next day. (Cooks Illustrated says to put it in plastic wrap, but you already know how I feel about plastic. Just make sure your bowl is big enough -- this puppy will double or triple in size over night. This is also a warning to keep your yeast measurement as indicated -- if you're tempted to add more yeast you are sure to have a massive ball of dough take over your whole fridge -- like the chicken heart in that Fat Albert episode. You have been warned!)

On  the day you plan to Flamm!

First bit of advice: do not get a massive head cold. It will diminish your enthusiasm and make you hesitate to have lots of beer. But, as I've said before, soilder on! (The dough will take over your fridge if you don't!)

To make the flamm, you need your dough, your creme fraiche, bacon, onions, and cheese (I went for compte, which is pretty dear, but also pretty awesome -- you could go for any gruyere, cheddar, whatever, just don't use mozza because you want some flavour here.) Cooks doesn't call for cheese, but 3 Brasseurs uses it and I wanted it, so there.

Technically you should use a slab of bacon and cut it into lardons, but I was all out, so I just used some thickly sliced bacon insted. Chop it into good sized chunks and fry it up over medium heat until crispy.

Your onions need to be sliced thinly. I cut them in half from stem to root, then peel away the skin, lay them on their sides and slice away. The recipe calls for 4 medium onions, but the two big ones I had were plenty.

They need to be carmelised for this recipe. To do this, just put them in a pan with some bacon fat (or oil if you don't have any kicking around) over medium heat.

Then cover and let them sweat for about 10 minutes.

After that, take the lid off and gently stir them every now and then until they are your preferred level of browness (or until you are too hungry to wait any longer).

While you're doing all this bacon and onion stuff, you should be heating your oven and pizza stone (it's late in the game to say this, but you need a pizza stone). Mine has, shall we say, a certain patina, but that is because during the summer I use it outside on the grill over charcoal, and it sits inside the oven permanently during the winter, so it has had the chance to develop some character. The oven has to be hot -- like 500 degrees hot.

Next step is to prepare your creme fraiche. Just take a cup of it, add some salt and pepper and a grating of nutmeg, and stir.

Then comes the dough part. This recipe makes two flamms, so start with half the dough and gently pat it down on a lightly floured piece of parchment paper. The Cooks Illustrated recipe calls for rolling the dough on the parchment while covered with plastic wrap, and then sliding the flamm (parchment and all, without the plastic wrap) onto your pizza stone. I really hesitated here. After all, Ray Bradbury told us that paper burns at 451 F, and my oven is at 500 F. I was sure I would end up with some blackend carbon coating on my flamm if I tried this. In the end, I rolled the dough out on parchement with my trusty and cool rolling pin that came all the way from Nova Scotia. The dough should be very thin -- if it's about pizza stone size, you're all set!

I then bailed on the whole parchment plan, and transferred the dough to my floured pizza peel and started assembling.

A word to the wise. The peel to stone step is not for the faint of heart. It's one of those no guts, no glory moments. Either you or the pizza will win. Just make sure it's you. One way to increase your chances of success is to give the peel a shake once you add your dough (to make sure there are no sticking points) and to keep the dough close to the edge so it has less wood to travel over. Another key is to work really fast once it hits the peel so it doesn't have time to start sticking. So....!

Coat the dough with creme fraiche.

Add your onions and bacon (mmmm...bacon).

Add the cheese.

And slide it in the oven (use the force if you must: Close your eyes, Luke). After 5-7 minutes it will look like this. You can prepare your second flamm while the first one is cooking (altough you will need a second peel to pull this off) or just wait until the first one is out before you start the second act.

To get it out of the oven, just lift the edge a bit with a spoon or whatever, and slide the peel under (this is another of those moments where you will either win or the flamm will get shoved to the back of the stove and dissapper -- so be resolute!) It will look so wonderful!

Slice and serve with a nice beer using the glass you got from your inspiring trip to Montreal. As I said, the 3 Brasseurs beers can't leave the site, so I made do with some nice Chimay Bleue (this may have been a sad lapse of judgement given my poorly timed cold, but there is no way I was going to have my flamm without an appropriate beer! Plus, I believe in the healing properties of beer -- especially beer made by monks).

Three cheers for the 3 Brasseurs! Huzzah!

1 comment:

  1. OMG - can you pleeeease open a restaurant too so i can just read your blog then go eat once you've made all that incredible effort? Thanks!! :]