There is beer, so cold, so refreshing, and so easy to drink — especially on long summer nights along the Spree. And then there is wine. White in the summer. Red in the Fall and Winter, but mostly there is only red wine for me.
Red wine. At 24, off of a street corner in Les Halles in a restaurant where we ordered plate after plate of food from the Basque country, a Frenchman once told me that red wine was always preferred. White wine was for fish. No other time, he emphasized.
And with these brief words, my transition from white to red was complete, especially during the colder months.
As inhabitants of cruel bitterly-cold climates, we have had to build warmth from within to survive. The thought of Fall always conjures up for me a cashmere sweaters, warm wool blankets, a good book and rows and rows of candles as torrential rains and violent gusts of wind tear the last of the leaves off the trees and rattle the large windows of the Altbauhäuser in Berlin, red wine to accompany you on another quiet fall day.
Or so I always thought. But after all, you do live in Germany, and in the end, you spend most of your days riding to and from work, soaked through because of that same torrential rain. And the joys of Fall aren’t always exactly what you dreamed they would be.
Living in a foreign country means that your expectations are constantly checked by reality. And sometimes reality serves you pleasant surprises.
Flammkuchen and specifically Zwiebelkuchen and Federweisser is one of these wonderful surprises. Served in October just as the leaves turn brown. It tastes so of Fall and of the new harvest that for at least a few weeks, I had to set aside my red wine and chose instead this savory lightly fermented grape juice.
Federweisser (Feder=Feather, weisser=white. In other words, the drink of white feathers) is a slightly alcoholic wine that tastes somewhere between wine and grape juice. This is a wine whose fermentation has just begun. Fresh off the shelves it tastes mostly of grape juice, a wine that is only at its first stages of fermentation, but if you can also leave it to ferment, intensifying the flavor as the yeast converts the grape’s sugars into alcohol.
And then there is the Flammkuchen and specifically with Federweisser Zwiebelkuchen,a type of burnt flatbread that was common in Southern Germany and the Alsace region. Flammkuchen or tarte flambeé, as it is more commonly called, was a way to test the wood oven’s temperature before adding bread.
I have become slightly obsessed with the ovens of the past since I first wrote about how one used to bake cakes. Here is yet another example of humanity’s ingenuity, a tarte flambeé would be thrown on the fire and if it cooked in one or two minutes, that signaled that the oven was hot enough for baking the weekly bread.
Fire, warmth, the hearth and the harvest bounty. Fall. How fitting then that as you transition to mornings where you can see your breath and you are greeted with a light that already seems to be fading, you have a dish that so closely tastes of the fire.
I should note that most of the recipes I found for Zwiebelkuchen were more similar to a quiche than a Flammkuchen (Zwiebelkuchen is baked with eggs, on the other hand Flammkuchen looks almost like a pizza with very simple ingredients (bacon, creme fraiche and onions), but no eggs. If you are more interested in making Tarte Flambee, go ahead and check this recipe out!
Zwiebelkuchen (translated from chefkoch.de)