French food on a budget: Tarte au Maroilles

While in Antwerp for a museum visit (see: an Antwerp family reunion), I visited several of my favourite shops. One stocks an immense choice of national and international papers and magazines. I stumbled upon two back issues of the French magazine Cuisine.

Recipes don’t date easily. The two old issues focussed on easy and cheap dishes. So I invested in the back issues, which were sold at half price.

Here’s an easy and cheap main dish. It’s vegetarian as well! It’s called “Tarte au Maroilles”. “Tarte au Maroilles” is a traditional French recipe from Northern France. Think Italian pizza stripped of everything but the crust and cheese. Maroilles refers to the cheese. It is made in the northern regions of France and occasionally referred to as “stinky” – by non-fans.

There are several French deli’s in my village, but what they stock is not sold at budget prices. So I browsed the internet for a cheap alternative to Maroilles. Two were mentioned: Brie and Camembert. They’re not the real thing, but even non-fans do not refer to these as “stinky”.

Moreover, both don’t cost the earth and have edible crusts with a semi-soft centre. This is important. You need a French cheese which melts and has an edible crust. So if you prefer to use a local alternative, ensure it has an edible crust. I settled for Camembert.

The recipe is simple enough and practically 100% fool-proof. For things went wrong the first time I tried it. Yet, despite mistakes with the amount of dry yeast needed, the amount of flour necessary, the magazine’s recipe not mentioning how much water is needed and me forgetting to add salt … as well as using Camembert instead of Maroilles …

The end result was still so highly edible, it was polished off in one go. I had expected half of the Tarte would be left for next day’s lunch. In case you have a left-over, you can heat it up the next day in your oven, or in a non-stick frying pan over low heat. But make sure you eat your left-over within 48 hours.

Tarte au Maroilles – à la (add your name here, for you’re going to make your own version)

Vegetarian main dish which will serve 4 to 6 people and is usually served with a salad.
Takes about 30 minutes to prepare.
Needs 1 hour for the dough to rest and increase in size.
Needs between 20 to 30 minutes in an oven, preheated at 180/200C or set at gas 6.
Is ready when cheese and loaf have turned golden brown.

For the bread crust:

300 gr ordinary white wheat flour;
1 teaspoon of dry yeast – or check your dry yeast package to find out how much you need per 100 gr of flour;
1 teaspoon of salt (as I proved: can be left out);
According to the French recipe 18 cl of luke-warm water to dissolve the yeast in.
However: I found out I needed slightly more to make a decent bread dough. So have 50 cl ready of which you use about 18 cl to dissolve the dry yeast in. The rest can be slowly added to your dough mix.

For the topping:

350 gr Maroilles, or a good and affordable alternative cheese like Camembert or Brie;
According to the French recipe 4 spoons of créme fraïche – sorry: no alternative here. I bought the smallest carton the local supermarket stocks and used about half of it. The amount you need, will depend upon the size of your rolled out dough.
You may want to add pepper, or perhaps even cajun or another mix of spices and herbs.

Preparation:

Dissolve the dry yeast in about 18 cl of luke-warm water. Put the flour and salt in a bowl and add the water-yeast mix. If you’re using a kitchen machine, pour in the water-yeast mix first, before adding the flour. Start mixing and kneading, while adding luke-warm water as needed.
You need to end up with a bread dough which works into a homogenous, smooth ball. Cover the dough with a strip of plastic and a clean cloth and let it rest in a warm spot.
After about an hour, it should have doubled in size.

Preheat your oven at 180C for fan, or 200C. Take a pizza form or round baking tray. Cover it with baking paper which you have slightly dusted with flour. Take your dough, place it either directly on the form or roll it into the right round size on a flour dusted flat surface before moving it on to your baking paper lined tray.

The dough should be about 1 cm thick. If like me, you’re afraid the cheese may melt over the dough and mess up your oven, make sure you have a slightly higher rim all around to contain it. After putting the dough on the baking tray, brush the top with créme fraîche. Don’t be stingy.

Then cut the 350 g of cheese, without removing its crust. Cover your tarte completely with slices of cheese, leaving a small rim free to contain melted cheese. If you use Brie or a cheese without a strong taste, sprinkle your selection of pepper, spices, herbs over it now.

Slide the baking tray into the middle of your oven. Bake till the cheese has melted and turned a golden brown. As oven temperatures differ, check regularly towards the end and either remove earlier, or add a couple of minutes. Never let the cheese burn and make sure the dough in the centre has turned into a firm loaf bottom.

Need more help? There are plenty YouTube versions available, showing you various ways to make this dish.

Serve your Tarte au Maroilles warm, with a salad and red or white wine at lunch or dinner.

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