Fougasse – Again!

Week Twenty-Seven: Try It Again; This Time With Feeling.


Well, it’s that time again: I’ve gotten through another three months.  That’s right, Faithful Readers, it’s the halfway point!  Woo!  Six months down, six months to go!


So this means that this week, like the final week of the first quarter of the year, I’m devoting my time to re-doing all those breads that didn’t quite turn out right the first time around.  For those of you just joining in, I’ll explain.  You may have noticed that one of my rules for this year was to make a different recipe of bread each day.  That  is all well and good; except that it doesn’t give me the chance to address or correct any mistakes.  It also means, unfortunately, that if there was a particularly enjoyable bread, I have to wait until at least January 1st to taste it again!  (And I think we all know how much cooking anyone does that day, assuming the night before goes according to plan, am I right?)

So, to kick things off this week, I’m giving fougasse another try.  You may have noticed a dirty little trick I used in that post; writing mainly about the history of the bread, and not a whole lot about the flavor of that particular end product.  Yes, I’m afraid that was because it didn’t turn out terribly well.  It was rather dry and crumbly, not at all what I had such high hopes for.

Of course, that may also have been the result of me not getting to taste it until the morning after it was baked, generally a big faux pas for fougasse.  Fougasse, originally, were created as a way of checking the temperature of an oven.  They were essentially the smallest bits of dough you could bake while not wasting any, and still ending up with something to serve at dinner.  Being by nature so quick to bake, they also dry out quickly; you will most always find, somewhere in the recipe, an admonition to eat fougasse the same day it’s made.

So I confess, I didn’t taste my fougasse until 12 to 16 hours after it was baked, during which time it certainly dried out.  But even still, I think it was probably on the dry side from the minute it came out of the oven.  What a waste of delicious cheese, pistachios, and orange flower water!  This time around, I decided to use a more humble, but still quite authentically Provençal, flavoring: oil-cured olives.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with oil-cured olives, but I just love them.  They look a bit like giant raisins, all shriveled up.  But oh, man! do they pack a punch!  I find them much to strong to eat out of hand; but chopped up, I can find a million uses for them.  If you like some giant flavors (think caramelized onions, crushed red pepper, anchovies, etc.), you’re sure to love these.  Here, though, I’ve used a restrained hand with them, using just enough to get little punches of concentrated olive flavor throughout the bread, but not enough to overwhelm.

And this time, I did well.  I’m quite proud of these fougasse (fougasses?)! 

Like the first time around, this dough uses a starter, which lends a greater complexity of flavor, but also makes the dough easier to work with while shaping.  The shaping is deceptively simple to achieve – just flatten, cut, and pull, how easy is that!? – but every little bit helps.  And remember, if the dough starts to resist being shaped, just cover it and give it a 10 minute nap!

The crumb this time is a bit short, from the olive oil, meaning that you won’t find a chewy, artisinal bread (with long gluten, get it?) here; it’s more akin to certain pizza crusts in texture.  The hits of salty olive in the dough is nicely enhanced with a light dusting of salt on top, and gives everything just enough flavor.  And so pretty, too!  Could you even imagine a prettier centerpiece for a special meal?  I’m calling this one a firm success.  And I think this version might just go in my permanent recipe file!


the streaks on the dough are from lazily drizzling on the olive oil; it's best to brush it on gently!


Cured-Olive Fougasse
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine
Makes 2 loaves

For starter:
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast (see note 1 below)
2 1/4 ounces (1/2 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup moderately hot water (120º to 130° F)

For dough:
1 tablespoon honey
2/3 cup warm water (100º to 110º F)
2 teaspoons orange-flower water (optional)
1/3 cup olive oil, plus extra for brushing on shaped dough
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus extra for finishing
15 ounces (about 3 1/4 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 cup oil-cured black olives, pitted and chopped finely

1.  To make starter, whisk together flour and yeast in bowl of mixer.  Add water, and whisk until mixture is smooth.  Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise 30 minutes, or refrigerate for up to 8 hours.  If refrigerated, let come to room temperature 20 minutes before proceeding.

2.  To make dough, stir the honey into the warm water until dissolved.   Add that mixture, the orange-flower water, olive oil, and half of the flour to the starter in the mixer bowl.  Using the dough hook at low speed, mix until smooth, about 1 minute.  Add all but 1 ounce (1/4 cup) of the remaining flour, and knead at low speed until a soft dough forms.  Increase the speed to medium-low, and knead until smooth and elastic, and the dough forms a cohesive ball that pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 5 minutes.  Add the remaining flour as needed to achieve the proper consistency.

3.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface.  Knead a few times, sprinkling the work surface lightly with flour if dough is very sticky, forming dough into a ball with a skin stretched around the outside.  Transfer the dough, smooth side up, to a large, lightly oiled bowl, turning dough to coat all sides with oil.  Cover with plastic wrap and let dough rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

4.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface.  Gently deflate, and press the dough into a round about 10 inches across, or as big as the dough will allow.  Don’t force it; stop if the dough starts to resist.  Sprinkle the olives across the surface of the dough, and fold the sides in to cover the olives.  Knead gently until the olives are evenly integrated throughout the dough (some may fall out, just press them back in).  Cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap, and let rest 15 minutes.

5.  Lightly oil two baking sheets, or line with parchment paper.  Divide the dough into two equal pieces.  Press or roll each half out to an oval about 12 inches long and 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.  If the dough starts to resist, cover loosely, and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes before trying again.  Carefully transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheets, one loaf per sheet.

6.  Using a sharp knife or a bench scraper, make a cut down center of each oval, being sure to cut all the way through, and leaving a 1 inch border on each end of the cut.  Make 3 shorter diagonal cuts on each side of the first cut, leaving a 1-inch border on each end of the cuts.  The result is meant to look like the veins of a leaf; do not connect the cuts.  Using your fingers, gently stretch the dough and pull the cuts apart to form holes about 1 1/2 inches across.  Let the shaped loaves rest, uncovered, until slightly risen, about 30 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 375° F.

7.  Gently brush the loaves with olive oil, being careful not to deflate, and sprinkle lightly with additional kosher salt.  Bake at 375º F for 20 minutes, then switch the positions of the baking sheets and rotate 180º, to ensure even baking.  Continue baking for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on bottom.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly before serving.

1.  If using active-dry yeast, increase the amount to 2 teaspoons.  Additionally, your water should be a bit cooler, at 105º to 115º F.

2.  Fougasse are best served the day they’re made; but that’s not an option, or if you can’t finish it all, you can freeze them, wrapped tightly.  Thaw in a 350º oven for 5 to 10 minutes, or until warmed through.

3.  The orange flower water is optional, but it lends a nice note if you have some around.  If you don’t, you could substitute orange juice or additional water instead.

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