Sunday, July 22, 2012

French Fougasse

I love having an excuse to try something new. I mean, it's not like I need much of an excuse to cook or bake, but having an actual excuse for it is nice once in a while! 

When I saw the theme for this month's Bread Baking Day, I was torn for a bit.  The theme was France. Now, I am not French, and I don't claim to know much about France. In fact, I know embarrassingly little about France. So my first thought was croissants. Or Pain au chocolate. Or brioche. All of which are absolutely delicious. And all of which I have tried my hand at, in one form or another, before.

So I turned to my trusty friend Google to try to come up with some new ideas. And that's when I saw the fougasse (foo-gahz), sometimes referred to as ladder bread due to its interesting shaping.

I started looking for fougasse recipes, but they were all very different. While not all of the recipes that I found followed this rule, I did see that many trusted bakers feel that a lean dough (one that does not include oil or some other fat) makes for the best results.  I was about to decide on using Peter Reinhart's recipe for French bread from the Bread Baker's Apprentice when I found this recipe. It looked so basic and simple that I just had to try it.

The recipe is very straightforward.

Incorporate a little bit of yeast into a lot of bread flour.

Mix in a bit of salt, stir in some water, then, when it begins resembling dough, turn it out onto your work surface.

To knead this bread, I am sure you could use a stand mixer with a dough hook, but the recommended method was actually one of stretching the dough out and folding it over itself. Repeatedly.  Despite the appearance of the "dough" in its barely incorporated state in the photo above, this dough is actually very wet (has a high hydration level), so this method of kneading is very effective.  And provides the baker with a bit of exercise. After a while, the dough begins to come away somewhat cleanly from the counter and becomes a bit less sticky. That's when you know you've done well.

No flour was added to the dough during the kneading - you don't want to mess with the hydration. The flour you see there was just sprinkled onto the work surface at the last minute so that the dough could be shaped (somewhat) into a ball and transferred to a bowl to rest.

The recipe said to allow the dough to rest for "at least" one hour. As we were pretty busy in the kitchen, ours rested for two and a half hours. And it seemed to have been a very productive rest for the dough!

The dough is than poured out, carefully, onto the work surface once again, where it is divided and shaped. I used half of the dough, which I carefully pressed into a vaguely rectangular shape with my hands on a cornmeal-dusted-parchment-lined cookie sheet, to create what seems to be the most traditional shaping of a fugasse. One cut through the center...

Surrounded by three diagonal cuts on each side.

The cuts are stretched a bit and the bread goes into a very hot oven.

While bread number one was baking, I divided the second half of the dough into two smaller portions and shaped them into triangles, each with three cuts.

I brushed each of these breads generously with olive oil, then sprinkled on seasonings - one was sprinkled with Herbes de Provence, one with coarse salt.

Then the first bread came out of the oven.

As soon as he saw it, little man said "wow!"

Then the other two baked.

The salted bread:

And the herbed bread:

I have to say, these had quite the fun look to them.

The plain one actually made me think that I should make these around Halloween time.. I mean, doesn't that look almost jack-o-lantern-y??

I definitely think we are going to always brush the tops with oil from now on - it gave the bread a really nice color, not to mention a bit of extra crispness to the crust.

But, most important, the taste test.

Daddy and little miss told me that this is the best bread that they have ever tasted.

Not that I have ever made - that they have ever had. Ever.  Now that is BIG praise.

Little miss said "Umm, mommy, I don't think these breads are going to last very long..."

And she was right. They didn't.

I will definitely be making this again.

(This post has been submitted to Yeastspotting, of the Wild Yeast blog)

(from J's Kitchen)

500 grams bread flour
5 grams active dry yeast
10 grams salt
375 ml water

Stir yeast into the flour until evenly distributed. Stir in salt, then water, and mix until the dough begins to form.
Transfer the dough to a clean work surface. Continue mixing/kneading the dough by stretching it out and folding it over onto itself repeatedly and from each direction. Continue working the dough until it comes away cleanly from the work surface and is not (or, for me, is less...) sticky.
Move the dough to a floured area of your work surface, and shape the dough into a ball (as best as you can - it is still a wet dough). Transfer the dough into a lightly oiled (large!) bowl, cover it with a tea towel (or plastic wrap) and allow it to rest for at least one hour.
After the dough has rested, turn it out (carefully) onto a floured work surface. Generously flour the top of the dough, then cover with a tea towel and allow it to rest for another five minutes or so.
Preheat your oven as high as it can go (500 degrees F, for me...)
Using a plastic scraper (or spatula, or whatever tool works for you), divide your dough as desired (depending on the size you want your finished breads, cut it into more or fewer pieces).
Make your cuts in the dough all the way through the dough (though not to the edges) to create the desired design in the dough. The traditional pattern is one long cut surrounded by three diagonal cuts on either side of it.
If desired, brush your shaped loaves with olive oil and sprinkle with seasonings to taste.
You can bake your bread either on your pizza stone (shape the bread on a well floured/cornmeal-covered pizza peel and transfer it to the hot stone) or on a baking sheet that has been lined with parchment and sprinkled with cornmeal.
Bake the bread for 10-12 minutes, until golden brown.



  1. And that's why bread - just boring water, flour, salt, yeast - is always a charge. Beautiful bread.

  2. Yes the plain one looks very Jack O' Lantern-ish. What a great idea to make spooky face fougasse at Halloween.
    Your bread does look amazing!

  3. Wow - they look really different - and great feedback on the home front - thanks for sharing :)

  4. We sold fougasse in the deli I used to work in, but it never looked as good as yours! So beautiful.


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