Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Baking Bread: Rustic Provençale Fougasse

Take not from the mouth of labor the bread that it has earned. – Thomas Jefferson

Cut shaped bread. Photo: SaijaLehto, Flickr ccl
In French cuisine, fougasse is a type of flat bread commonly associated with Provence but found in many other regions as well. The shape of the loaves takes many forms. A leaf shaped bread is quite usual, as is a sheaf of wheat shape. 

It's quite spectacular to bring a cut shaped loaf to the table for your guests to enjoy while dinner is being finished. Expect oohs and aahs. I find that a little funny because the shaping is extremely easy to do, and the result far exceeds the effort. Just remember, it doesn't have to perfect. That's the way "rustic" is supposed to be.

Photo: modus, Flickr ccl
If you don't want to risk wielding a sharp object on your bread don't despair. Sometimes fougasse is flattened and baked without any decoration or even left unflattened. This dough is also used as a sort of "sandwich" dough, where fillings are added and it is baked folded over itself, much like an Italian calzone.

History and etymology
From Wikipedia
In ancient Rome, panis focacius was a flat bread baked in the ashes of the hearth (focus in Latin). This became a diverse range of breads that include "focaccia" in Italian cuisine, "hogaza" in Spain, "fogassa" in Catalonia, "fugassa" in Ligurian, "pogača" in the Balkans, "fougasse" in Provence, "fouaisse" or "foisse" in Burgundy, and 'Sunblest' in Great Britain. The French versions are more likely to have additions in the form of olives, cheese, anchovies etc, which may be regarded as a primitive form of pizza without the tomato. There is also in Portugal the "fogaça", a sweet bread.

As Shakespeare said: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." I can vouch for that. This is one "sweet" smelling loaf both while baking and afterwards on the table. The olives and rosemary in this recipe are a wonderful taste, and believe it or not you can still taste the lemon rind. It's a classic combination.

Just to note, this bread is best served either the day of, or next after, baking. I assume you could freeze it, but I'm sure the final eating wouldn't be nearly as good as freshly baked. It never is.

Recipe: Rustic Fougasse with Olives and Rosemary
Makes 2 flat loaves

The bread after mixing, before first rise.
1-3/4 cups water, 110°F
2 tsp yeast
1-1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 cup olive oil, plus 2 tbsp
4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup black olives (packed in oil)
2 tsp dried rosemary
1 tbsp grated lemon rind
2 tbsp water
kosher or large grained sea salt

It's easier to do this recipe in a mixer with a dough hook (i.e. KitchenAid). If not simply use a regular bowl, but double the amount of kneading time cited.

Place the water in the mixer's bowl and add the yeast and sugar. Cover and place in a warm spot to proof the yeast. This will take 15 minutes.

Rolled and cut with a razor to make the leaf shape.
Take the proofed yeast and add the flour, salt and olive oil. Knead with the dough hook for 5 minutes. If  the dough crawls up the hook, stop the machine, push it off and continue on.

Pit and chop the black olives into manageable pieces. Grate the lemon rind. Add the olives and lemon to the dough. Continue to knead for a few minutes. If the olives don't incorporate after a short time, remove the bowl from the machine and knead by hand.

Take the dough out of the bowl, oil the bowl with 1 tbsp oil and place the dough back in, turning to coat the dough all over. Cover with plastic wrap and a cloth on top and sit in a warm spot. Let rise for 2 hours.

After the first rise, divide the dough and roll each dough into a flat oblong shape reminiscent of a leaf.  Place each shaped loaf on parchment paper which has been placed on a baking sheet.

One of the two finished breads. It was a hit at work.
Take a razor blade (or very sharp knife) and make 4 pairs of slits – all the way through – inside the dough mimicking the veins on a leaf. Then cut small slits in the outer edge of the shaped dough, between each of the original interior slits. Pull the edges out a little to accentuate the leaf shape.

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Let the dough rise for 1/2 hour.

Hindsight, which is always 20/20, would tell me I should have pulled apart my slits before the second rise to have bigger, dramatic holes in my final shape...

After the second rise (which won't be much), mix the remaining olive oil with 2 tbsp water. Brush each loaf with the mixture and sprinkle the coarse grained salt on each loaf.

Two baking sheets will probably take two racks in your oven. Bake for 30 minutes, turning the loaves and switching positions in the oven after 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Serve warm.


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