This is a lovely French bread that is easy to make and looks great. It is excellent left plain but it flirts with magnificence when all manner of exciting goodies get added to the dough.
Torn apart and eaten as it comes (and warm!) a fougasse is great, but it comes into its own when dunked into gutsy dips such as baba ghanoush, tapenade or crème fraîche mixed with a couple of bulbs of garlic that have been roasted with rosemary and crushed together.
Using a pre-ferment (poolish) for extra flavour
I often make my fougasses, and indeed many of my breads, using a very simple pre-ferment, or poolish. This is just flour, water and a tiny amount of yeast mixed together, covered and left overnight to become spongey and wonderfully fragrant.
The poolish really does add a significant boost to the flavour of the bread, not to mention giving it an improved structure and texture.
If you don’t want to make up the poolish, simply increase the flour in the recipe to 500g and the water to 350-400ml.
Black olives are a favourite ingredient of mine when it comes to bread. As are sun-dried tomatoes and cheese: Comté cheese is particularly excellent in bread.
The sharp saltiness of the olives is wonderful and the intensity of the tomatoes with the richness of the melted cheese is insanely addictive.
The proportions for the flavourings does not need to be exact, but about 100g or so per large fougasse will do nicely – you want to see the chunks of whichever flavours you are adding to the dough and you should be able to taste the flavours in each mouthful.
I often like to knead the added flavours into the dough after the first rise when making more than one flavour, but you can just push them into the dough before shaping: especially if you are splitting the dough to go for more than one flavour.
Another great flavour variation is roasted garlic with fresh rosemary and sea salt – sublime!
Fougasse – makes 3 large ones or 6 small ones
for the poolish (mixed up in seconds the night before!):
- 100g strong white bread flour
- 1/8 teaspoon easy-blend yeast (or a pinch): the tiny amount of yeast will work
- 100ml water
for the bread dough:
- 400g strong white bread flour
- 250-300ml water (I use cool tap water)
- 7g easy-blend yeast
- 10g fine sea salt
for the flavourings:
- olive fougasse: about 100g pitted and roughly chopped olives (green, black or a mixture) per fougasse
- tomato & Comté fougasse: about 50g chopped oven-dried or sun-dried tomatoes and 50g Comté cheese cut into small cubes per fougasse
- fine semolina or flour
(1) Make the poolish the night before: simply mix the flour and yeast together. Add the water and mix to form a thick batter. Cover with clingfilm and leave at room temperature overnight or up to a couple of days (the longer you leave it, the more pronounced the flavour will be).
(2) The following day, mix the flour, yeast and salt together. Add the poolish and enough water to form a soft and fairly sticky dough. Knead for about 15 minutes until smooth and elastic, trying not to add too much flour.
(3) Put in a bowl and cover with clingfilm. Leave to rise at room temperature until at least doubled in size – I normally go for a couple of hours in a fairly cool kitchen or else leave to rise overnight in the fridge to maximise the flavour.
(4) Turn the dough onto a work surface that has been dusted with fine semolina. Split the dough into 3 pieces (or 6 pieces for smaller ones) and stretch each into a long, rough oval, trying not to deflate the dough too much.
(5) Flavour each fougasse any way you want:
- for the olive fougasse: push the olives into one half of the dough and fold the top half of the dough over this, patting gently
- for the tomato and Comté fougasse: push the tomatoes and Comté into one half of the dough and fold the top half of the dough over this, patting gently
(6) Lift each piece of dough on baking sheets that have been lined with greaseproof and dusted fine semolina and sprinkle some semolina over the top. Stretch out to a rough oval shape. Don’t worry if there are pieces of olive or cheese etc.. poking through: it is all part of the rustic charm!
(7) Make a cut or two lengthways down the middle of each dough, making sure you don’t go to the edges. Then make several diagonal cuts on each side of the main cut, almost resembling stems of a leaf. Gently pull the dough outwards to spread it out some more and to enable to cuts to open up a little.
Top tip: another sprinkling of fine semolina on top ensures your fingers don’t stick to the dough when you pull it outwards
(8) Leave to rest, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, at room temperature while you pre-heat the oven to its highest setting. Put a solid roasting tin on the bottom of the oven.
(9) When the oven has reached temperature, pour cold water into the roasting tray which will help create steam in the oven. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes turn the temperature down to 220C (fan oven). Bake at this temperature for about 10 more minutes until golden brown. Cool on wire racks.