One thing I have not mastered yet and would give an eye and a tooth for is the perfect artisan loaf! Now that is surely not a good opening for a fougasse recipe, but hey, it’s the truth. You can only reach the dizzy heights of a perfect loaf with practice and much disappointment and heartache getting there. But the joy of getting there, the smell of hot bread wafting through the house and the neighbourhood is definitely worth persevering this almost mystical ritual – at least that is how I feel about it. The recipe for fougasse as for any other bread varies from baker to baker, house to house and region to region and all will swear by it. It is important to understand the do’s and don’ts of bread making – why do we knead for 10 minutes? Why not 20 minutes? What does kneading do to the flour and the gluten? What affect will this have on the final loaf? How long should a loaf be left to rise? What happens if it is left to over-rise? Arghhhhhhhhh! This is why we need to really love bread and the art of baking bread and accept the trials and tribulations of getting there as part of the pleasure for whatever the results, even a “failed” loaf is beautiful to behold, smells great and is delicious dipped in olive oil – the joys of paradise!
Notwithstanding all of the above, we must try and try again! It is the only way to master the art of the artisan baker, and of course we must read and watch videos and learn from others. I have often thought of going for bread making classes but never got around to it….maybe one day I will bite the bullet and do just that.
This herb fougasse recipe does not use the starter method, ie poolish or biga. Learn more about Poolish or biga by clicking on this useful link. The starter method takes longer and adds another step or two to the recipe. The texture of fougasse made with a starter is different to the one we are going to have a go at. This recipe makes a beautiful fougasse as you can see from the picture but it is slightly denser than fougasse made with the poolish or starter method – we can attempt that in due course, why not?? What’s to lose eh? Later on we will have a go at one of the mouth-watering variations; fougasse with olives or fougasse with sun dried tomatoes or even fougasse with caramelised onions to name a few. So let’s get started and shush all fear of baking bread out of the kitchen door…..
As always, I would love to hear from you; and remember, the only way to rise to the heavenly heights of the perfect loaf is to get your hands covered in flour!
Makes 2 medium loaves
1½ cups (300ml) warm water (body temperature, just tepid)
1½ teaspoon quick action dry yeast
4 level cups strong white bread flour (500 grams)
1 level teaspoon dried thyme
1 level teaspoon dried rosemary
1 level teaspoon dried basil
1½ teaspoons fine sea salt
1 teaspoon sugar
4 tablespoons olive oil
- Pour water into a large bowl and sprinkle the yeast on it. Stir to dissolve
- Add 1 cup flour, all the dried herbs, salt, sugar and 2 tablespoons olive oil and mix with wooden spoon
- Add rest of the flour, 1 cup at a time and mix – best to use your hands now as this will form a sticky dough
- Place the dough on a lightly floured large pastry board or silicone mat and knead for 10 minutes (it will be sticky so use a little flour on your hands). By the end of the kneading process the dough should be elastic and smooth and will have lost its stickiness – watch this video if you are unsure about how best to knead. Continue to knead if the dough is still sticky and tacky!
- Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with clean tea cloth or napkin and let it rise for 1.30 hours in a warm part of the kitchen. The dough will swell up beautifully and be more than double its original size and it should be springy if you poke it with your finger!
- Place the dough on a lightly floured pastry board or silicone mat and knock it down! Ouch, that hurts but has to be. Divide in half and pat and stretch each portion with your hands into two ovals – don’t worry too much about the shape. The loaves should be about a quarter of an inch thick.
- Place each fougasse on a separate oiled baking tray – about 12×10 inches.
- Make one long deep slash with a sharp knife straight through the dough, then some diagonal slashes in the shape of a leaf, also cut deep.
- Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with a little coarse sea salt and garnish with fresh rosemary if there is some growing in the garden, if not, sprinkle some dried herbs.
- Cover and leave to rest for 30 minutes.
- Place a small tray of water or sprinkle some water on the base of a preheated oven at 220C / 425F / gas mark 8. Now pop the loaves in the oven for 20 minutes (see note below)
- Brush liberally with olive oil and try with my spicy carrot soup – enjoy
Note: All ovens are different and temperatures tend to vary. I used my non-fan top oven. If yours is a fan assisted oven you may have to reduce the cooking time. Best practice is to check after 15 minutes by tapping the loaf with your finger – if it sounds hollow it is ready.