Olive and Rosemary Fougasse
I don’t make fancy breads often, because bread in my home is mostly consumed for breakfast in manageable slices that fit into the toaster to crisp up.
I knew I wasn’t going to be able to fit this into the toaster, and just the mere thought of hacking up this fiery leaf- I mean loaf, of bread into misshapen pieces, slicing it open thinly just so I can spread or lay something over it would almost kill me. I’m not fond of making things that are too pretty to eat. Hence my lack of interest in cupcakes, food paint, fondant for cakes and food colouring.
But then this isn’t your typical breakfast bread, although please, feel free to do as you will with what you made fresh from your oven and with your two bare hands.
Yet when I saw how simple these were to make, and how they promised deliciously edible Ego Boost in the form of the heady fragrance of olives and perfume-y rosemary embedded in one of the most rustic and beautiful patterns one could carve out of dough, I just had to. And guess what? Everything – from the mixing to the heart-stoppingly frightening moment when it’s time to slide the fragile-looking doughs into the oven and to when they emerge crackly and golden – took less than 2 hours. I think I came out of the kitchen, a little dusted with flour and bearing what Richard Bertinet calls the Fougasse Grin, which essentially reads as ‘Look what I’ve made!’.
Olive and Rosemary Fougasse
The fougasse means many things depending on where it comes from. This one’s French. Yeah I said it as though it came out of the oven wearing a beret. It is common to add anchovies, cheese, parmesan and different herbs to the dough before baking. I would imagine that sun-dried tomatoes and parmesan would be a killer combination that I’ll have to try in the near future. You could definitely turn this into a sweet bread with the addition of chocolate chips (which I do not like as I’ve expressed here), nuts, raisins and such, like how I decided recently to jazz up the humble pizza. But more of that for a later post.
More often than not now, I use my bread machine’s Dough function to mix up everything since I can’t be bothered to knead for 15-20 minutes anymore. I do, however, knead the dough a little after taking it out of the machine to get a feel of it and to smoothen it out. For those without a stand mixer or bread maker, it’s time to get a little elbow grease in. But do not fear! There will be absolutely no punching and pushing and grunting involved, and no need to flour your work surface at all. I’m not joking. Here’s a video of my favourite baker whose technique for kneading I’ve adopted and has rewarded me with plenty of those breads with fantastic holes. Without this technique, doughs with high hydration (ie. those that will create them holes) will not be possible to knead by hand because the addition of more flour to ease the difficulty in kneading the dough will, in turn, be absorbed by the dough, drop it’s hydration and give you Gardenia holes. You don’t want that.
Don’t be discouraged if you do fail, because only 1 out of 4 fougasse I made turned out stunning.
So go on.
If there’s a first time for everything, a first time for your first bread – this is it. Whatever yours turns out looking like, I can promise that it’ll taste fantastic.
Olive and Rosemary Fougasse recipe adapted from Dough by Richard Bertinet
Makes 4 fougasse
- 500g bread flour
- 1 tsp instant yeast
- 10g salt
- 350g water
- 8 pitted olives, chopped finely
- 2 stalks of fresh rosemary, chopped finely
Mix the flour, yeast and water together. Add the salt after 10 minutes of hand-kneading or 3 minutes of mixing with a stand-mixer or bread machine. Once the dough reaches a smooth, elastic and bouncy consistency, add the olives and rosemary and continue to knead till they are as evenly distributed as possible. Let the dough rest for 1 hour in a warm place in a mixing bowl and covered with a damp cloth.
After 1 hour, flour your work surface well and gently ease the dough out of the bowl with a dough scraper. Handle the dough as gently as possible from here on because you want to keep as much air in the dough as possible. Preheat the oven to 250C with a metal baking tray set in the middle rack.
1. So here we have the dough that has rested for an hour.
2. With your metal dough scraper, or a sharp knife, divide the dough into half down the middle.
3. And then into quarters.
4. You’ll now have 4 almost triangular pieces of dough. Use flour liberally to handle the dough better if needed. Flour can be used with ease at this point in time because all the initial kneading and resting has been done so additional flour on the surface will not alter the dough’s consistency.
5. Using your fingertips first, gently press the dough to stretch it. Then using the knuckles of your closed fists, gently roll and stretch, allowing gravity to aid you in pulling the bread so as not to pierce a hole in the dough with your fingers.
6. Your piece of dough should be stretched out till about 2cm in thickness. Don’t worry if the thickness isn’t uniform.
7. Flour your wooden peel generously. You may need 2 to hold all 4 fougasses. If you don’t have a peel, a wooden chopping board that’s large enough may be substituted (such plywood can be bought for as cheap as $2 each). You can try plastic cutting boards or even metal trays, but I cannot promise that your dough won’t stick no matter how much flour you put. If you’re not confident either way, place your doughs directly onto the metal baking tray which you will use to bake the bread instead of preheating the tray as the oven heats up as mentioned earlier. This will not affect your bread drastically*.
8. Using a sharp knife, cut one long slash down the middle of the dough.
9. Gently tug on the dough to enlarge the hole. For every subsequent cut you make, stretch the holes because the bread puffs up while baking. If there are too many cuts or if they aren’t large enough, they may close up as the bread bakes.
10. Your first finished fougasse, ready for the oven. It is highly important to have your peels very well floured because even the slightest bit of dough that sticks will ruin the shape of the dough as you slide it into the oven.
Rest the doughs for 15 minutes, covered (so that they’ll rise slightly again since a considerable amount of air would have been pushed out as you were handling the dough). Bake for 10 minutes till lightly browned and crisp. Cool on a wire rack.
*Peels may be done away with if you’re truly inconfident. The purpose of sliding bread onto a preheated metal tray or a stone is to mimic how bakers slide entire loaves into a brick oven, where the bread immediately starts baking the moment it hits the hot surface instead of heating up with the surface. It helps the bread rise better. But as I said, it isn’t entirely crucial because the bread will rise anyway in a hot oven. It just depends on how much.