Fougasse! A week ago I didn’t even know what the heck a fougasse is. Now? Boy, am I glad you asked! They’re crispy and golden and just awesome and gorgeous! And did you see the shape? They’re leaf-shaped! How cool is that? That untechnically makes them a vegetable and any day now I’m gonna make a fougasse salad, with some good olive oil and balsamic vinegar. No kidding.
This past week I’ve been in a bread-making frenzy, and these beautiful fougasse are my favourite so far! I have been so happy to stick my hands in a gigantic pile of dough and watch it rise and bubble and retrieve loaf after loaf of fresh, hot bread from the oven and stuff my face with a slice (or five) of fluffy, crusty goodness! My dad is happy too, but for a different reason- his days of eating dense, gummy loaves of brick produced by his daughter are officially over!
But before we start talking about these beautiful fougasse, I’d like to introduce Mr Bubbles. Nope, not my boyfriend. That spot’s taken. 😉
Mr Bubbles is my new pet, and he’s just born last week. And since then I’ve been excitedly feeding him and playing with him and training him to do stuff and documenting his growth, like any other doting pet owner.
Except it’s a little different.
You see, Mr Bubbles is a sourdough starter. Don’t look at me like that- all sourdough starters need a little love and attention, and that includes respecting whatever name they choose to adopt!
But seriously now, having a sourdough starter is awesome. It’s a wonderful experience watching your starter slowly ferment, bubble, and mature as the yeast and bacteria in the environment make themselves at home in that ordinary bit of flour and water.
It seems odd to jump straight into the realm of sourdough when I’m still struggling to bake with commercial yeast. After all, sourdough is supposed to be more finicky and needs more adapting as compared to commercial yeast. But somehow, sourdough has actually worked better for me than anything I’ve done before.
Perhaps it’s precisely the amount of variables that makes it work- instead of ‘rise for 2 hours’, I get ‘rise for 6-12 hours, until doubled or tripled in size’. So instead of watching the clock and getting impatient, I let the dough do its thing at its own leisure, and celebrate every centimetre of growth. It’s not easy waiting, but the waiting will be rewarded.
I’ve also just made up a recipe for dough on several occasions. The fougasse and square loaf shown here are both breads made from the same batch of ‘improvised’ dough. But it’s not just randomly throwing starter, flour, water, and salt together- one important thing I’ve learnt from reading the bread forums (eg., TheFreshLoaf) is the hydration, which is the proportion of water to flour by weight.
For example, a 66.7% hydration dough that weighs 500 g will have 300 g of flour and 200 g of water in total. So if you use 100 g of 100% hydration starter, you only need add 250 g of flour and 150 g of water from your starter.
I’ve found that I like the hydration at around 68-72%. From there I calculate how much starter, flour, and water I need. For salt, I use one teaspoon for every 1000 g of dough. After some rising, some shaping, some more rising, and some baking I am rewarded with a nice fluffy loaf of bread with a pretty crust.
This bread beats store-bought bread hands down! And I’m no professional, just some girl who did a week’s worth of research and filling her head with words like hydration, autolyse, double hydration, steam injection, oven spring, gluten development, retardation, amylase, lactobacillus, etc. Rest assured, I’m not going to unleash the whole truckload of technicality that I’ve barely begun to understand here. But you can really learn an awful lot from the internet!
For example, you learn that fougasse is a French bread similar to the Italian foccacia. They even sound kind of similar to each other, because they come from the same root word. Fougasse and foccacia are both flat breads traditionally baked on the floors of big, wood fired ovens. Today, there is quite a difference between the two- expect to find copious amount of olive oil and herbs in foccacia, and there will also be the unmistakable dimples that are created for the express purpose of catching that flavourful oil.
While focaccia has dimples, fougasse has slits. The slits are supposed to represent ears of wheat, but I prefer to cut them closer to each other so that the fougasse resembles a giant leaf. Do what you like- after the first one or two fougasse you’ll get a good idea of how you want to cut yours.
Fougasse can really be made with any kind of reasonably loose and wet dough. It should be quite soft and floppy. You could do a lot worse than a simple white bread recipe, for example, one by Richard Bertinet. I also highly recommend watching his video here, which is how I learned about fougasse for the very first time. I swear the guy makes bread look effortless!
Let’s say we already have a dough that’s been slowly rising and bubbling away. After the first rise is over, you turn it out onto a well floured surface without deflating it too much. You gently stretch it out with your hands, until you get a more or less flat piece of bubbly dough. Cut it into rough triangles the size of your palm.
Then you get a flat object -let’s say, a dough scraper, or as Bertinet suggests, a credit card- and press decisively down the centre of the triangle to create a big slit. On either side of the cut you cut smaller diagonal slits. Gently open up these slits and you’ve got a beautifully shaped piece of dough.
Just remember not to make your cuts too close to the edges.
And when you’re done, remember to spend some time admiring your handiwork. If you want photos but don’t want to cover your camera with flour, ask your dad for help.
Thanks Dad! You’re the best. 🙂
All that remains when everything’s ready, is to bake! Place in an oven preheated at 250°C and bake for 10 minutes, or until golden brown. It might take longer or shorter depending on the oven. Watch them and don’t let the bottoms burn.
I shared these fougasse with my dad while they were still warm and crispy. They made a wonderful lunch served with a quick minestrone soup made with lots of veggies and beans. It was easily the best meal of the week!
My mom also got a taste of fougasse when she came home from work in the evening. The fougasse reheated quite well in the toaster oven- she said she loved it, and she wasn’t even a big fan of the flavour of sourdough!
This has been quite a long post, but as you can tell I’m head over heels with these sourdough fougasse and simply can’t stop talking about them! Below are the recipes from my notes, but feel free to use any recipe for the dough if sourdough’s not your thing.
If you’ve got any suggestions or comments, please do write them below. I’ve just barely started this whole thing with bread making, and while I don’t know much yet, I’d be happy to share what I’ve learnt so far.
Happy baking! 🙂
Sourdough Starter Recipe
Flour (plain/ all purpose/ whole wheat/ rye/ etc.)
- Measure out 50 g each of flour and water. Stir together in a large bowl and leave to sit near a window. If you’ve got flies, cover loosely with a plastic wrap.
- After a day, give it a good stir. Do this for 2 days.
- Add 25 g each of flour and water.
- Repeat steps 2 and 3 for a week or two.
- When your starter gets good and bubbly, and develops a slightly alcohol-y, acidic smell, it is ready. Measure out the amount you need, and ‘feed’ the remaining by adding a 1 to 1 ratio (by weight) of flour and water.
- Transfer your starter to a container with plenty of headroom and store it in the fridge. Don’t forget to feed it at least twice a week!
Sourdough Fougasse Recipe
250 g sourdough starter (100% hydration)
455 g plain or strong flour
295 g water
1 teaspoon sea salt
Directions (for reference only)
- In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients using a spoon or a fork. It will be a big and very sticky mass- resist the urge to add any flour.
- Dump the dough onto a clean surface and work it by pushing it away from yourself and folding it back on itself. Again, resist the urge to add flour. The bench scraper is your best friend.
- After 10 minutes, the dough should be less shaggy but just as sticky. Dump it back into the bowl and cover.
- Let the dough relax and bubble for 3 hours. Every hour or so, wet your hands with water and gently fold the dough back on itself once or twice.
- When the 3 hours are up, move the dough to the fridge overnight, for 6 to 12 hours. This allows the flavours to develop more fully.
- In the morning, preheat the oven to 250ºC. Gently turn the bubbly dough out onto a well floured surface and flour the top of the dough as well. Pull and stretch to flatten the dough to the thickness of your thumb.
- Using the bench scraper, cut the dough into 12 rough triangles. Make a large slit down the centre of the triangle, and a few smaller diagonal ones on either side. Open up the slits and arrange on a baking tray.
- Bake for 10 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp.
- Serve warm as is, or with a nice bowl of soup. Enjoy!