Monday, April 5, 2010

Olive and Sea Salt Fougasse

When I was in Paris a few weeks back I discovered the glories of this bread, fougasse, a kind of doughy salty miracle that is sold practically in every bakery. It usually comes with olives and cheese, often baked into the bread. This recipe in particular comes from the master French chef himself, Raymond Blanc, from his series Kitchen Secrets on the BBC.
I don't necessarily recommend watching the show for recipe tips. It'll just make you angry that you:

a) don't have a professional kitchen, complete with a helpful manservant named Adam (or as Raymond calls him Ad-am)

b) don't have 15+ hours to make fabulous starchy concoctions with which to impress your friends and loved ones.

Never fear. The recipe isn't nearly as hard as Raymond makes it look. And it does not require a professional oven. Nor fresh yeast. Nor any other kind of crazy kitchen tool he recommends.

No, no. This recipe is a good standard for doughy delicious bread. It does take time (the starter needs at least a good 12 hours before you approach the rest of the recipe), but it's worth it. And one recipe produces 4 loaves of glory. So you can eat one yourself and still feel generous in providing a bready banquet to your adoring public.

Makes 4 loaves


For the dough starter
5g fresh yeast (or 2.5 grams of instant)
135ml/4¾fl oz cold water
100g/3½oz strong white bread flour, preferably organic
100g/3½oz rye flour
For the dough
680ml/1 pint 4½fl oz tap water
940g/2lb 1¼oz traditional white bread flour, preferably organic, plus extra for dusting
130g/4½oz dark rye flour
15g/½oz fine sea salt
22g/¾oz fresh yeast (11g instant)

For the fougasse topping
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
¼ tsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
¼ tsp fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
2 tsp finely chopped black olives
30g/1oz semi-roasted tomatoes, roughly chopped
2-3 grindings black pepper


1. For the dough starter, whisk the yeast into the water until dissolved.

2. Mix the white and dark rye flours in a separate bowl until well combined.

3. Pour the yeast mixture over the flours, whisking well to form a thick paste. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel and set aside to ferment for at least 6 hours and up to 18 hours at room temperature. You can use dried yeast but you will only need half the quantity. Yeast is dormant at 4C, active between 20-40C and destroyed at 45-50 C. Using a dough starter in bread making gives a greater complexity of flavour; as the yeast activates and feeds on the natural sugars present in the flour, over time it produces a distinctively tangy or sour taste.

4. For the dough, line 2 large baking trays with greaseproof paper.

5. Add the water to the fermented dough starter and mix well to combine.

6. Place the white and rye flours into a food processor, set with the dough hook. Add the salt to one side of the bowl of the food processor, then add the yeast to the other side, being careful not to let the salt and yeast touch at this stage. as the salt will attack the yeast and damage its ability to ferment.

7. Add the starter dough mixture to the food processor and mix on a low speed for 5 minutes. The slow mixing process will give the flour the opportunity to fully absorb the water. (This can be done by hand if you don't have a food processor with a dough hook attachment.)

8. Scrape the dough from the sides of the bowl of the food processor and from the dough hook, then continue to mix on a medium speed for a further 5-7 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. The faster speed will warm the gluten in the flour making the dough elastic and creating the right environment for the fermentation to happen.

9. Scrape the dough into a neat ball and cover the bowl with cling film. Set aside to prove at room temperature for 1 hour, or until it has doubled in size.

10. When the dough has proved, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface using a scraper if necessary. Cut the dough into four equal pieces.

11. The dough can be shaped in any way you choose. For a fougasse-style loaf, line four baking trays with baking parchment.

12. Roll each piece of dough into a triangle shape and place one onto each baking tray. Make a cut all the way down the centre of each dough triangle, without completely cutting through the dough. Make 3 deep slashes on either side of the central cut, cutting all the way down to the baking tray, then pull the dough apart slightly to create holes.

13. Brush the fougasses all over with olive oil, then scatter the remaining fougasse topping ingredients evenly over the dough. Set aside to prove for 30-40 minutes.

14. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 250C/475F/Gas 9 or to its maximum setting (this is critical as the temperature will decrease significantly when you open the door) and place a baking tray in the middle of the oven and a roasting tin on the bottom. (skip the roasting tray if you don't want to create a harder crust on your bread: I didn't and they came out beautiful)

15. Slide the loaves onto the preheated baking tray in the middle of the oven, using the greaseproof paper to transfer them and pour 50ml/2fl oz of water into the roasting tin on the bottom. This will generate steam within the oven creating a good crust on the bread.

16. Bake the fougasse in the oven for 18-20 minutes, or until golden-brown and cooked through. (The loaves are cooked through when they make a hollow sound when tapped on the undersides.) Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

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