Fougasse, panis focacius, fogatza, fouace, hougasse, fouasso.
Just don’t say focaccia.
Fougasse is a type of flat bread made in France, with a name derived from Latin and Occitan (the language of the Languedoc region, among others, and apparently a close relative to modern Catalan). The most famous variety is slashed to look like an ear of wheat, and is savoury, though other varieties include a sweet bread flavoured with orange water. Fougasse is baked until it’s very browned, and should have a crispy crust and a soft interior.
The English and French Wikipedia both tell me that fougasse was used by bakers to test if their bread oven was at the right temperature. If the French Wikipedia says so about a French bread, it must be right, right??
I also quickly learned it’s not focaccia. For a variety of reasons, including focaccia is Italian and fougasse is French.
Having got these preliminaries out of the way, I can get on with this week’s Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) assignment, sweet fougasse. I’ve wanted to make fougasse, with its distinctive wheat or leaf shape, for a while. Who could resist the idea of slashing dough, pulling on dough, until there are giant holes in the dough? It’s all of my “playing with food” wishes come true.
But. Like a stroll through Alice in Wonderland, nothing turned out quite the way I expected.
The dough recipe in Baking with Julia uses a focaccia dough as a base (I’ve made the focaccia here). Rather than break one of the cardinal rules of fougassian identity, I decided to make a walnut fougasse, using a dough loosely inspired by the walnut fougasse recipe in Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Bread Bible.
(I say ‘inspired by’ because I was a total cluntz and did everything I could to ensure the bread would fail. It says a lot about the dough’s resilience that it didn’t fail. I left the flour, milk and yeast to pre-ferment even though Rose’s recipe does not contain this step. I poured all of the olive oil into the bowl first time round, rather than adding it by tablespoons and using some to grease the mixing bowl. The dough’s proofing time was probably wrong too, since we lingered over lunch in the sun, but by that point it hardly seemed to matter.)
The dough was surprisingly easy to work with. It began as a shaggy, wet, clingy mess that seemed to stick everywhere except in the bowl. But over a few minutes, kneading in blind faith, the dough suddenly began to come together. Bits of dough began sticking to itself, cleaning the bowl, developing a glossy sheen. Then, I had a beautiful dough on the kitchen bench, lightly coloured from, ahem, all that excess olive oil. It was loose, easy to stretch out to shape, slash, pull and stretch, but was not the almost-liquid dough that is often used to make focaccia.
Having departed so radically from TWD’s recipe, I felt better about making more changes when I realised we had no blueberries in the house. Instead, I used some home made fig paste made with the last bit of that fig honey caramel, and crushed walnuts in the mortar and pestle with a piece of jaggery (a kind of dark palm sugar I find in Indian or Fijian stores). Sprinkled onto fougasse just before baking, these ingredients gave a suggestion, or an evocation, of streusel rather streusel itself.
I left the fougass in the oven until it became a darker golden brown, 20-25 minutes. The sweet walnut fougass had most of the characteristics I had read about, but didn’t think I could get from a home oven: crisp on the outside, a little crunchy around the edges, soft and just a teensy toothsome inside.
In my haste to prepare the topping, I left the walnut and jaggery mixture slightly chunky, so that we had the contrast between sweet, sticky fig paste, toasted walnuts and the occasional crunchy intense sweetness from the jaggery.
As improvised bread goes, this was a very good mid-afternoon snack.
The last bit of dough became a plain, classic walnut fougasse, sans the evocation of streusel. Saggy dough, wide slashes, spray of water before going in the oven, and we had a ‘rustic’ wheat sheaf on our dining table. The plain walnut fougasse became part of dinner, alongside a strange-sounding but comforting lavender, saffron and cinnamon chicken.
Other TWD bakers
This week, TWD bakers have the choice between a blueberry muffin and blueberry streusel fougasse, so please check out everyone else’s efforts – and the real Baking with Julia recipe! Below is the walnut fougasse recipe I tried to follow.
(Rose Levy Beranbaum’s recipe adapted and published here)
3 1/4 cups or approx 450 grams strong flour (the recipe says you can use plain/AP flour)
1 3/4 tsp instant dried yeast
1/2 tbsp table salt
1 1/4 cup scalded and cooled skim milk (I used full fat milk, warmed it over a stove until it was just about to boil and form a ‘skin’, and cooled the milk)
1/2 cup walnut oil or extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cups chopped walnuts (I pounded the walnuts in a mortar and pestle until it was a mixture of coarse walnut meal and smallish chunks)
1. Mix together 3 cups (420 grams) of flour with the yeast. Add salt and walnuts. Pour the milk and 2 tablespoons of oil into the bowl (note to self, 2 tbsp, not the whole half cup of oil).
2. Knead the dough in the bowl until it comes together, have faith, it will. After it has become a ball of dough, knead the dough on a floured surface for about 5 minutes. Try adding as little as possible of the reserved flour (since I added too much oil, I didn’t really need flour at all). Cover the dough and let it rest for 20 minutes.
3. Knead the dough for another 5 minutes. Coat a large mixing bowl with 2 tablespoons of oil. Put the dough into the bowl, cover, and let it rise for 30 to 45 minutes. Knead in another tablespoon of oil, put it back in the mixing bowl, cover, and let it rise for 30-45 minutes. Knead in another tablespoon of oil, put it back in the bowl, cover and let it rise until doubled in size.
4. While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 425F / about 220C. Place a baking stone or a baking sheet on the lowest shelf in the oven. Take the dough out of the mixing bowl onto a lightly floured bench, give it a business letter turn (fold it in three), and let it rise for 30 minutes.
5. Divide the dough into a few pieces, if you want smaller fougasse. Brush the dough with the last bit of walnut or olive oil. Score the dough a few times in a wheat sheaf or leaf pattern, lift it onto baking paper (if using), so that the slashes stretch out. At this point, add the sweet toppings, or brush the dough with olive oil and sprinkle with herbs such as rosemary. Let the dough have its final rise for another 15 minutes. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until crisp and golden brown.