French Hearth Bread

Fougasse

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Makes

    2

    loaves

Appears in

Fougasses, which can also be called fouacés, are derived from the same Latin word focus, meaning hearth, as the Italian focaccia. They are all hearth breads, baked on the floor of the oven just after the fire has been raked out - when its temperature is too high to bake breads without burning the crust. The baker, anxious to test the temperature, tries a little something; the small child, waiting eagerly for the first pull at fresh bread, has a titbit to quell the pangs of anticipation.

To give some character to the flavour, this bread is fermented on a starter of ripened dough from the previous day’s bread-making (it does not have to be fougasse).

Ingredients

  • 225 g/8 oz of the previous day’s dough
  • 7 g/¼ oz fresh yeast
  • 250 ml/9 fl oz tepid water
  • 425 g/15 oz unbleached white bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg mixed with 2 tablespoons of milk for glaze

Method

  1. Place the previous day’s dough in a mixing bowl, crumble in the yeast and add the water. Squeeze the ripened dough through your fingers to break it up and make a rich soup. Mix the flour with the salt and add to the starter in handfuls, beating vigorously the while. Mix to a dough, then turn out on to a floured work surface and knead for 6 minutes. Leave the dough to rise in a bowl covered with clingfilm in a warm place (26°C/80°F) for about 1½ hours, until doubled in size.
  2. Turn out the dough on to the lightly floured work surface, divide it in half and mould two balls. Flatten each with the palm of your hand and fold the left and right hand sides to the centre, as if folding a business letter in three. Press the crease together with the edge of your hand and you should have an oblong cushion shape. Leave to rest under oiled clingfilm for 10 minutes.
  3. Using a rolling pin, and with a little flour to stop sticking, roll the two cushions out to rectangles measuring approximately 25 × 15 cm/10 × 6 inches: between 12 and 6 mm/½ and ¼ inch thick. If there is resistance from the dough to rolling, do not force it, but rest the piece and turn to rolling the other one.
  4. Using the blade of a metal dough scraper, or a pastry cutter, cut four dagonal tears in each rectangle, going almost, but not quite, from edge to edge. Then lay each fougasse on a large oiled tray, stretching and pulling so that it fills the tray. It need not be immaculately regular, it is meant to seem improvised.
  5. Cover the dough with oiled clingfilm and leave to prove for about 30-40 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 230°C/450°F/gas 8.
  6. Brush the loaves with the glaze and bake them for about 20 minutes, changing the baking sheets from the top to bottom shelf halfway through the cooking time. When they are cooked, the loaves will sound hollow when tapped. Cool them on a wire rack.