An impressive yet simple-to-make French bread
Real Bread Week is all about celebrating additive-free bread, be it home-baked or sourced from your local artisan baker.
Fougasse, with its beautiful form and fabulous crust, is a great way to get kids, inexperienced cooks and novice bakers excited about creating bread in their own home. The loaf always looks rather impressive but is in fact quite simple to shape. It’s best eaten within a few hours of baking, as it dries out quickly and so is rarely on offer in bakeries—even more reason to bake your own.
A white dough is traditionally used for fougasse; anything from the most basic recipe that rises in little over an hour to a slowly-fermented sourdough can be shaped into this stunning leaf shape, so start out with something straight forward or use your favourite recipe. Keep in mind that a looser dough will give you a lighter, more aerated bread—‘the wetter, the better’ could be your mantra. I use Richard Bertinet’s technique to work a really elastic, moist dough.
A fully risen dough (made from approximately 500g of flour, 330-360ml water depending on your recipe, yeast and salt)
Flour, for dusting
A plastic dough scraper
A flat baking sheet or baker’s peel
A baking stone or heavy baking sheet (an upturned roasting tray can be a good alternative)
Preheat the oven to 230C, with the baking stone or baking sheet inside.
Turn the risen dough out of your bowl on to a floured surface, taking care not to deflate it too much (the plastic scraper comes in handy to release the dough from the bowl).
The dough will probably be upside down by now and have spread itself out into a rough circle—don’t worry, that’s fine. Dust it with a generous amount of flour.
Now use the scraper to cut the dough into thirds as if you were dividing a cake. You’ll end up with three rather irregular triangles.
Take the first triangle, lay it on the floured surface and, using the scraper, make a cut into the dough like the central vein of a leaf. Move the scraper from side to side to really open up a hole, otherwise it will close again as the bread rises.
Continue to make a couple of cuts either side of your central vein—think fan or peacock’s tail as you angle them, so that the bread will open up beautifully. Don’t forget to move the scraper from side to side to open up the holes.
Place your peel, or flat baking sheet, next to the fougasse (keep in mind that you need to slide off the bread, so there must be no lip). Move swiftly as you lift the dough from the bottom edge and swing it onto the peel (or sheet). It will naturally stretch and elongate a little (it’s meant to!) Don’t worry about the loaf being symmetrical, irregular is good.
Now slide the fougasse from your peel onto the baking stone, or preheated tray, in the hot oven and bake for 10-15 mins until crisp, crusty and browned.
It makes sense to have 2 shelves on the go in your oven. By the time you have shaped the third fougasse, your first will be part baked and can be nestled in next to number 2 on the other shelf. The dough will not stick or collapse at this stage.
Once out of the oven, allow the bread to cool on a rack (if you pile the bread together into a basket you’ll lose the wonderful crustiness).
Admire your handiwork—a fougasse is bread of beauty—and then dive in.
Recipe: Jenny Chandler