Fougasse is a flat bread from the region of Provence in Southern France but one can find regional variations across the country. Fougasse can be either sweet or savoury and is somewhat similar to the Italian Focaccia. Traditionally the sweet version of the leaf-shaped breads was one of the 13 desserts served on a Provençal Christmas Eve, meant to represent Jesus and the twelve apostles.
Fougasse is often shaped to resemble a tree, leaf or wheat stalk. Sometimes, you will find Fougasse shaped into a rectangle with decorative slashes resembling a ladder which is why it is also called ladder bread. The slashes cut into the Fougasse though decorative also ensure that the bread cooks faster.
This design of the bread also makes it easier to break it or pull it apart by hand while eating. Once shaped, the bread is usually brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with herbs before baking it. Occasionally, Fougasse is folded over filling to make a filled bread.
Many people consider the Fougasse to be France’s answer to the Italian Focaccia but the breads are quite different. Fougasse contains much more olive oil in the dough and more is brushed on it before its baked. Apart from the difference in shape, Fougasse is thinner than Focaccia and also has crisp crust and a softer interior unlike Focaccia. Also Focaccia is often made in a rectangular pan and cut into neat squares, while Fougasse is rolled and shaped and brought to the table whole, so that it can be admired before everyone tears off a piece. Apparently, the Fougasse originated from bits of dough that were baked to check the temperature of ovens. Depending on how soon it baked, the rest of the bread could be loaded.
On the flip side, because they bake up so quickly, they also tend to dry out and become very hard, which is why it is generally advised to eat Fougasse the same day it’s made.
I like most bread, but I fell in love with the shape of this bread when I first saw it on the cover of Richard Bertinet’s book on baking bread called “Dough”! I went searching for a recipe and found one for an Onion Fougasse in my collection of recipes from old magazines. Those were the days when I hadn’t quite understood the intricacies of baking bread and was just beginning to master baking the most basic breads. I have to confess that the bread I made wasn’t the best looking one.
I later reworked that recipe and turned out a more decent Fougasse with my now better bread shaping and baking skills. This particular recipe makes use of a starter to make the dough which enhances the flavour of the bread.
While looking into baking temperatures for Fougasse, I came across some recipes that suggested baking at 180C (350F) for 30 minutes and others that suggested using the hottest setting your oven has and then bake the Fougasse for about 15 minutes. It makes sense to me to bake these in a really hot oven as the bread is thin, and since we’re looking for a texture where the crust is crisp/ hard with a soft interior.
Fougasse are usually baked as larger flatbreads though they can made as smaller ones too. I chose to bake my Fougasse as 4 smaller breads as they allowed me to experiment with the shapes. These are great breads to serve especially to guests or on special occasions as they’re simple to make and look beautiful too. Fougasse make a good accompaniment to warm or cold soups, salads and stews. They’re also great eaten just as they are, warm from the oven.
You can achieve the distinctive slashes by cutting with a very sharp knife or blade and then stretching the dough so that the slashes open up and bake into very attractive patterns. Please see these videos which explain this process better.
Onion & Rosemary Fougasse
For the starter:
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1/2 cup water warm
- 2 tsps active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
For the dough:
- 1 onion big (or 2 small ones), sliced thinly
- 1/2 to 1 tsps red chilli flakes
- sprigs rosemary A couple of fresh
- 1/4 cup olive oil (preferably mild and extra virgin)
- 2/3 cup water
- 2 3/4 to 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (and a little more for kneading)
- 1 1/4 tsps salt
For the Topping:
- 2 tbsps olive oil
- 1/2 tsp garlic paste (or finely grated ), or more if you prefer
- rosemary A little fresh for sprinkling on dough
- First make the starter. Stir together sugar and warm water in a large bowl or the bowl of your processor/ mixer. Sprinkle yeast over mixture and let stand for about 5 minutes until it bubbles up into a foam. Add the flour and whisk till combined. Cover loosely and let the starter rise for about 45 minutes to an hour.
- In the meanwhile, heat 1 tbsp of the olive oil in a pan and add the sliced onions. Sautxe9 till they caramelize or turn soft and light brown. Do not burn. Take it off the heat and add the chilli flakes and the rosemary (removed from the stem, not whole sprig), mix a couple of times and let it cool to room temperature.
- Now make the dough. To the bowl with the starter, add 2 1/2 cups of flour, salt and the water. Knead well, adding as much more of the flour you need until you have a soft dough. Half way through the kneading add the caramelized onion mixture. Once the kneading is done, you should have a soft, smotth and elastic dough that is a little sticky to the fingers when touched.
- Lightly oil your hands and form the dough into a ball and place it in a lightly oiled large bowl, turning dough to coat with oil. Cover bowl and let dough till double in volume. This should take about 1 1/2 hours.
- Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and deflate the dough but donu2019t knead it. Divide the dough into 4 equal portions (or 2 if you prefer). Lightly roll out each portion to 1/4" thickness and into the shape you want (roughly about 6u201d long for each if four portions, and 12u201d long if for 2 portions of dough).
- Place the rolled out dough on lightly greased baking sheets. Using a blade, a very sharp knife or a pastry scraper, make a cuts in the rolled out dough according to whatever shape you desire, cutting all the way through the dough and leaving a 1-inch border on each end of cut (do not connect cuts).
- Gently pull apart the cuts about 1 1/2u201d by pulling from the edges to open them out. Open out the cuts with your fingers, if necessary. If theyu2019re not open wide enough the cuts will close up when the dough rises and bakes. Let the dough rises, uncovered, until slightly u201cpuffyu201d for about 30 minutes.
- Brush the dough generously with the garlic flavoured oil, and sprinkle the rosemary over it. Bake the Fougasse at 240C (450F) for about 20 minutes or so, till theyu2019re a deep golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Transfer the Fougasse to a rack and cool to warm or room temperature. These are best eaten the day theyu2019re made.
- This recipe makes 2 Fougasse (about 12u201d long) or 4 Fougasse (about 6u201d long).