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.