Fougasse, French flatbread from the Provence region, is a relative of the Italian focaccia but often stretched thinner and slashed before baking to resemble an ear of wheat.
How different if fougasse from focaccia?
Focaccia is Italian flatbread; over across the Alps they have fougasse.
Consider focaccia: one will look pretty much like another. Dimply, with scattered rosemary or salt crystals, crisp underneath and pillowy on top, it can even (shockingly) be sliced across for sandwiches in so-called Italian sandwich shops. The only difference is in shape and size: they bake it in an enormous blanket of focaccia and cut into squares, or there are small round loaves individually baked.
Fougasse is nowhere near as disciplined. It comes in all kinds: oblong or square, large or small, crispy or soft, with the topping atop the bread or hidden inside. Fougasse with Roquefort, bacon, olive, sausage, butter or plain – and the last two are not the same thing.
A flat loaf is slashed to resemble that fabled ear of wheat (I was amazed when I found that was what the shape was about). Fougasse comes in the sourdough version or the traditional, and sometimes the one is the other, depending on the boulangerie. And then there is fougasse mon amour: au Emmental.
It does not have to be sourdough
I have made fougasse au Roquefort before, with the cheese hiding inside and slashes barely there. It is a completely respectable flatbread, but – as we all aspire to keep improving – I have now done one better.
The sourdough element is optional, if you’re comfortable baking but not into starters and sour cultures so much, use more yeast instead. Contrary to what the purists claim, there are a lot of bread products that are as good leavened naturally as on yeast.
The hunt for the perfect fougasse
Our last holiday in France was very much about finding the best fougasse. We called it research and went to a different boulangerie every couple of days, plus twice weekly to the market.
Very shortly it transpired that our unanimous (or bilateral?) pick was fougasse Emmental from the Boulangerie Convert. Crispy bits intermingled with soft and chewy, the cheese laced around the ear of wheat shape, it was a clear winner.
My fougasse au Emmental recipe
And so I went home and tried to replicate it – as you do, or as we, the food obsessives, do. Larousse Cuisine was massively helpful but I drew on two different recipes on the site, one for the technique of making the dough and the other for the shaping and topping.
Was it a success? I guess so, considering my very first fougasse disappeared without a trace before it even cooled down.
It is best intensively kneaded and long proved. A mixer with a dough hook does the job finely but of course the boulangers artisanal would scoff at that. The dough proves in bulk for two hours getting a punch down halfway through.
How to shape a fougasse loaf
The shaping is an interesting exercise: first it looks like you're about to make baguettes as you shape the dough into long thin batons. Only after a rest they are rolled out flat as flat they can be and scored in the shape of wheat ear.
It's handy to do the final rolling out and slashing on the parchment they will bake on, as tranporting those thin, lace-like structures might be a recipe for disaster.
Fougasse likes very hot, humid oven so either spray it with water or place a wet cloth on a baking dish on the bottom of the oven to create steam. And when it comes out of the oven the smell is so heavenly that it takes a lot of patience to let it cool down a little before sinking your teeth into the glossy, cheesy crust.