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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.
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: an enormous blanket of focaccia cut into squares or small rounds individually baked.
Fougasse is nowhere near as disciplined. It is 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 – the last two not being the same thing. It’s slashed to resemble that fabled ear of wheat (I was amazed when I found that was what the shape was about); just slashed at random here and there or with its surface intact. Fougasse sourdough or traditional, and sometimes the one is the other. And fougasse mon amour: au Emmental.
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.
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, a clear winner.
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, 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.
fougasse emmentalServings: makes 4 loavesTime: 4 hours
- 300g water at room temperature
- 100g sourdough starter (if available, if not, use 10g/1 tsp yeast)
- 5g fresh or ½ tsp instant yeast
- 500g French flour type 65 or strong bread white flour
- 10g fine salt
- 30g olive oil plus a little more for brushing
- ½ tsp dried thyme
- 2 tbsp. crème fraiche
- 75g grated Emmental
1. Pour the water into the bowl of a standing mixer or a large bowl if kneading by hand. Stir in the sourdough starter if using, and/or the yeast. Add the flour and salt and mix on low speed for 5 minutes (or use a wooden spoon to combine the dough).
2. Continue mixing at high speed for 15 minutes, adding the oil and thyme after 10 minutes (or turn out dough onto a floured surface and knead by hand, adding the oil and thyme little by little). Shape the dough into a ball, place in a bowl covered with a damp cloth and leave to prove at warm room temperature for 2 hours. Halfway through that time fold the dough once in half on itself.
3. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into four pieces. Roll each piece gently into a baton about 25cm long. Cover with a clean towel and leave for 15 minutes.
4. Roll each baton into a thin oval, 30 x 15cm. If the dough shrinks back, leave it for a minute and roll out again. Cut incisions on both sides of each fougasse. Brush each with crème fraiche and sprinkle with grated cheese.
5. Carefully transfer the fougasses onto baking sheets lined with parchment using a large fish slice or a pizza peel. Arrange them on the parchment, opening up all the incisions. Cover the sheets with tea towels or plastic and leave for 1 hour to prove.
6. Preheat the oven to 235C. When the fougasses are ready to go in, spray the oven with water or throw a wet cloth onto the bottom of the oven.
7. Bake for 4 minutes then turn the heat down to 200C and bake for 10 more minutes. Remove from the oven and brush the edges with olive oil. Cool on wire racks.