Fougasse bread

When I talk about how I became a professional baker, there are certain things I always mention: driving by a “Help Wanted” sign in my hometown for a bakery I’d never seen before, dashing in right before they stopped taking applications, being hired on the spot as the bakery’s first pastry chef. All absolutely true. Being hired was a magical experience.

Then I had to learn how to actually do the work.

I had to learn how to make every European pastry on the menu, from croissants and kuchen to Black Forest Cake and apple strudel, before the bakery opening, which was just a few weeks away. And then I was on my own to make additional things I’d never even heard of, like bienenstich (Bee Sting Cake) and nuss schnecken (nut swirls). How did I know when something wasn’t right? My co-workers at the front of the bakery were German, so they’d tell me when something was too sweet, too flat, too puffy or generally not like Oma’s.

In great detail.

If it had been possible to die of constant criticism, you could have tagged my toe during those first few weeks at the bakery.

But finally one morning, after weeks of struggling and hustling and feeling like I just wasn’t measuring up, everything came together. The cases were full on time, and every item passed inspection – even the donauwellen (Danube Waves Cake), which had been the bane of my existence.

Actually, they didn’t tell me everything had passed inspection. They invited me to have some fougasse.

I had no idea what fougasse was, so I waited with everyone else around the bread table and watched as the manager brought over a huge, flat bread.  The top of the bread had diagonal slashes on each side that made the bread look like a big leaf. I was just about to hand her a knife, when she started ripping the bread apart with her hands and passing it around.

Suddenly, the entire room smelled like rosemary. I was all ready to bite into my black olives and tomato-studded slice, when the manager shook her head “no” and pointed to the container of Alouette® Garlic and Herbs spreadable cheese being passed around. I watched as each woman applied it liberally to the bread, took a bite and smiled at everyone around the table.

That’s fougasse. It’s meant to be communal. A shared experience.

Last week, as soon as I got over my winter cold and felt well enough to get back in the kitchen, I started craving fougasse. But I’d never made it before. In my experience, if you don’t have a team of German women coaching you, the next best thing is a Dorie Greenspan recipe. I found her Olive and Sun-Dried Tomato Fougasse in a back issue of “Bon Appetit” and strapped on the apron.

Making fougasse takes time, but each step is simple. First, you mix the dough. Then, since fougasse is a Provencal bread, you stir in the “iconic ingredients” of Provence – olives, sun-dried tomatoes and rosemary – and let the dough rise for two hours. Once the dough has doubled in size, you deflate it and chill it in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, you divide the dough, roll it into two rectangles, and cut the diagonal slashes.

I was the most paranoid about those slashes, but since the dough has chilled overnight, it’s surprisingly sturdy and easy to handle. You could even cut the slashes with kitchen shears.

Once the dough is shaped, you let it rest for 20 minutes, glaze it and bake it.

Just make sure you’re not alone when your fougasse comes out of the oven. It’s best when it’s fresh. A crusty, chewy, communal bread that’s prime for pulling apart with your family and friends.

Or co-workers who are ready to give you help, whether you want it or not.

Thanks, Ladies.

Olive and Sun-Dried Tomato Fougasse

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan via “Bon Appetit” (November 2009)

Makes 2 breads / 12 servings (199 calories per serving)

  • 1 2/3 cups plus 2 teaspoons warm water (105 degrees F to 115 degrees F), divided
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (not a whole packet)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 5 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for brushing
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 cup oil-cured black olives, pitted, quartered
  • 1/2 cup drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
  • Coarse kosher salt
  1. Pour 2/3 cup warm water into a small bowl or 2-cup measuring cup. Sprinkle yeast, then sugar over the water, and stir to blend. Let the mixture stand until the yeast dissolves and the mixture bubbles, 5 to 7 minutes.
  2. Add 1 cup warm water and 41/2 tablespoons oil to the yeast mixture.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix flour and 1 1/4 teaspoons salt. Pour in yeast mixture.
  4. Remove the paddle attachment, and attach the dough hook. Beat at medium-low speed until flour is moistened but looks shaggy, about 3 minutes. Increase speed to medium; beat until dough pulls away from sides of bowl and climbs the hook, about 10 minutes.
  5. In a medium bowl, mix the olives, tomatoes, rosemary and lemon peel. Add to dough and beat 1 minute. Using a sturdy spatula, stir dough by hand to blend.
  6. Lightly oil a large bowl. Scrape the dough into the bowl, and brush the top of dough with oil. Brush a piece of plastic wrap with oil, and use it to cover bowl, oiled-side down.
  7. Let the dough rise in a warm draft-free area until doubled, 1 to 2 hours.
  8. Using a spatula, gently turn the dough several times to deflate. Re-cover bowl with oiled plastic; chill overnight. (The dough will continue to rise.)
  9. Set 2 large rimmed baking sheets on your counter or a table, and sprinkle them with flour. Set aside.
  10. Take your dough out of the refrigerator. Using a spatula, deflate dough by stirring or folding it over several times. Divide dough into 2 equal pieces.
  11. Place 1 piece of dough on a floured work surface, and sprinkle it with flour. Roll out the dough into a 12 x 8- to 12 x 9-inch rectangle, sprinkling it with flour to keep it from sticking. (Don’t worry if you can’t roll the dough into a perfect rectangle. Many traditional fougasses are large ovals.)
  12. Transfer the dough to one of your prepared baking sheets. (Tip: If there are olives on top of the dough, press them inside the dough or remove them. Otherwise, they’ll burn in the oven.)
  13. Using a very sharp small knife (or kitchen shears), cut four 2-inch-long diagonal slashes just to right of center of the rectangle and 4 more just to left of center to create a pattern resembling leaf veins. Pull the slashes apart with your fingertips to make 3/4- to 1-inch-wide openings.
  14. Repeat with remaining dough.
  15. Cover the dough with a towel. Let it rest 20 minutes.
  16. In the meantime, position 1 rack in top third and 1 rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 450 degrees F.
  17. To prepare the glaze, beat 2 teaspoons water and 1 tablespoon oil in a small bowl.
  18. Brush fougasses with glaze; sprinkle with coarse salt and pierce all over with fork.
  19. Bake fougasses for 10 minutes. Reverse position of baking sheets, and turn them around. Bake fougasses until golden, about 10 minutes. Transfer to racks; cool 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.