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fougasseI began experimenting with French and Italian style bread methods over the years and finally decided to tackle something simple – which as usual, I had long presumed was complicated.  The French Fougasse is, and is not, complex;  actually it is roughly the equivalent of the Italian Focaccia – a famous & delicious leavened bread.

I used an Italian bread-making approach to start this French bread project, which requires a biga – basically a sponge (in French it is an Autolyse).  I mixed 1/2 tsp of dried yeast and 1/4 cup of warm water; and after it proofed, I stirred it into 1-1/3 cups of water and almost 3 cups of unbleached white flour.  This mixture I covered loosely & allowed to stand for 24 hours.  At this point the biga first stood for 24 hours (ideally); and thereafter remember that the longer this simple dough ferments, the more the flavor will develop.   4-6 hours will work in a pinch.This base will make several batches of bread.  You can also use baguette dough, or almost any kind of dough that you like to shape and bake a fougasse.

To begin, I measured a cup of the bubbly, sloppy, shaggy biga (which is how it should be) into a mixing bowl with:

1-1/2 cups warm water

1 cup rye flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

unbleached all purpose flour to make a sticky dough

1 generous tsp salt

1 tsp yeast, and

1 tbsp of good olive oil.

Place all the ingredients into a mixing bowl – if you’re using an electric mixer begin at low speed, gradually adding the flours and other ingredients until you have a dough that seems to be too wet – but still pulls away from the side of the bowl.  Allow to mix thoroughly for another 5-8 minutes until the mass becomes elastic and comes together.  At this point I removed the dough hook, removed the mixing bowl from the stand, and covered it with plastic wrap.

After 5 hours I scraped the dough from the rising-bowl and gently patted and encouraged it into a 13 X 9″ rectangle.  This rectangle I cut in half, and placed one half in the fridge in an oiled plastic bag.  You could make another fougasse, grissini (breadsticks), or pizza dough.

Extend your smaller rectangle of dough into an approximately 13 X 9 inch rectangle and make a few roughly symmetrical slashes, and a center top slash – so that it resembles an impressionistic leaf.  Coax the loaf out a little more on a floured peel, baking sheet or other surface.  Cover with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel, allowing it to ferment for another 45 minutes.  At that point briefly tease and play with the loaf until you have an creative, rustic leaf-shape.

In the mean-time heat your oven to 450-500F  – if you’re using a baking stone let the preheating continue for 25 minutes.  Now that your dough has completed the second and final rising, brush a little olive oil over the top, with flavorings if your wish (garlic, herbs, sesame seed, poppy, etc).  Ease the bread quickly into the oven, misting well with water.  You may also humidify the oven with a pan of boiling water – this will ensure a very good crust.

Let the loaf bake for the first 7-8 minutes, in the humidified oven, misting every 2-3 minutes if necessary; rotate the loaf  (or baking platform) front to back and continue baking for another 5-8 minutes.  Watch carefully to avoid scorching.  Dark brown patches are OK and lend character.  Let cool on a baking rack for 10-20 minutes before serving.

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