This is going to be an exception to the rule: a sweet bread made with a poolish method, the very thing I said I disliked to begin with. While I did mention that the distinctive characteristics of the poolish method were not to my taste for rich, buttery and subtle viennoiseries such as brioche or croissants, those very attributes are intrinsic to some of the most traditional sweet breads, and when it comes to traditional recipes, the pompe à l’huile is one not to be messed with.
This humble fougasse is actually one of the compulsory offerings of the thirteen desserts traditionally served during Christmas festivities in Provence, the number thirteen being representative of Christ and his twelve apostles at the Last Supper. Four desserts represent the mendiants (the four orders of monks) in the form of dried fruits and nuts (figs, hazelnuts, almonds and raisins); four confectioneries are used to represent good and evil (pompe, dark nougat, white nougat and jams); four fresh fruits; and a special dessert, which according to local custom could vary from candied fruits to elaborate confectioneries, to represent Christ. Even though the religious significance of this custom is now often forgotten, you will be hard-pressed to find a Christmas meal anywhere in the south of France that doesn’t include some elements of this age-old tradition, which certainly always includes a pompe à l’huile.
- Yield: 2 Servings
- 7 fl oz (200 ml) full-cream milk
- 1 egg yolk
- 1/32 oz (1 g) dried yeast
- 3½ fl oz (100 ml) cold water (20°C/70°F)
- 3½ oz (100 g) plain (all-purpose) flour (‘0’/T55 or ‘1’/T65)
- 10½ oz (300 g) plain (all-purpose) flour (‘0’/T55 or ‘1’/T65)
- 5½ oz (150 g) caster (superfine) sugar
- 2 tablespoons orange blossom water
- 4¼ fl oz (120 ml) virgin olive oil
- 1/5 oz (6 g) fine salt
- ¼ oz (8 g) dried yeast
- To make the poolish, follow the method. Once prepared, cover and set aside at room temperature for 3 hours, or until the poolish triples in volume.
- To make the dough, put the poolish and all the ingredients for the dough in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment. Knead on low speed for 10 minutes, then increase the speed to medium and knead for 2–3 minutes, or until the dough comes away from the side of the bowl. To check whether the dough is ready, use the ‘windowpane’ test. Remove the dough hook and dust a little flour over the dough, then cover the bowl with a cloth and set aside in a warm place to prove for 45 minutes, or until doubled in size.
- Divide the dough in half, then shape the dough using the balling method described. Place the balls on a tray lightly dusted with flour, cover with a cloth and set aside to rest for 15 minutes.
- Roll out each ball on a lightly floured work surface into a 20 cm (8 in) round about 2.5 cm (1 in) thick. These breads are meant to be quite rustic, so don’t stress too much about making a perfect circle. Concentrate instead on making sure the dough is an even thickness, as any thinner areas may burn. Place the rounds on baking trays lined with baking paper. Cover with a cloth and set aside in a warm place to prove for 1–2 hours, or until doubled in size.
- Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F) at least 30 minutes before baking. Lightly beat the milk and egg yolk in a small bowl, then brush all over the breads. Using a paring knife dipped in the egg wash, cut patterns straight through the dough (use the photograph as a guide). I usually cut a hole in the middle, then make four long cuts opposite each other, similar to the numbers on a clock face. Feel free to be creative with your design the cuts in the bread only serve to improve the overall look of the pompe after baking, nothing more. Bake on the bottom shelf of the oven for 15 minutes, or until golden. Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature before serving.