Baking, at least for me, is not so much about how intricate a certain pastry is or how rustic a loaf of bread looks — it goes far beyond the surface of what we can see. Cherished moments from our childhood, long since faded, can often be brought back with startling clarity just by the simple act of biting into a certain biscuit or the aroma of a cake baking in the oven. Even today, whenever I smell a fougasse, I’m taken back to the times when my sister and I stayed at my grandparents’ house in a small village in Provence. Every Sunday morning we liked to laze in our beds, listening out for the sound of the baker’s horn as he stopped his truck in the village square. We knew that when we eventually got up there would be two slices of crunchy, buttery fougasse waiting for us on the kitchen table. We would noisily devour our fougasse with a bowl of chocolat chaud, while my grandfather silently read his paper and my grandmother pored over the crossword, just as they did every Sunday morning.
- Yield: 2 loaves
- 3½ oz (100 g) unsalted butter
- 3½ oz (100 g) caster (superfine) sugar
- 3½ oz (100 ml) whipping cream (35% fat)
- 12 oz (350 g) plain (all-purpose) flour (‘0’/T55)
- 6½ fl oz (190 ml) cold water (20°C/70°F)
- 2½ oz (70 g) caster (superfine) sugar
- 1 fl oz (30 ml) virgin olive oil
- 1/5 oz (6 g) fine salt
- 1/10 oz (3 g) dried yeast
- 1½ oz (40 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- To make the dough, put the flour, water, sugar, olive oil, salt and yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment. Mix on low speed for 2–3 minutes, or until the dough comes together. Increase the speed to medium and knead for 8–10 minutes, or until the dough comes away from the side of the bowl. During the kneading stage, scrape the dough from the hook and the side of the bowl two or three times. Add the 40 g (1½ oz) of butter and knead for another 2–3 minutes, or until the butter has been absorbed into the dough. Remove the dough hook, cover the bowl with a floured cloth and set aside in a warm place to prove for 1 hour, or until the dough has increased by two-thirds.
- Divide the dough in half. Place one portion on a lightly floured work surface, then sprinkle a little extra flour over the top. Using your palms, flatten the dough into a round about 2 cm (¾ in) thick. Don’t worry about making it too even, as this bread is supposed to look rustic. Repeat with the remaining dough. Transfer to two lightly floured baking trays and freeze for 20 minutes, or until the dough hardens slightly.
- Meanwhile, put the butter and sugar in a small saucepan and stir over low heat until melted. Don’t boil the mixture as this dissolves the sugar into the butter and, as a result, the bread will lose its crunchy top. Remove from the heat and set aside until cool to the touch. Remove the dough from the freezer and spread half the sugar and butter mixture evenly across the top of each, then cover with a cloth and set aside in a warm place to prove for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F) at least 30 minutes before baking the loaf. When the dough has proved, use your fingertips to make small craters all over the fougasse, about 5 cm (2 in) apart; this prevents the cream from running off the sides of the bread during the final stage of baking. Bake for 10 minutes, then open the oven door and pour the cream evenly over the top of each hot fougasse. Bake for another 10 minutes, or until the sides of the bread begin to turn golden. Cool to room temperature before serving.