There’s a reason these photos are so bleh. Well, actually, there are two reasons, one of which is a little incriminating. So if I tell you the whole story, will you promise not to hold it against me?
First, and this is just a fact we must learn to accept, much like regular exercise is a part of being healthy or you can’t eat an entire chocolate cake every night in good conscience: Food looks a lot better, generally speaking, when it’s photographed in natural light. (Everyone says so, and I finally believe them.)
Second, and here’s the part where I start to look bad: I may or may not have accidentally almost burned down my kitchen Saturday afternoon, during the last bits of natural light I had left.
Here’s what happened: That morning, the tart I was making overflowed in the oven and made quite a mess—a mess, which, after I pulled the tart out, I forgot about completely. So a few hours later, when I turned the little temperature knob to preheat the oven again, ready to bake some bread dough, I had no (!) idea (!) that doing so would make the goopy mess burn and send clouds of dark smoke all over my kitchen, enough to set my heart racing, have me screaming things like “Is there a fire?” and “What do I do?”
There is some mercy here, as you can probably guess from the statements of maybe and almost above. When I opened the smoking oven, there was no fire or serious damage—just A. LOT. OF. SMOKE. And all things considered, this was no catastrophe. Things did smell a little, well, let’s just say s’mores sounded strangely fitting—but nothing was truly harmed.
And when all was said and done, fans set up to cool the kitchen and draw remaining smoke out, I still had to do something with the dough that had been rising. Eventually I was able to bake it, and when it came out of the oven, golden and shimmering with crystals of sea salt, decorated with flecks of herbs, I knew I couldn’t very well wait until the next day to photograph it. I had just had a near-death experience, and the hot fougasse dough smelled rich with rosemary and thyme, scents of healing and warmth. You understand, don’t you?
Fougasse is the French version of Italian focaccia, which is a savory flat bread I’ve always really enjoyed at those Macaroni Grill chain restaurants. In fact, this fougasse tasted almost exactly like that bread, but with a different texture, less spongy and maybe more dense. Its slightly crisp shell gives way to soft, downy insides, and the herbs and toppings create incredible flavor.
What makes fougasse distinct is its shape, somewhat like a tree or a large leaf. Slits create a lattice effect in the appearance, which, I should add, is also very handy for tearing chunks off with your hands. And, let’s just say, even near-fires aside, tearing fresh bread with your hands is always a good thing.
Slightly Adapted from The Art & Soul of Baking
1/2 cup (4 ounces) warm water (110 to 115 degrees F)
1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast, or generous 1/8 teaspoon instant yeast
1 cup minus 1 Tablespoon (4 1/2 ounces) bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (4 ounces) warm water (110 to 115 degrees F)
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast, or generous 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
2 Tablespoons (1 ounce) olive oil
1 1/2 cups plus 1 Tablespoon (7 ounces) bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped rosemary
1 teaspoon finely chopped thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/2 to 1 teaspoon kosher salt or coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon finely chopped mixture of rosemary and thyme
MAKE THE BIGA
Pour the warm water into a medium bowl and whisk in the yeast. Let the mixture stand for 10 minutes, or until the yeast is activated and looks creamy. Stir in the flour and mix until it forms a rough dough. Turn onto a work surface and knead until smooth and elastic. Return to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 4 to 6 hours (or up to 12 hours) at room temperature, or 24 hours in the refrigerator.
MIX, REST and KNEAD THE DOUGH
Pour the warm water into the bowl of the stand mixer. Add the yeast, whisk by hand to blend and let the mixture stand until the yeast is activated and looks creamy, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the biga and the olive oil and mix on low speed for 1 minute. Add the flour, rosemary, thyme and salt. Knead the dough on low speed until it comes together in a cohesive mass, about 2 to 3 minutes. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp lint-free cotton towel, and let the dough rest for 20 minutes to allow it to fully hydrate before further kneading. Turn the mixer to medium-low and continue to knead until the dough is firm, elastic and smooth, 4 to 6 minutes.
RISE THE DOUGH (FIRST RISE)
Lightly oil the tub or bowl, scrape the dough into the tub and lightly coat the surface with a little oil. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let the dough rise until doubled in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours (longer if the room is cold). If you are using a tub, be sure to mark the starting level of the dough with a pencil or piece of tape so it’s easy to tell when the dough has doubled.
PUNCH DOWN AND SHAPE THE DOUGH
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Press down on the dough firmly to expel some of the air bubbles, but don’t knead the dough again or it will be too springy and difficult to shape (if this happens, simply cover the dough with plastic wrap or a lint-free cotton towel and let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes to give the gluten some time to relax). Transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheet. If you will be using a baking or pizza stone to bake the bread, place the parchment paper and dough on the bottom of the baking sheet so you can slide them easily onto the stone. Press the dough into a large half circle that is about 12 inches across the flat bottom, 11 inches tall at the peak of the circle and about 3/8 inch thick. Let the dough rest, covered with plastic wrap or a lint-free cotton towel, for 10 to 15 minutes. To make the design in the dough, use a very sharp knife to make a slit down the center then two or three slits at a angle on each side of the center so they resemble veins in a leaf. Each slit should go all the way through the dough to the baking sheet. Gently stretch each slit so the cut edges are about 1 1/2 inches apart, making decorative holes in the dough.
PROOF THE DOUGH (Second rise)
Cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap or a damp lint-free cotton towel. Allow the dough to rise until it is almost doubled in size and looks like it has taken a deep breath, 30 to 40 minutes.
PREPARE THE OVEN
Place a baking or pizza stone in the oven, if you’re using one. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. If using a stone give it a full 30 minutes to an hour to heat.
BAKE THE BREAD
Dimple the dough by gently pressing your fingertips into the dough about 1/4 inch deep, taking care that you don’t deflate the dough by pressing too vigorously or making too many indentations. Gently brush the surface with olive oil and sprinkle salt and hcooped herbs on top. Bake for 20 to 25 mintues, until the bread is golden browl and the internal temperature registers 200 degrees F. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.