In our last Kroger delivery, there was no spray can of Baker’s Joy, a clear indication that many of us are continuing to bake our way through "Pandemigeddon."
Between the scones and sandwich loaves, cakes and cookies, I have tried to mix it up - pun thoroughly intended - by baking a variety of yeasted breads, quite a few of which are dead-simple and are totally worth the rising time.
Back in 2012, I was beyond fortunate to have been awarded a semester sabbatical from my teaching gig at Gilman School. That spring, I sat in our breakfast nook and worked on Acts III and IV of an original Elizabethan-verse romance I was writing, set in 1482 in Sisteron, France, and waited for May, when my wife and I spent nearly two glorious weeks living in that very village.
Each day as we walked through the field outside our gîte and into Sisteron’s sleepy center, we stopped into what immediately became our favorite boulangerie, Le Fournil de la Citadelle, the appellation derived from the 12th-century hilltop fortress that looms fantastically over the village. To the left, wire baskets and baguettes and boules. To the right, piled one atop another like doughy mattresses, huge fresh loaves of fougasse à l’anchois.
Certainly, the Sisteronnais bought their traditional baguettes and batards, as did we, but plainly most popular was this pillowy loaf, golden and dimpled like focaccia but slightly spread with anchoïade before baking.
I watched as the locals queued in front of the plastic guarding the fougasse mattresses, one by one holding their hands apart just so to indicate the size of the piece desired. Other than a ‘bonjour’ and a ‘merci’, some patrons did not need any words to make the day’s purchase, sold by weight.
We played our parts and partook of plenty of fougasse à l’anchois while we lived in this idyllic village, and when we returned to Baltimore, it was the first recipe that I attempted to replicate.
If you Google ‘fougasse’, as I did, what you are going to find is not this bread. The more traditional French fougasse is an artsy, olivey loaf, most often shaped like a leaf with dough slashed through prior to baking to create ‘veins’. The bread itself tends to be tougher, more close-textured, becoming even crackery after just a few hours out of the oven.
Fougasse à l’anchois, at least the version baked at this boulangerie in Sisteron, looks, feels, and tastes more like a tall focaccia, so with the ‘other’ fougasse dominating the web hits, my recipe R&D was a challenge. Le Fournil de la Citadelle exists on the internet, but barely. I thought of writing the owners a pathetic par avion letter asking for the recette but knew that my French would not hold up, plus the only name my wife and I remembered of the folks who worked there was Cacahuete, the bakery’s cat: the French word for peanut.
Fortunately, some French-language recipes for fougasse à l’anchois are on the web, though anyone who has tried to go Franco-to-Anglo online has encountered a decilitre of culinary idioms that do not directly translate. After a ten-plus tries, I had it, a puffy loaf that worked both with or without the signature anchovy topping.
And now, you have it.
FOUGASSE DE SISTERON
Makes 1 ‘mattress’ loaf (9x13)
The list of ingredients is pretty straightforward, though directly below I will note a few instances in which you can go off-script:
500 grams APF
1 tablespoon active dry yeast (SAF Red, Fleischmann’s, or even two sachets will do it)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
300 grams lukewarm water
1-2 teaspoons salt (see below)
Concerning the flour, APF is fine for this regional version of fougasse because you do not want it to have too close of a crumb; it needs to be airy and light. A tablespoon of yeast may seem like a lot; you can definitely cut back to two teaspoons, but even the full tablespoon does not make this bread taste too ‘yeasty’, plus you are guaranteed to have plenty of oomph in the proofs.
In a big mixing bowl, weigh out the flour and dump in the yeast, olive oil, and lemon juice. Before adding the water, I often toss in a tablespoon of herbes de Provence; instead, feel free to add chopped fresh rosemary or thyme. Between ¼ and ½ teaspoon of garlic powder is nice, and even a couple teaspoons of cheese powder or a handful of freshly grated Parmesan cannot be wrong.
Several years ago, I started letting my flour and yeast pseudo-autolyse, essentially giving the flour’s enzymes a chance to do their dance before any party-killer salt is added, a practice I use for the fougasse’s first proof.
Pour the water into the big bowl and whazz it around with dough hooks until all of the ingredients are incorporated, about three minutes. The dough will be a shade on the shaggy side but nothing like the unworkable slime that some focaccias are in their early stages.
Put a large plate, some plastic wrap, or a tea towel over the bowl and let the dough rest for twenty minutes. At that point, add the salt, the amount of which will depend on how you will top the unbaked loaf: if you are going to sprinkle the dough with sea salt or slather it with anchoïade prior to baking, cut the dough’s salt back to one teaspoon.
After another two minutes with your electric mixer, the salt will be well-integrated. Drizzle a light ring of olive oil around the bowl’s bottom and use a dough spatula to ‘roll’ the silky mass into a shiny ball. Time for Proof #2: cover the bowl with that plate, cling film, or tea towel and go watch two episodes of "Community" or one installment of "Ozark."
If you get sucked into anything longer than forty-five minutes, you are going to come back to find the ‘after’ stage of a fourth grader’s science project. Depending on the time of day and time of year, that first rise may take just a half hour.
When you return to the big bowl, the dough will have risen robustly, probably even scraping the bottom of your covering. Prepare a 9x13 brownie pan - or, even better if you have one, a 9x13 high-sided cake pan - with cooking spray and a generously drizzling of olive oil. The coating of olive oil on the dough will make it super-easy to slide out of the bowl and into the pan.
Though this is a ‘no-knead’ bread, yes, your hands are going to get oily, but no, you do not have to be ginger (or Mary Ann) with this particular dough. Once the ball is in the pan, gently but firmly press on its center, easing the outside edges into each corner. Try not to punch out all of the air, but be brave and depress it as needed until the mass fills the pan, top to bottom and side to side, bearing the marks of your fingertips all over its dimpled top. If it does not want to nest into the corners due to the olive oil, no worries: it will do so during Proof #3 and the bake.
Now is the moment you can choose to be de rigueur Provençale: anchoïade or non? I know what you are saying out loud: "You lost me at ‘anchovies’." I totally understand. Those of us near fifty grew up reviling our respective fathers whenever they suggested adding the salty little fishettes to our pizzas. That being true, anchovies are one of those foods that, for a host of reasons, has lived with a bad rap, when in moderation and in the correct application - like a legit Caesar dressing - they are sublime.
If you want to kick it Sisteronnais, whip up this basic anchoïade:
1 tin anchovies (55 g in oil)
1 clove garlic (or less)
1 small shallot
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon capers (drained and rinsed)
1 small handful fresh parsley
Extra virgin olive oil (eye-balled)
In either a quality blender or a food processor, put all of these ingredients in at once and pulse until only finely diced bits are visible. With the machine on, slowly pour in enough olive oil until the mixture is a dip-like consistency, like a loose and smooth tapenade. Do not worry about the green-gray color: it looks much nicer after it bakes.
Gently spread a thin layer of the anchoïade across the dough’s surface with no concern for complete coverage; a few exposed spots of dough make for a more attractively mottled finished product.
Prior to Proof #3, preheat the oven to 375°. Drape a tea towel over the pan and go watch one episode of Parks and Rec. That should do it. After twenty to thirty more minutes, the dough will have crested a brownie pan’s walls and be ready to bake. If you just said no to anchoïade, conservatively sprinkle coarse sea salt across the surface and pop the pan in the oven, middle rack.
The bake will take between 20 and 30 minutes, so do not go far. Turn the oven light on and watch for the top to turn golden brown, the emphasis on golden. Remember, this is akin to focaccia, so you want a bread that does not brown because all of that olive oil will wind up tasting bitter.
Stay in the kitchen, mostly for the smell. When the color looks just right, test the top with your fingertip for crispness. Out of the oven, let the loaf rest in the pan for ten minutes or so and then use a spatula to slide it out and onto a cutting board. After another half-hour’s nap under that tea towel, your fougasse is ready to eat. Slice it into half-inch wide strips and dip the puffy pieces into a peppery olive oil with a dash of balsamic vinegar.
In a household of more than two, the loaf will be little more than crumbs and sea salt flakes by the end of dinnertime. If you happen to have any bread left over, let me know, and I will tell you Jamie Oliver’s ‘trick’ to make the most sinfully delicious chicken-fat croutons out of this fougasse.
If I ever run a restaurant, this will be the table bread served as a gratis starter, and though this is surely not Le Fournil de la Citadelle’s recipe, until we move to Sisteron and can go to that beautiful little boulangerie every day, it will do just fine.