Sourdough Fougasse with Olives

Sourdough Fougasse with Olives

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If I had to pick a favourite bread, olive bread would be a no-brainer. In fact, I first learnt to love olives because of bread. Growing up, olive was the “adult food” I hated, like celery and avocado for other picky kids. I cringe at its bitter and briny flavour, and shudder at the thought of its slimy meaty texture. My first purchase of olive bread was a result of my frugalness. Back when I was still a poor student in New York City, I took full advantage of my favourite bakery, Breads’ half-off selection after 7pm. (I may have spent all my money on their babkas). On one visit olive bread was the only discounted loaf left, so with much reluctance I decided to give it a shot. Somehow the stars aligned that day and I had a sudden courage to face my worst food fears. I took a full olive-studded bite and something in my palate kicked in. The yellow-tinged bread had a sweet cereal flavour that reacted with the savouriness of the jet black olives. I was immediately hooked and from then on, from bar olives to tepenade, there isn't an olive I didn't love.

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Fougasse hails from the Southeast French capital of Provence, bordering Italy. If you enjoy focaccia, I bet you’ll like fougasse. The typical Provençal loaf is using ually formed into the shape of an ear of wheat or a leaf, and flavoured with fragrant olive oil and herbs. The fougasse experience is rather romantically, a manifestation of the concept “breaking bread”. The anticipation when it reaches the table, grabbed directly off the peel by whoever is closest to the kitchen. Those who are more heat-tolerant can masterfully hold it between two fingers without bouncing it around, quickly tearing off a piece. A good fougasse should make a distinct crackling sound and release a whiff of yeasty, hot steam. Thin shards of crusts or bits of olives may have fallen on the table, which would instinctively got snatched up by the next person, who is now ready to tear off their own piece.

Fougasse is designed for crust-lovers. The slits not only make it visually appealing, but also increase the surface area exposed to heat up to maximize a crunchy skin. The result is a pretzel/pizza hybrid, with just enough chewy crumb to remind you it's bread. The shape is similar to an Egyptian simit or American soft pretzel, which begs to be torn apart and dunked in an array of oils, spreads and dips.

This recipe is based largely on Maurizio’s amazing blog The Perfect Loaf, who I credit most of of my baking successes to. Head over to his page for an incredibly detailed breakdown, I merely adjusted the process to suit my schedule. His recipe has lavender for an extra “Provençal boost”, but I prefer the simplicity of the milder oil-cured kalamata olives and earthy oregano for everyday eating.

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Sourdough Fougasse with Olives

Makes 4 Fougasses. Slightly adapted from The Perfect Loaf.

Feel free to experiment with the types of olives, herbs, and maybe a bit of citrus zest. For an elegant brunch, serve with a Mediterranean-inspired spread of fruity olive oil, sweet garlicky soppressata, and a glass of fruity rose.

115g kalamata olives (12.00%)
24g extra virgin olive oil (2.50%)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried rosemary

865g all-purpose flour (90.00%)
96g whole wheat flour (10.00%)
702g water (73.00%)
173g sourdough starter (100% hydration) (18.00%)
18g salt (1.90%)

1. Autolyse - 9:15 a.m.

Mix together the flours and all but 50g of the water and mix by hand until fully hydrated and there are no dry bits let. Cover and rest for 1 hour.

2. Mix - 10:15 a.m.

Add the sourdough starter, salt, and reserved 50g water. Start by pinching the top until the wet sourdough starts to incorporate. Continue pinching and working your way around the dough, until fully incorporated. For the next step, develop a little more gluten in the dough by either using the Rubaud method or the French slap and fold for 5-8 minutes, until the dough starts to become smooth and slightly elastic.

Drain, pit and coarsely chop the kalamata olives. Set aside.

Add the extra virgin olive oil to the dough and mix by hand until fully incorporated. It should be soft and smooth and slightly elastic. Scatter over the herbs and olives and give it a couple folds to disperse. Cover and bulk ferment for 3.5 hours at room temperature.

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3. Bulk Fermentation — 10:30 am – 2:00 pm

Perform two sets of stretch and folds, 30 minutes apart, starting the first set 30 minutes after bulk fermentation begins (10:00 a.m.). After the second set, cover the dough and let it rest for the remainder of the time period.

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4. Cold Fermentation — 2:00 pm - 7:00 am

When the dough has risen about 30% and top is domed (see picture above) and jiggly when you shake the bowl, it is ready.

Place the entire bowl in a puffed up plastic bag or cover it with a deep dish, then a towel. The objective is to contain the dough so it doesn't develop a skin from refrigeration, but leave enough space for it to rise and not touch the plastic bag or dish.

Once covered, let the dough rest on the counter for 20 minutes. Retard in the refrigerator for 16-18 hours and continue the next steps the following day.

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5. Divide & Preshape — Next day 7:00 a.m.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Lightly flour the top of the dough and divide into four equal parts with a bench knife. With the help of a bench knife and the side of your palms, gently push each piece towards your body with circular motions until it forms a tight round shape. Bench rest, uncovered, for 30 minutes.

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6. Shape — 7:30 a.m.

Cut four pieces of parchment paper wide enough to fit on your baking stone.

Working with two rounds of dough at a time, dust the parchment paper sheets with flour, then flour the top of the dough and flip it over onto the parchment paper. Again, flour the the side facing up which used to touch the counter. Gently roll out the dough into an oval shape without degassing it too much, until it is around 1/2” thick. There should be plenty of space around the parchment as we will stretch them out later. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

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7. Proof — 7:30 am - 9:00 am

Place the parchment sheets on a baking tray and cover with a towel. Proof at 76-78°F (24-25°C) for 1.5 hours on the counter, until the ovals are puffy when gently poked.

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8. Score & Bake — 9:15 am

Meanwhile, preheat an oven with a baking stone to the highest temperature. When the temperature is reached, steam the oven by placing a baking tray at the bottom of the oven and pout boiling water into it. Allow to steam for 15-20 minutes.

Lower the oven temperature to 450°F (230°C). Dust the top of the flattened dough with rice flour. With a bench scraper or a pizza wheel, make one vertical cut along the center without cutting through the edges. Gently grab the dough from the bottom and stretch the cut open, about 1.5”. Then make three to four diagonal cuts on either sides, making sure not to break the edges. Again, gently pull and stretch the cuts open at least 1” apart as the dough will expand in the oven. if the dough starts to stick to your hands, use a little more rice flour.

Bake for 20 minutes with steam, then remove the steaming trays and lower the oven temperature to 400°F (205°C). Bake for another 5-10 minutes until the fougasse is light golden with scattered darker areas. Experiment with the thickness of the dough and the baking time. If you like more crust to crumb ratio, roll it slightly thinner and bake longer. My ideal fougasse is at least 1” thick, with a crunchy crust that tears into steaming chewy crumb.

Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack. These are best enjoyed immediately or within the same day. Refresh day-old fougasse by spraying it with a little water before reheating them under the broiler for no more than a minute.

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