Shortly before we left on our vacation we were invited to the house of some new friends for dinner. As they were laying out quite a spread for us (three weeks later we’re STILL talking about it), I thought that the least I could do was make some bread. Now, you’re probably much more evolved than I am, but I get a little nervous whenever I’m cooking for new people. I think that maybe I’ve been deluding myself about my abilities for all these years; I think I’m going to finally be found out as a shouldn’t-cook-ever-again fraud. So there’s that. Also, I was having a busy day and didn’t have time for hours of bread proofing and supervising. Lucky for me, I stumbled on just the right recipe for just the right type of bread — fougasse. Fougasse is one of those breads that balances simplicity and sophistication. I especially like it because it’s so pretty in a bread basket, but the form isn’t for nothing. Its pretzelly spread out form means that it bakes in 15 minutes flat. It’s practical for bringing when you’re a guest because it’s such an easy, pretty, pull-apart bread that’s not going to get in the way of any other food your host might be serving. Fougasse just relaxes in the background looking pretty and acting compliant.

I chose a Richard Bertinet recipe for my first fougasse time for a few reasons, including its simplicity and its speed, and also the fact that I haven’t used this book enough. I’m glad I did. The bread only had one rise, and it was simplicity itself, but it didn’t lack in flavour or colour.

Our bread turned out great, but the evening we spent was even better. We had a great time talking with Kevin and Pam, looking at their garden, enjoying their charming daughters, and, of course, eating their food. It was so nice that I forgot to worry about the bread’s reception. I’m glad I brought the fougasse, though. It was the least we could do.

Adapted from Richard Bertinet’s “Dough.”
One interesting thing about Richard Bertinet is the kneading technique he espouses, which works very well with wet, shaggy, sticky doughs. Also, it’s really fun to do. Here’s a video showing the technique. Ignore the recipe, which is for sweet dough, and just concentrate on the technique. Super-useful.

This recipe makes about 6 fougasses and will take you about two and a half hours if you include resting time for the dough. Not bad, right?

1/4 ounce (1 teaspoon) instant yeast
18 ounces (about 3 3/4 to 3 7/8 cups) bread flour
1/3 ounce (2 teaspoons) fine salt
12 1/2 ounces (13 fl. oz. or approximately 1 1/2 cups) lukewarm water

Combine yeast and flour, then mix in the salt and water. Combine the ingredients using a bread scraper with one hand while turning the bowl with the other hand (see the above video for visuals).

When the dough begins to come together after 2 to 3 minutes, use your scraper to help you turn it out onto the counter for kneading. With Bertinet’s technique there is no need to flour the counter. Again, watch the above video for the kneading technique that will help you turn the wettest dough into a smooth, silky masterpiece. (Can you tell that I’m a convert?)

When the dough is silky and smooth, flour it very lightly and transfer it to an equally lightly floured mixing bowl to proof for about an hour until it has approximately doubled in volume. Remember at some point in this hour to preheat the oven to as hot as you can (my oven goes to 500 F, so that’s what I do).

When you’re ready to form your fougasses, flour the counter generously and gently turn the dough out onto your counter. Don’t deflate it! Flour the top of the dough, cover it with a cloth, and let it rest for another five minutes.

Using a pastry scraper, cut the dough into two large pieces and then cut those pieces into three equal, rectangular pieces. Again, do this gently to avoid deflation.

Taking one piece of dough at a time, use your scraper to make a large cut diagonally across the center of one dough piece. Make smaller diagonal cuts on each side of the middle cut. The secret to a decent final shape is not to overdo it on  the cuts. Too many little holes, and everything will just close up during baking. Instead, don’t be scared to really pull the dough apart and make large holes. Always remember to be gentle, though, and avoid knocking too much air out of the dough.

Transfer your formed fougasse to a floured peel or the back of a baking  to slide it onto a baking stone or another preheated tray in the oven. Quickly close the oven door to minimize heat escape, then reopen it and use a water spritzer to quickly mist the oven before again closing the door. Turn the heat down to 450 F. Bake until the fougasse is golden brown, about 10-15 minutes.

While your first fougasse is baking, start forming the next one.