Makes 3 fougasses
Fougasse is a French term related to the Latin focus or center, which referred to the hearth—the fireplace—the center of the home. The Italian focaccia is of similar origin. Fougasse is much thicker than pizza, but relative to a thick loaf it is thin, with deep holes that create an abundance of wonderful crust to contrast with its soft interior.
1. Divide the dough into three pieces. With both hands in a cupping motion, tuck the sides slightly under each quarter to create a smooth top. With both hands, grab the sides of the each round and stretch it sideways into an oval. Let it spring back slightly, then pull it out again. Flatten out a little, cover each with plastic wrap lightly sprayed with nonstick cooking spray and leave on the counter for about 20 minutes. The relaxed dough is now much easier to shape.
2. Shape one dough piece at a time, for a total of three. It is good to look at a picture of a fougasse before you start shaping one (see the photograph). Cut a piece of Release foil 12 to 14 inches (30 to 36 cm) long. Place the dough on the nonstick side. You want to shape each piece of the dough into a large, fat "leaf" a little over 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick, with roughly an 8 to 10-inch (20 to 25-cm) base, 10 inches (25 cm) long in the center, coming to a fat point at the top. Roll or press the dough out into a large leaf shape. The cuts in the dough are not slits, but holes running from 1/2 to 1 inch (1.3 to 2.5 cm) wide.
3. With a sharp dough scraper, cut a slit up the middle to resemble the major center vein of the leaf. Pull the dough apart so that you have a 1-inch (2.5-cm) wide hole. This slit should run from 3/4 inch (2 cm) from the bottom to 3/4 inch (2 cm) from the point. Dust your fingers with cornstarch and widen the slit, running about h inch (1.3 cm) wide at the top and bottom and 1 inch (2.5 cm) wide in the center, so that a hole will remain when the dough rises. Next make three slits (holes) on each side of this main "vein." Near the base of the "leaf, "'parallel to the base, cut a slit on one side of the main slit, running from almost the corner of the base to almost the main "vein" hole. Cut another slit like this on the other side of the main "vein" slit. Widen these two base slits to 1/2 inch (1.3 cm) wide near the ends and almost 1 inch (2.5 cm) in the center. Again, use your fingers to widen these slits so that they will remain open after the dough rises.
4. Cut two more short "veins" on each side running up some from the main "vein" slit at an angle, almost to the outer edge of the "leaf." Widen all of these slits to 1/2 to 1-inch (1.3 to 2.5-cm) holes. Sprinkle the shaped leaf lightly with cornstarch. Cover loosely with plastic wrap that has been sprayed lightly with nonstick cooking spray and allow to rise 30 minutes to an hour.
5. As soon as you have shaped the dough for its final rise, arrange a shelf in the lower third of the oven, place a baking stone on it, and preheat the oven to 460°F/238°C.
6. Place a few clean small rocks (about 1 to 2 inches/2.5 to 5 cm each) in a pan with 2-inch (5-cm) sides and place the pan on the floor of the oven near the front. You are going to pour about 1 cup (237 ml) of boiling water over the rocks before you put the bread in the oven. You want a good steam-filled oven for the bread to go in. This steam will condense on the dough to keep it moist and allow a good oven rise. For the boiling water, place a saucepan with about 1-1/4 cups (296 ml) of water on a back burner and bring to a low simmer. When the bread is risen, turn the heat up on the water and bring to a boil. Very carefully, with oven mitts on, making sure your arms and face are out of the way of the steam that will burst up, pour the boiling water into the pan of hot rocks. Close the oven door to allow it to fill with steam.
7. I do not have a baker's peel, so I slip a thin, flat baking sheet with no raised edges on three sides under the fougasses on the foil, and slide the foil and fougasse onto the hot stone. It will take only 13 to 16 minutes to bake. Be sure to brown well. This magnificent, crunchy crust is wonderful. Place the fougasses on a rack to cool.
When yeast is active, it reproduces by dividing.—one cell divides into two, then each of those divides. So, soon you have a clump of yeast. Yeast needs both oxygen and food (sugar) to thrive and divide. The yeast in the center of these clumps can no longer get this necessary oxygen and food.
If you move the dough around, you break up these clumps and spread out the yeast, giving it a fresh supply of food and oxygen.
In folding, you are not trying to remove air bubbles, but just to stretch the dough and trap a little air. Instead of the violent punching down of the dough, simple stretching and folding does several things. It spreads out the yeast beautifully and it also develops gluten.
On a clean counter wiped with a lightly oiled paper towel, dump out the dough so that the smooth top of the dough is now on the bottom. Allow it to spread out as much as it will. Pick up the dough on the left side, lift up about one-third of the dough, and gently fold it across to the right, trapping some air as you make the fold. Allow it to spread a few seconds, then lift up about one-third of the right side of the dough and bring it across to the left. Again, allow the dough a few seconds to spread. Now pick up the bottom edge of the dough and bring about one-third of it up and toward the top. After it settles, pick up the top edge, lift about one-third of it up, and bring it across the dough toward you.
Rounding or preshaping—tucking the dough pieces into smooth rounds before shaping—does several things. It allows the dough to relax, making final shaping much easier. And this tucking into smooth rounds creates a covering to better hold gases. Rounding also helps to align gluten. In good gluten development, protein strands are aligned and stretched in the same direction.
This page created February 2009
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