Majority of people I talk to are convinced that fougasse is clearly French. Well, it is not so simple… In ancient Latin countries, panis focacius was a flatbread baked in the ashes of the hearth that translates as focus in Latin. Based on this tradition different nations created a rather diverse range of breads that includes focaccia in Italy, hogaza in Spain, fogassa in Catalonia, fugàssa in Ligurian, pogača in the Balkans, pogacsa in Hungary, the fogaça in Portugal (which is a sweet version), fougasse in Provence, originally spelled fogatza , fouace or fouée in other French regions, also a type of pastry, interestingly, from Monaco that is topped with almonds and nuts. The Provence version is more likely to have additions in the form of olives or cheese, that is clearly a form of pizza.
Fougasse was traditionally used to assess the temperature of a wood fired oven, like the naan was used to test the tandoor. The time it would take to bake gives an idea of the oven temperature and whether the rest of the bread can be loaded.
Ingredients (makes 1 big fougasse)
165 g white flour
116 g water
5 g fresh yeast
3 g salt
2 tsp Dijon mustard
50 g grated cheese, some extra to sprinkle
Preheat the oven to 200C and dust a large baking tray with flour. Put the flour in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and steadily pour in the water, finally add the yeast. Set aside for 10 minutes. Add the salt, mustard on the side, mix well. Knead the dough for 10 minutes on a lightly floured work surface. Add the cheese and knead for a further 30 seconds, or until it is well combined. Let it rise for about 30 minutes.
Place the dough mixture on a work surface thoroughly dusted with polenta. Shape it into a ball, making sure the top is taught and smooth. Using a rolling-pin, roll it out into a rough oval shape. Cut slashes in the loaf to look like a fern leaf with a knife or razor blade, and then open the slashes apart with floured hands. Push cheese into the top of the dough (optional), then cover loosely with oiled cling film. Leave to rise in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, approximately for 30 minutes.
Once risen, remove the clingfilm, brush the dough with milk and place in the hot oven. Spray the oven with water before closing – this will prevent a crust from forming too quickly and will help to ensure a good rise. Bake for 30–35 minutes, or until the bread is well-risen and golden brown.