Baking with a 4-year old is a lot of fun. You have help scaling and pouring ("Can I pour the yeast over the flour? Can I mix it myself? Why does it have to be mixed? Can I add the water myself? Why do you need to go slow? Why can't I add the salt now? Why does the dough have to rest? ") and get a watchful sentinel who raises the alarm whenever the dough tends to go off center ("Come quick! The dough is going to the side again. Why does it do that?") and mans the red and green buttons on the mixer with fierce determination, which means you don't have to
do it yourself with your dough-sticky fingers ("Why don't you like to touch the button with your sticky fingers?"at which point I gave her the same answer my darling of a grandpa used to give me when he got tired of my questions: "To give little girls a reason to ask why" and she giggled). I must remember that she likes this answer! She also likes it a lot when I counter with a "Why do you have to ask why?". So that's two good lines to use when I get too busy to actually think! Especially when she has already asked the question the day before and will do it again the day after. Some times I test her by saying that she already knows the answer and she invariably does. So I guess she's testing to see whether or not I change my story from one day to the next.
But besides devouring what she calls her "favorite sandwich" everyday for breakfast (a piece of ciabatta with butter, honey and Swiss cheese), my grand-daughter isn't a die-hard bread eater. So I decided to make fun breads with her and that was a huge hit! I heard her talking excitedly to her parents on the phone that night (they were on a cruise somewhere in the Atlantic) and telling them we had made a yummy house bread and two leaf breads, including "a huge huge" one. I wonder what they made of that...
As strange as it may sound for a French native, it was my first time making fougasse, a bread I hadn't been especially attracted to in the past, and since my targeted audience probably wouldn't eat it if it contained olives, anchovies or, God forbid, herbs, I made it plain. But even plain, it had a very aromatic flavor, probably because the olive oil I used (from Trader Joe's if I remember correctly) was very fragrant, and also, of course, because of the starter-based sponge.
But then, flavorwise, you can never go wrong when you make one of Nancy Silverton's recipes in Breads from La Brea Bakery, the book where I learned most of what I knew about bread making before taking classes at the San Francisco Baking Institute, and the one I turned to for these first fougasses.
We did make three loaves: a tiny house, a small leaf and a gigantic one but I forgot to take a picture of the big one! Sorry about that... Anyway it looked a lot like the small one, only twice the size and with many more openings.
Ingredients (for 2 large loaves, or two small ones and a large one, or 4 small ones):
For the sponge
254 g cool water (70F/21C)
57 g mature white starter
227 g unbleached all-purpose flour
For the final dough
556 g cold water (55F/13C)
5 g instant dry yeast
the whole sponge
1136 g unbleached all-purpose flour
25 g salt
54 g extra-virgin olive oil
- The day before baking, make a sponge by placing water, white starter and flour in a mixing bowl and stirring with a spatula
- Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let the dough ferment overnight at room temperature
- The day of the baking, place water and yeast in the bowl of a mixer. Uncover the sponge and add it to the yeast mixture, along with the flour
- Mix the dough on low speed for 4 minutes
- Cover the dough with a proofing cloth and allow it to rest in the bowl about 20 minutes (autolyse)
- Add the salt and continue mixing on medium speed for 4 minutes, scraping the dough down the sides of the bowl as necessary with a rubber spatula
- Add the olive oil and mix on medium speed until incorporated and desired dough temperature (74-78 F/23-26C) is reached
- Remove the dough from the mixing bowl. It should feel soft and resilient. Mix it for a few minutes by hand on a lightly floured work surface
- Place in oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let ferment at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 3 hours
- Preheat the oven to 500F/260C one hour before baking
- Uncover the dough and turn it onto a lightly floured surface
- Stretch it into a rectangle about 24 by 18 inches (61 x 46 cm) and at least 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick
- Cut the dough in half with a dough cutter into two 12 x 9-inch (30.5 x 23 cm) rectangles
- Working with one piece of dough at a time (leaving the second one covered with a cloth), fold in the edges of the longest sides of the dough to meet in the middle and invert the dough, seam side down, onto a floured, parchment-lined baking sheet. Dimple the dough slightly with your fingers to seal the seam underneath. The dough should be 1 to 1.5-inch (2.5 to 4 cm) thick
- Cup your hands around the top end of the dough and shape it into a half oval using a pushing motion. With a similar motion, shape the bottom end of the dough, leaving the edges slightly squared.
- Uncover the second piece of dough and shape it in the same manner
- Cover the loaves with a cloth and let them proof at room temperature for about 1/2 hour
- Uncover the first piece of dough and cut/decorate as desired (you can make leaves, trees, buildings, boats, trains, whatever your imagination will suggest) but don't forget to always enlarge the cuts with your fingertips so that the openings are 1 to 1.5 inches (2.5 to 4 cm) wide (if not, they will close during baking
- Lightly sprinkle each fougasse with flour, cover with a cloth, and let the dough relax for about 45 minutes
- Open the oven door, spritz the oven heavily with water from a spray bottle and quickly close the door. Open it again and slide one baking sheet in, spritz some more
- Reduce oven temp to 450 F/232 C, spritz 2 more times during the next 5 minutes, then refrain from opening the oven door for the next 15 minutes
- After 15 minutes, check the loaf and rotate it if necessary to ensure even baking. Continue baking until the crust is an even brown color from top to bottom (10 more minutes in my case)
- Repeat with the second loaf
- Let cool on a wire rack before eating.