Recipe: Fougasse: The Bread Of Friendship
Contributor Lisa Fielding is a private chef and boutique caterer based in Manhattan who weekends in Litchfield County whenever possible. Many of her Manhattan clients are also Litchfield County weekenders, so work brings her to Northwest Connecticut as well. A Los Angeles transplant, Fielding was a former Hollywood film executive who segued into screenwriting several years ago, which enabled her to pursue her passion for food and entertaining. Lisa’s culinary skill set draws from a broad spectrum of dishes and ingredients.
It is that time of year: the holidays are just about upon us and endless entertaining is in sight, which translates to hours in the kitchen. No doubt cooking is laborious, but it is also a supreme act of generosity and creates an atmosphere where people can truly connect. Ergo, I am not only an enthusiastic party giver but also an appreciative guest. Every time an invitation arrives inviting me to dine I am over the moon. Entertaining doesn’t have to be fancy. It just has to come from the heart. The moment they’ve arrived, guests can feel the amount of love and care that has gone into whatever meal you’ve prepared and table you’ve set. This makes them feel special, and enables us to take the time to enjoy each other.
So now that you’re contemplating your multi-starred holiday menu, don’t settle for dinner rolls at your table. Instead put a little elbow grease into the bread and make the deeply presentable fougasse. Fougasse is a Provençal flatbread that dates back to ancient Rome and is a cousin to its Italian counterpart, focaccia. I have adapted several recipes over the years and choose to stuff mine with olives, dried fruits, nuts and cheese or — for a sweeter version that is germane to Monaco — nuts, citrus and sugar. Either way, I roll the dough into a large leaf shape and slash it in three places to deepen the effect before sprinkling with sea salt and additional herbs, and then baking. The concept of bringing the bread to the table whole is that each person tears a piece and offers the fougasse to his or her companion, and so on. It’s a casual and convivial custom that harkens back centuries.
Here is a basic recipe for fougasse. Let your imagination run wild and add ingredients that appeal to you.
Yields 2 loaves
1 tsp. active dry yeast
1 tsp. sugar
1 1/3 cups water heated to 115°F
4½ cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing loaves
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/3 cup roasted walnut pieces
1/3 cup crumbled Gorgonzola
1/3 cup Niçoise olives, pitted and chopped
Sea salt to taste
1 tsp. herbes de Provence
1. In a large bowl, stir together yeast, sugar and water; let sit until foamy, 10 minutes. Stir in flour, oil, and kosher salt and mix until a dough forms. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface. Knead for 6 minutes. Or mix dough in a stand mixer and then switch to the dough hook and knead for 6 minutes. Shape into a ball and moisten with a little olive oil; cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm place until doubled in size, 1½ hours.
2. Heat oven to 500°F. Divide dough into 2 equal pieces. Working with one piece at a time, roll into a rough 8x10-inch rectangle. Mound half the walnuts, cheese and olives in the center. Fold the sides over the filling until you’ve made an envelope. Carefully re-roll, evenly distributing filling until the dough resembles a large leaf roughly 10x12 inches.
3. Transfer the leaf to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Using a sharp knife, cut a single slash down the middle of the bread and two additional slashes, slightly angled, on the sides. Spread slashes apart with your fingers. Cover with a damp towel; let rest until puffed, about 30 minutes. Lightly brush the loaf with olive oil; sprinkle generously with sea salt and herbes de Provence. Put the baking sheet in the oven and carefully toss several handfuls of water on the bottom of the oven to create steam and then close the door. Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown.