Here’s the thing about baking bread: it’s not hard. Once you break the barrier between your novice baker self and your first handcrafted loaf, life in general feels a little easier. Baking bread definitely takes a bit of patience, but none of the techniques required to produce a loaf of bread are inherently difficult to perform. Baking is a science and if you follow the proper formula it just works. Pulling a perfect loaf from the oven is complete solace from the chaos of life. What further motivation could you need?
Let’s talk specifics. This crazy looking loaf is a french style flat bread called Fougasse. It’s not literally flat, but it’s flat in the way that a focaccia is flat. Yes, there is yeast in it. No, it’s not a voluminous, airy loaf. Yes, it’s delicious. Fougasse is usually shaped to resemble an ear of wheat, or a leaf. That’s why this bread looks a bit bizarre. Shaping it just requires a few thoughtfully places slashes in the dough just before it goes into the oven. This loaf was actually one of two but the other one was not-so-thoughtfully slashed and looked like an alien and is therefore not pictured. I ate it straight away to hide evidence of its hideousness. End scene.
Recipe from Gourmet via Epicurious
Makes 2 loaves
1 tsp Sugar
½ C Warm Water (105-115 Degrees F)
2 tsp Active Dry Yeast (from a 1/4 oz. package)
½ C All-Purpose Flour
2 T sugar
1 ¼ tsp Table Salt
1 tsp Anise Seeds, lightly crushed
2/3 C Water
2 tsp Orange-Flower Water
1/3 C Extra Virgin Olive Oil + extra for brushing
3 ¼ C All-Purpose Flour + additional for kneading
1 ½ tsp Flaky or Coarse Sea Salt
Directions: Stir together the 1 tsp sugar and ½ C warm water in bowl of stand mixer. Sprinkle yeast over mixture and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. (If yeast doesn’t foam, discard and start over with new yeast.)
Whisk flour into yeast mixture until combined well. Let starter rise, loosely covered with plastic wrap, 30 minutes.
Add 2 T sugar, salt, crushed anise seeds, water, orange-flower water, zest, 1/3 cup oil, and 11/4 cups flour to starter and beat at medium speed with paddle attachment until smooth. Mix in remaining 2 cups flour, 1/2 cup at a time, at low speed until a soft dough forms.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, sprinkling surface lightly with flour if dough is very sticky, until smooth and elastic (dough will remain slightly sticky,) 8 to 10 minutes. Form dough into a ball and transfer to a lightly oiled large bowl, turning dough to coat with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled in bulk, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Punch down dough (do not knead), then halve. Pat out each half into an oval (about 12 inches long and 1/4 inch thick), then transfer to 2 lightly oiled large baking sheets.
Using a very sharp knife or a pastry scraper, make a cut down center of each oval “leaf,” cutting all the way through to baking sheet and leaving a 1-inch border on each end of cut. Make 3 shorter diagonal cuts on each side of original cut, leaving a 1-inch border on each end of cuts, to create the look of leaf veins (do not connect cuts). Gently pull apart cuts about 1 1/2 inches with your fingers. Let dough stand, uncovered, until slightly puffed, about 30 minutes.
Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 375°F.
Brush loaves with remaining tablespoon oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake, switching position of baking sheets halfway through baking, until loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on bottom, 35 to 40 minutes total. Transfer loaves to a rack and cool to warm or room temperature.