Baking bread is something that scares a lot of people. The chemistry and craft involved in each stage of weighing, kneading, proving and baking can seem like a daunting task, so it’s important to approach the process with some background knowledge, and even a guide to hold your hand. When I first embarked on the mission of making my own bread, my helping hand existed in the form of the River Cottage Bread Handbook.
I’ve sung its praises countless times on this blog; from simple wholemeal loaves to home made croissants, this lovely little book will guide you through the world of baking in a simple, straightforward way. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that I’m also a massive fan of Guardian columnist and baking guru Dan Lepard; I’m yet to make a recipe of his which hasn’t turned out wonderfully. But there’s one more person I’d like to add to this list, completing a holy trinity of baking brilliance – award winning chef, baker and all round good guy, Richard Bertinet.
When I first joined Twitter back in March this year, Richard was the first person ever to follow me. ‘Show some love to this lonely little loaf‘ I believe were his exact words, and this generous, supportive attitude is one that shines through in his approach to learning to bake. His book Dough - and accompanying DVD - use step-by-step pictures and simple techniques to guide the reader through each stage of the baking process, and with gorgeous photos to accompany each recipe, there’s not a single loaf I wouldn’t want to bake.
This month’s Fresh from the Oven challenge from Claire at Purely Food is inspired by one such loaf; fougasse. In his introduction to the recipe, Richard explains that this is one of his favourite loaves to teach beginners as it is both simple to make and impressive to look at. There’s something so satisfying about taking beautifully baked home made loaf fresh from the oven, and if you’re new to baking I urge you to try this recipe; it really is so simple.
Fougasse is a flat bread particularly associated with the Provence region of France. Derived from the Latin word for focus, meaning hearth, it has the same etymology as the popular focaccia, however unlike its more yielding, oily Italian counterpart, fougasse is crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. Little slashes across the loaf mean it’s easy to tear into fingers, making this the perfect bread to share, and the mild flavour and flat surface make fougasse ideal for adding different flavours and toppings to.
I made two large loaves from the batch of dough, baking one plain and topping the second with tiny little tomato halves. Next time I’d like to try a combination of thyme and caramelized red onion, but you can really let your imagination go here; cheese, bacon, olives, herbs or even spices would work well – I’m thinking a sprinkle of za’atar or oregano and a drizzle of olive oil, before serving with some crumbly goats cheese and a simple salad.
What’s your favourite type of loaf? Do you have a friend, relative, teacher or chef who has inspired you to bake? And if you don’t already bake, might this post inspire you to have a go?
Fougasse (from Richard Bertinet’s Dough)
(makes 2 large or 4 smaller loaves)
500g strong white bread flour
7g dried yeast
10g sea salt
Preheat oven as hot as it will go and pop a baking stone or tray in to warm up.
Mix yeast into the flour, then add the salt and water. Mix for a couple of minutes with a flat scraper until the dough starts to come together.
Transfer the dough onto your working surface. Continue to mix the ingredients by stretching out the dough and folding it over onto itself. Keep working the dough until it comes cleanly away from the work surface and is not sticky.
Lightly flour the work surface, place the dough on the flour and form into a ball. Place the ball into a dry mixing bowl and cover with a black plaster bin liner. Leave to rest for one hour minimum.
Once doubled in size, turn the dough out gently onto a well-floured surface, being careful not to deflate it. Generously flour the top of the dough, cover with a clean tea towel and rest for a further five minutes.
Using a plastic scraper or spatula divide the dough into two oblongs. If making four loaves, cut each piece in half again.
Make one large diagonal cut in each piece of dough, making sure you cut right through to the work surface but not through to the corners. Make 3 smaller diagonal cuts on each side of the central one. Gently open out the holes with your fingers and shake off the excess flour. If adding any toppings, this is your moment – caramelized onions, halved cherry tomatoes drizzled with oil and sea salt, rosemary, thyme and olives would all be delicious.
Lift onto a lightly floured baking tray and slide onto the hot baking stone or tray in your oven. Mist your oven with water spray to help achieve the perfect crust, then bake for 10 to 12 minutes until golden brown. Serve whilst still warm, or reheat at a low temperature if serving later.