cornmeal-focaccia-with-oliv

Crispy Polenta & Olive Fougasse

Fougasse is a ladder-shaped bread from Provence, similar in many ways to focaccia (even the name hints at shared roots). You can make fougasse with any type of yeasted dough; pizza dough or a simple bread dough enriched with olive oil work very well. It’s all about the shaping: several slits are cut into the dough after the second rising, so the bread bakes up crispier than usual thanks to the additional exposed edges.

My favorite fougasse includes fresh herbs such as thyme or rosemary. Lately I have been adding polenta to the dough, a nod to the cornmeal doughs made in Calabria and Abruzzo, which are typically baked until quite crisp and served floating in thick vegetable soups or passed alongside savory cheeses and salumi. Adding minced black olives to the dough gives it an addictively salty bite; you can omit the olives for a sweeter, more neutral taste and lighter color.

The bulk of this dough is polenta, with just a little wheat flour to provide gluten and lift, so the fougasse bakes up crispy outside and a bit dense and cakey on the inside. It tastes like an old-fashioned bread should: hearty, rustic, and full of character.

Makes one 12-inch fougasse (serves 2 hungry people or 4 more reserved eaters)

For the dough:

  • ¾ cup stone-ground coarse polenta
  • ½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra as needed
  • ¾ teaspoon instant yeast
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ¼ cup pitted black olives, such as Kalamata or Gaeta, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing the bowl
  • ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon warm (100°F) water, plus extra as needed

To bake:

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • ½ teaspoon coarse sea salt

To serve:

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Make the dough: Place the cornmeal, flour, yeast, and salt in a large bowl. Mix well with a wooden spoon. Add the olives and olive oil, and mix again. Pour in the water, adding enough to make a soft dough that gathers around the spoon.

Add a little more water if the dough is dry or a touch of all-purpose flour if it is sticky. Turn out onto a lightly floured counter and knead for 10 minutes, or until smooth and silky and elastic. It is fine if the dough sticks a little bit to the counter; the faster you knead it, the less it will stick; and the less it sticks, the less flour you will add, resulting in a lighter fougasse once baked.

Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl. Shape into a rough ball, and turn to coat with the oil. Cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap, and let rise at room temperature until almost doubled, about 1 hour. At this point, refrigerate the dough overnight so the dough develops a deep, sweet, complex flavor. (You can skip this step if you are in a rush, but the fougasse will taste more flat.)

A few hours before you are ready to bake, remove the dough from the refrigerator, place it on a very lightly floured counter, and knead it a few times. Return it to the bowl and cover again with the plastic wrap.

One hour before baking, preheat the oven with a baking stone in it to 425°F (preferably set on convection bake).

Turn the dough out onto a very lightly floured counter and stretch it into a 12-inch long by 6-inch wide rectangle. Transfer to a piece of parchment paper. Place the parchment paper on an upturned baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest 30 minutes, or until starting to puff a bit.

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Using scissors, cut decorative slits into the dough, creating a ladder shape. Stretch each aperture created by each slit with your fingers so there is more crust exposed.

To bake: In a bowl, whisk together the olive oil and water. Brush over the fougasse. Sprinkle with the coarse salt.

Slip the fougasse (still on the parchment paper) onto the hot baking stone, using the upturned baking sheet like a pizza paddle to push off the parchment paper. Immediately close the oven door.

Bake on the baking stone in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until golden brown all over and crispy around the edges, spraying the oven floor with ¼ cup of water 3 times during the first 10 minutes of baking.

To serve: Cool on a rack 10 minutes, brush with the olive oil, and cut into wedges before serving.

cornmeal-focaccia-with-oliv