Friday, July 22, 2011

Hamelman's Olive Levain as Fougasse (Mellow Baker's: July)

Usually after a day of baking our sandwich bread, I'm breaded out for a couple days and don't feel like baking the next day, but this week I found a little extra energy Wednesday night to mix up my liquid levain for the olive bread.  I wasn't so sure we'd like this bread because of all the olives, but I was excited to try shaping the bread as fougasse.  I figured I would be thrilled if I could accomplish that, and wouldn't be upset if I didn't like the taste of the olives.

After looking everywhere, I finally found a jar of the nicoise olives at a store here in town that carries alot of gourmet type specialty items.  I looked at the itsy bitsy olives in the jar and knew they probably contained pits, but I thought no problem, I'll just squeeze them one by one and the pit will just pop right out.  Wrong!!  I waited until the morning to open the jar of olives and pulled out the first one.  Well, I squeezed and squeezed and managed to squirt juice on myself, but no pit popped out.  So, at 7 am in the morning, I'm sitting in my PJ's at the kitchen table, using a small paring knife to carve the olive flesh away from the pits of these olives.  After pitting all the olives I dumped them into my bowl to weigh them and found I only had 2 1/2 oz and I needed 4.  Aaaargh!  So after some debate, I trudged off to the grocery store and scooped 8-10  olives out of the Mediterranean mix at the olive bar there.  I went home and pitted these and dumped them into my bowl and had exactly 4 oz.

I was really nervous about just using Lucky, my starter, to leaven this bread.  This was another reason I was anxious to try this bread.  I've not had much success using my sourdough starter in breads containing no commercial yeast.  I resisted the urge to add just a pinch of instant yeast, and hoped Lucky would work its magic. 

I let my liquid levain sit on the counter almost a full 16 hours, and during the bulk fermentation of 2 1/2 hours I folded the dough once.  It didn't rise a huge amount during the fermentation, but there was definitely alot of gas bubbles in the dough when I folded and shaped it.  After bulk fermentation, I shaped the dough into a rough round and covered it for 15 minutes.  Then, using the rolling pin, I flattened the round into an oblong shape.  I brushed it with a little olive oil, and covered it again for an hour. 

After the hour was up, I stretched the dough, shaped it into a triangle and used my pizza wheel to cut the slits into the dough.  (I put a piece of cardboard under the parchment while I was cutting my slits so as not to slit my mat or peel.)

To open up the slits, I stretched the dough from the sides a bit, and then stuck my fingers right into each slit and opened them up nice and big, so that when it baked the holes wouldn't close back up.

I slid the fougasse onto the baking stone and baked with steam at 450° for 20 minutes and took it out to cool.  I was so happy with the way it looked coming out of the oven.  I even thought for a moment about just hanging it on the wall in the kitchen as a decoration instead of eating it. 

Hubby and I were both a little apprehensive about this bread, not knowing what to expect flavor wise.  We've grown up on those squishy, kind of tasteless really, California black olives from the cans and not really experienced the taste of a good olive.  We have however tasted one other type of olive quite a bit and thats the kalamata, which we both rather detest, especially me.  Its just so bitter that I can't stand eating them on salads, etc. 

Surprisingly, the bread was good.  There were a lot of olives and you definitely did get a taste of them in every bite.  The olives were slightly bitter, but with a little butter smeared on, it was quite tasty.  It was chewy like sourdough, had good sourdough flavor and the crumb was way better than any of my past sourdough attempts.  I think this qualified as a sourdough success.  Yea :)

I've been reading everything I can stumble upon regarding fougasse lately, to get an idea of the different recipes out there.  I've seen some different slit patterns and I think I'd like to try one of the recipes with no olives, but with cheese and lots of herbs.  That seems to be a popular way to do fougasse, besides the olive and anchovie option.

I feel bad that this bread didn't turn out so well for some of the others, but maybe it's worth another try, and if you're not an olive fan, just substitute some dried herbs and sprinkle on your favorite cheese and definitely try shaping it into the classical 'leafy' looking fougasse.


  1. Beautiful, Melanie! Glad yours turned out so well! Mine was a total fail...maybe I should've tried the fougasse form, but oh well...not a big olive fan anyway. =)

  2. Gorgeous fougasse, Mel! I know it's not classic, but I've always wondered if we could make a butterfly shaped fougasse? :)

  3. Hey that's beautiful! I was just reading your comment on my blog and pondering how to answer it. Only thing maybe is use the levain a bit earlier. Ideally you want to use it when it is at its frothy peak. Mine does this in about 12 hours, sometimes in 8 hours if the weather is warm and I am refreshing it frequently. Observe its rise and fall and see if you can figure out its time cycle. The dough doesn't have to rise a lot, if it rises by about half (not double) then that's fine, as long as you can see a network of bubbles when you cut into the dough that is a sign that fermentation is happening.

    Anyway, I wish I could make a fougasse as gorgeous as yours!

  4. Thank you Abby, Celia, & Joanna!

    That's a great idea Celia :) I think it would be fun to try making a butterfly. Maybe two smaller fougasse for the wings and a small baguette for the body.

  5. I don't know how to pronounce fougasse, but it looks really neat. I like any kind of olives although some are a bit tasteless. Good luck on making two small ones and a baguette. That sounds like a days work.
    Keep baking,

  6. Wow, that looks great! Nice job. Stick with the sourdough; it gets better and more consistent as time goes on. And there's nothing like it.