with Hilary Cacchio

I’ve just finished teaching at Strictly Catalan in the Pyrenees. Our latest guests were from Australia and we spent a wonderful week enjoying the foods, wines, culture and traditions of Catalunya. The French Catalans are passionate about their Fougasse. This bread was traditionally used to test the temperature of the wood-fired oven: the time in which the loaf takes to bake indicates the temperature and denotes whether the loaves can be loaded into the oven. Fougasse in the Vallespir can be sweet or savoury.

Sweet Cherry & Almond Fougasse

Cherry season comes early in the Vallespir and once the President receives the first pickings the rest are ours to enjoy (apparently!), and the local population really do their best to enjoy them! There is the annual Cherry Fete, which will sees the streets lined with stalls selling cherries and all sorts of celebrations take place including the annual cherry stone spitting contest! The Vallespir cherries really are something to celebrate however, they are juicy, sweet and full of flavour.

Almonds and cherries are simply the perfect pairing, and the Vallespir excells in producing both. The trees grow on the slopes of the Alberes where the River Tech flows down towards the Mediteranean and the almonds taste like almonds should! If locally grown almonds aren’t available to you buy organic ones with the skins on (these usually have the most intense flavour) and grind them yourself.

This Sweet Cherry & Almond Fougasse is a slightly different way to enjoy this year’s cherries. It’s perfect for picnics, wonderful with coffee, and just about any time of day really!
This recipe will make enough dough for one large Fougasse or two small ones.

Day 1 (Evening):

You need to make the sponge for the bread the evening before you want the Fougasse to be ready:

  • Shipton Mill No.4 or any Plain White Bread Making Flour3g Fresh Yeast (1/2 tsp Dried Yeast)
  • 155ml Full Cream Milk (room temperature or tepid if using dried yeast)

♣Mix the ingredients in a medium-sized bowl; the mixture will resemble lumpy porridge.
♣Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and leave at room temperature overnight (10-12 hours) or until the sponge has doubled in size and is bursting with glistening bubbles.

Day 2:

  • 40g Flower Honey
  • 3 Drops Vanilla Extract (or a few scrapings from a Vanilla Pod)
  • 5g Maldon Sea Salt
  • 1 Large Egg
  • 1 Large Egg Yolk
  • 220g Shipton Mill No. 4 or any Plain White Bread Making Flour
  • 70g Unsalted Butter, chilled and cut into tiny pieces

♣ Stir the honey, vanilla, salt and eggs into the sponge. Add the flour and mix to form a single sticky ball, this will take about a minute. Tip the dough onto the work surface and cover it with a bowl then leave it to rest for 30 minutes.

♣ Uncover the dough and knead for 5 minutes. It should be sticky to begin with, but if it isn’t then add a little more milk or water. Use a combination of stretching and scraping the dough from the work surface with a dough scraper to develop the gluten. Don’t be tempted to add more flour. Leave the dough to rest for 30 minutes.

♣ Continue to knead and stretch the dough for a further 4 minutes. If the dough gets sticky, don’t add flour, use a dough scraper to lift it off the work surface. If the dough is really sticky, knead it in short bursts and allow the dough to rest inbetween.

♣ Remove the butter cubes from the fridge. Rest the dough for 15 minutes then test the gluten development using the window-pane method. The dough should be smooth, silky and stretchy. If not, the dough needs to be kneaded for a few more minutes to develop the gluten.

♣ Stretch the dough out and scatter the butter pieces over. Roll-up the dough and knead until the butter is completely incorporated. If the dough becomes at all oily, stop kneading and place in the fridge to cool for 20 minutes and then continue.

♣ Place the finished dough into a clean bowl and cover with a damp cloth then leave at room temperature (15-18C) to bulk prove (until it doubles in size).

♣ Divide the dough into two (if making two small Fougasse) and roll each into a boule (or make one if making one large Fougasse). Flatten the boules with the palm of your hand and roll each into an elongated oval about 1 cm thick. When the dough has stretched as far as it wants to, leave it to rest for 15 minutes and then continue.

♣ 1cm from the edge press down into the dough to create a raised margin (which will stop the topping from escaping).

Make the frangipane:

  • 80g softened Butter
  • 75g Caster Sugar
  • 1 Medium Egg
  • 80g Whole Organic Almonds with skins on, ground finely
  • 200g Cherries, pitted and halved

♣ Beat the butter and sugar until they form and almost white paste.
♣ Beat in the egg a little at a time. Fold in the ground almonds. Set aside (do not refrigerate).
♣ Sprinkle half the cherries over the dough. Mix the remaining cherries into the frangipane.
♣ Divide the mixture (if needed) and spread it evenly over the cherries on each Fougasse.
♣ Place the Fougasse onto a flat baking tray and cover with an oiled piece of cling film.
♣ Either leave the Fougasse to rest for a couple of hours at room temperature and then bake, or leave the Fougasse to rest for an hour and then refrigerate for up to 24 hours (remove from the fridge 2 hours before baking).
♣ Preheat the oven to 180C
♣ Bake the Fougasse for 20-25 minutes until cooked through. If the topping escapes over the raised edge, briefly open the oven door and scoop it back into the centre.
♣ Once cooked through, remove the Fougasse from the oven and allow to cool slightly.

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HilaryVisit Hilary’s blog  for a slightly more modern take on Catalan recipes, or order her new book, Sourdough Suppers’ on Amazon.fr or ebay.fr or by email at hilaryjj@btinternet.com

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