I’m really fond of fougasse, southern France’s version of the focaccia. It’s fun to make and this Christmas tree version, while it departs from the traditional shaping, is a festive addition to the seasonal table.
If you haven’t made one before, be warned that this is a wet dough. I usually make it by hand but you can use a stand mixer fitted with a bread hook if you prefer. It will eventually come together in a soft, elastic dough.
At least it will if you follow the instructions below and don’t get distracted like I did. Consequently my Christmas tree looks like it had too many bevvies at the boozer and then got caught in a gale, but I’m confident yours will be perfectly symmetrical. Oh yes.
If it isn’t, don’t worry, this recipe makes two fougasses so you get a second go at shaping. Anyway, we all know that real live Christmas trees are always a bit on the wonk. Perfectly imperfect, as my friend Steph likes to say.
This is a plain fougasse and I think it’s a bread that needs no ornamentation (ho ho ho). You can, though, add finely chopped herbs and/or cheese. Stick a fairy on top if you like, it is nearly Christmas. I don’t recommend trying to make one with this dough, though. Ooh, a challenge … any takers?
Christmas Tree Fougasse
500g strong white bread flour
7g easy-blend yeast
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil (+ extra for brushing)
350g tepid water (hand hot/blood heat)
Sea salt flakes, for scattering
Tip the flour into a large bowl. Stir in the yeast. Add the salt. Measure the water into a jug and add the oil. Make a well in the flour and add the water. Using the round end of a bread scraper, bring everything together to make a soft and slightly sticky dough.
Turn onto a floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes (about eight in a stand mixer). Form into a floppy ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl, covered with a tea towel or shower cap. Rest for an hour or until doubled in size.
Turn the oven to 240C/220 fan/460F/Gas Mark 8 and put in a pizza stone or upturned oven tray. Turn the dough onto a well floured work sheet worktop, being careful not to deflate it. Stretch it gently into a square. Using the flat edge of your scraper, cut into two triangles.
Take one piece of dough, place it on a floured sheet of baking paper (the paper helps to move it undamaged later) and use the flat edge of your scraper to make a large diagonal cut across the centre, making sure that you don’t go right to the edges but cutting all the way through to your work surface. It doesn’t matter if you cut through the baking paper as long as you don’t totally shred it.
Make four of five smaller diagonal cuts on each side, angling them down to look like a fir tree.Form the base of the triangle into a stubby trunk. Leave to prove for 20 minutes. Slide the breads, still on their paper, onto baking sheets. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden and sounding hollow when tapped on the base. While still warm, brush liberally with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt.
These are best eaten the day they’re made, but once cooled, will freeze for later reheating.