[Breadbaking is] one of those almost hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony. It leaves you filled with one of the world’s sweetest smells…there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of meditation in a music-throbbing chapel. that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread.”
M. F. K. Fisher, ‘The Art of Eating’
When we were young girls, a little younger than my daughter is right now, my sister and I used to take turns buying the morning bread from the neighborhood baker. It wasn’t something I looked forward to doing, because it meant leaving the cozy warm bed very early in the morning and standing in line at the “Kaandir waan” (baker’s shop), and buying “lavasa” or “Girda” for the whole family, bringing them home at top speed so they don’t get cold. However, once I got myself out the door and into the queue at the baker’s, it was not a chore anymore. I would watch with a keen interest the lines of dough balls resting underneath a moist cloth, ready to be rolled out and put on a “gaddi” ( the cloth used to safeguard the baker’s hand) and then thumped on the wall of the tandoor to be cooked for just a couple of minutes. It used to mesmerize me & the whole process was therapeutic – the rolling, baking and the wafting aroma. The evening breads were different from the morning ones and the Telvor – something that looked like a sesame bagel was my favorite.
Moving out of Kashmir, the kandir waan was the thing I missed a lot. No more special breads, unless you count the commercially produced things as bread. Yes, there were bakeries and they made artisan cookies and pastries and restaurants that served naan, but nothing like the bake shop back home. Nothing like biting into a just out of tandoor, hot girda slathered with butter. And the fact that the baker would always add one extra for the young customers was more than a fair incentive. We got to munch into a just out of tandoor bread, on the way home.
If watching the baker make the bread was hypnotic, making it has been even more hypnotic. It has been therapeutic and it is one of the things that I love doing when I have the house to myself. Sometimes I bake a batch just before it’s time to pick up my daughter and the smile she gives me is PRICELESS! “you baked bread!!! which one!! Oh it’s my favorite!!” It doesn’t matter which bread I bake, they are all her favorites. It must be something she got from me 😉 and her Aunt. After all we were the bread people of the family.
I still do miss the breads I grew up with and I am hoping someday I will be able to make those breads at home, but for now, the French Fougasse with herbes de Provence comes very close to the texture of my favorite bread. I bake it often and was surprised that it was really very easy to make. I like to make the dough the night before and give it a good rest in the fridge and then take it out a few hours before final baking time.
Fougasse with Herbes de Provence
- 1 1/2 cups warm water 105°F to 115°F
- 1.5 teaspoon dry yeast
- 4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons dried herbes de Provence
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 5 tablespoons olive oil
- Put the warm water into the mixing bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle and add the yeast.
- Wait about 10 minutes for the yeast to bubble up.
- Add 1 cup flour, Add in the herbes de Provence and the salt and add 3 tbs of the oil and put it on stir until well blended.
- Now add in flour half a cup at a time and knead into a sticky dough.
- When you have added all the flour, switch to a dough hook and knead until smooth and elastic. l. Oil a big ziplock bag with the remaining two tbs of oil bowl and put in the dough. Ensure you coat the dough with oil.
- Let rise in warm draft-free area until doubled for about an hour
- Preheat to 450°F.
- Line two baking sheets with parchment.
- Punch the dough down and urn out onto floured surface; divide into two equal halves.
- Roll each half to a 10 - 12 inch shaped oval.
- Transfer to prepared baking sheets.
- Make several incisions in each oval, cutting through dough to make it look like a leaf.
- Cover loosely with a moist kitchen towel and let rise in warm draft-free area until slightly puffed, about 20 minutes.
- Place the shaped bread in oven. Add in 1/2 cup of ice chips as soon as you place the bread in, to create steam.
- Bake breads until golden on top and slightly crisp on bottom, switching sheets between racks and turning front of each sheet to back of oven halfway through baking, about 15 minutes.
- Transfer bread to cooling racks and eat after it has cooled down slightly.
Minimally adapted from : Fougasse with Provencal Herbs published in Bon Appetit.