It is December! I can now play my holiday music without shame. I love this time of year but can’t really put my finger on the reason for my enthusiasm. Perhaps the most obvious reason is for the time we set aside for the baking and preparing of sweet treats. Or better yet, it may be the anticipation of spending quality time with family and friends. I have passed this passion on to our children. My youngest son and I have been secretly listening to holiday music while driving in the car since November and last evening my daughter enthusiastically took me on a cyber tour of her apartment decorated for the holidays. Tradition has played a large role in celebrating the holiday season for us. On Christmas Eve for the past 17 years we have invited friends and family to celebrate “Les Treize Desserts.” I was taught that this Provençal tradition of 13 desserts signifies the 12 apostles who attended the Last Supper with Jesus at the head of the table. Our table is covered with thirteen desserts consisting of la maison de COCO signature truffles and chocolates, chocolate ganache tarts, biscotti, assorted Christmas cookies, Champagne Sabayon with berries, Bûche de Noël or La Reine, cheese plates, dried fruits and the most important of them all according to Tradition, a sweet bread referred to as La Fougasse . La Fougasse represents the bread of life “Jesus” and thus has been given its center stage on our celebration. I must admit if I don’t have time to make La Fougasse, I resort to the wonderful, store-bought Italian Panettone to take its place. I always use a brioche dough for the Fougasse and am delighted to share the recipe with you. It is taken from Peter Reinhart’s recipe in “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.” Since I am always trying to source locally, I find it is only appropriate to use his recipe since he teaches at our very own Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island.
½ Cup unbleached Flour
2 Teaspoons instant yeast
½ Cup whole milk, lukewarm (90’ to 100’ F)
5 Large eggs, slightly beaten
3 Cups unbleached bread flour
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1 ¼ Teaspoons salt
1 Cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg whisked for egg wash
To make sponge, stir flour and yeast in a large bowl of electric mixer and stir in the milk until all the flour has absorbed it. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap to ferment for about 30 to 45 minutes. (sponge will rise and the fall when you tap the bowl)
To make the dough, add the eggs to the sponge and beat on medium speed with paddle attachment. In separate bowl stir together flour, sugar and salt; add to the sponge mixture and stir for 2 minutes on low speed with paddle attachment. Allow the mixture to rest for 5 minutes so that the gluten can begin to develop. While mixing on medium speed with the paddle, gradually work in the butter, a quarter at a time, waiting until each addition of butter is equally worked in before adding next quarter. Continue mixing the dough for 6 minutes or until the dough is very well mixed. The dough will be very smooth and soft. Transfer the dough to a sheet pan lined with parchment paper that has been lightly oiled. Shape the dough into a large, rectangle measuring 6 inches by 8 inches. Place oil on plastic wrap and with the oiled side down place it over the dough. Place in food grade plastic bag or cover with another layer of plastic wrap surrounding the entire sheet pan. Place in refrigerator immediately for at least 4 hours or overnight. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and working quickly shape into the fougasse shape. I cut the rectangle in half and roll each half into a wider rectangle. Then I cut three slanted holes on each side of rectangle. At this point the rectangle looks like a leaf. I separate the holes so that when the brioche dough proofs or rises they don’t close up again. Cover the dough with oiled plastic wrap and proof for 1 ½ to 2 hours. Gently brush with egg wash and sprinkle with a coarse sugar. Let the dough rest again for another 15 to 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350’F. Place fougasse loaves in middle rack of oven and bake until loaves are golden brown, approximately 30 to 45 minutes. Enjoy the wonderful smell and taste of this marvelous bread!