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French Medieval Bread Fouées

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This is hands-down the easiest great bread you can bake in a wood-fired oven. Trust the French - it takes no time to prepare, no hand kneading, no proving and it bakes in 120 seconds flat. Way tastier than pita.

For over a year now I've been baking all sorts of flatbreads, some great successes, some ended up glued to the ceiling with curses to make a Byelorussian lorry driver blush. But I found one that is extremely simple to make and very reliable. You can do this for tea, to go with starters, with a curry or even just for breakfast. Unfortunately it does call for a seriously hot oven, the kind that is fired by wood.

The story goes that when medieval French bakers had finished shaping their breads and watched them proving on the bench while the oven slowly reached its baking temperature, they would take little pieces of the remaining dough, stretch it roughly and throw it in the oven to test its temperature. Then they would eat these breads for their morning break. They called them fouées, from a root shared with other, different breads, such as fougasse or focaccia. But call this a foccaccia, or worse, a pita, and any self-respecting French baker will reach for his baking peel with fire in his eyes.

This is the simplest bread I bake. Just take 1kg of bread flour (no less than 100gr of flour per person) ...

... then add between 20gr 50gr of fresh yeast ...

... which you will crumble with a handful of flour like so. Very tactile, sensual and most cheffy.

Add 15gr to 20gr of salt, then 700gr (7dl) of water.

People who speak about bread like others compare baseball players of car specs will say that this is a "2-2-70 bread". 2% of salt, 2% yeast, 70% of water, expressed as percentage of the flour you use. Lots of scales can show a weight as a percentage of something you measured before, then press SET. So I would dump some flour in the bowl, tell the balance to call this 100%, then add salt until it says 2%, and so on.

Mix, preferably with a dough hook or by hand if you must, until it makes like strands of gluten like here, about 5 minutes.

Then leave it until it doubles. This is where I get asked the "how long" question. A fair question, but the answer is invariably "it depends". Let me explain. On a cold winter day, using cold water, it may take 3 or 4 hours for the dough to double. But on a hot summer day, with lukewarm water, within one hour the dough will start going over. This is not a problem - all you need to do is accept this biological process of the yeast cells multiplying faster when it's warmer, and after a couple times you've baked bread you'll anticipate. Oh it's a warm day and I can't bake before noon - then use ice cold water and if it goes too fast, put the dough in the fridge. Or "oh good Lord I'm late the guests will be around in an hour" - use warmish water and keep the dough in a warm place. Obviously this is only the very basics of breadmaking and longer rise, overnight in the fridge with ice-cold water, will yield more interesting flavors. But you have a lifetime of breadmaking before you so let's start on making this simple, fun and delicious bread.

Don't miss the pictures of the actual baking on the next page!

Check that the oven sole is around 350C to 400C. Yes that's really hot, about the temperature you would use to bake a real pizza in fact. Too cool an oven and the bread will not color as fast - not as tasty too. You can certainly bake these with a fire still on in a corner of the oven.

Dust the counter close to the oven with flour, making sure your hands are covered as well. All you do is take an orange-size piece of dough, roll it a bit in flour so that it doesn't stick too much, then...

...stretch it by pulling it between your hands.

Come to the entrance of the oven and concentrate - you need to be one with the dough...

...then throw it like a frisbee so that it remains flat during its flight and ends up in some place flat and free of embers on the oven sole. This may take a couple times until you get it right but is is seriously fun! If one folds up upon arrival, either leave it like this or use some tool to try and uncoil it as best you can. On the picture you can actually the bread during its maiden (and ultimate) flight, just on the right of my hand here.

On a 400C sole it takes about 2 minutes for the bread to pop up like a baloon! No peel, no board, no nothing. Just throw it like a frisbee. A most enjoyable revenge of the trickiness of baking bread in a wood-fired oven - this one is just so simple.

Spin the bread 180 degrees after a couple minutes, when it has started ballooning, so that no side burns waiting for the other side to cook...

... then remove it from the oven.

Voilà!

You can make them any shape you like, small or bigger, and even with a hole in the middle.

I often serve it with starters.

How about that? Cooked right before the guests and served piping hot, with the total absence of stress of one who follows a recipe seen on FXcuisine.

This is one here was baked at 350C, I prefer the darker crust. Stretching the dough flatter tends to create a large cavity in the bread as the steam fills up the microscopic holes made by the yeast - ideal to make a really sexy sandwich.

For an oriental meal I just wet the top of the stretched dough ball and sprinkle with nigella or sesame seeds before throwing it in the oven. Wish you could taste it!

Please consider that for 20 years I have yearned for a wood fired oven and that it took me several years to build one. If this article creates cookware envy, harness it to push you towards find a way to make, buy or borrow one yourself!


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46 Comments

Wow, beautifully made.
  • FX's answer→ Thanks Susanne

  • #3
  • Comment by Paul
Always enjoy your recipes and fantastic photography - a real joy every time, thank you !
  • FX's answer→ Thanks a lot Paul!
    I think the photography on this one is not too bad but still not totally satisfied (am I ever?)

Hi François,

I'm very happy you are back Online!
  • FX's answer→ Thanks Shaun!

  • #7
  • Comment by Ashleigh Haze
Another wonderful article Monsieur-you have a real knack for being informative, in a manner which seems effortless. This struck a chord with me specifically as I have spent years messing with bread recipes too, and temperature is certainly a big issue. Although I am very happy with my current recipe and bake at least once a week I do long for the effortless heat of a real wood-fired oven.
  • FX's answer→ Thanks Ashleigh! I must say that effortless it is not ... lots of tweaking and thinking about spoilt breads until one gets to the right heat in such an oven. With an electric oven things are much more predictable, but the temperature and heat retention of the sole is not enough for certain things. But oh how very romantic to look at the dough slowly rising with the fire creaking and cracking in the background!

  • #9
  • Comment by name  Michael
Beautiful photos as always. Did you build your oven from scratch or did the brick dome arrive pre-built?
I, too, have yearned for a wood-fired oven and am exploring options!
  • FX's answer→ Aye, I built it brick by brick with a friend who works construction but had never done an oven before. All schematics and on site drawing by me. A really beautiful experience but not something you finish over the week-end!

  • #11
  • Comment by Beatrice
Francois, lovely pictures...two tiny corrections:  "proofing" on the first page (not proving) and "microscopic" on the second.  I will be erecting an outdoor wood-fired oven in our new house!
  • FX's answer→ This proves I need proofreading! All corrected now - thanks a lot!

    But an indoor wood fired oven gets used a hundred times more often than its outdoor brother. All you need is the mouth to gape into the wall, no need for an ugly pizzeria-style dome covered in horrible tiles inside the living room - that's the bit that can go between two walls or just outside.

  • #13
  • Comment by Siri Gottlieb
Gorgeous writing and pictures. Thrilling! Thank you!
  • FX's answer→ Thanks Siri!

  • #15
  • Comment by Sue
I've been making Jim lahey's no knead bread using a cast iron pot. Success! I have no wood iced oven, but I put tiles in mine and get to 475F. I think I'll give this a try. Thanks.
  • FX's answer→ Yes great bread too, a good recipe it is. You need to get those tiles as hot as possible. Let me know how you fare.

  • #17
  • Comment by Michael
Congratulations for this posting, very well presented!
I spent a night in the Sahara Desert with my Berber Guide concocting a Dough & then lighting a fire with wood, when the embers began to glow he placed the flattened dough on to the embers & covered the whole thing with Sand! Made great tasting Bread!
  • FX's answer→ Oh that must have been quite a memorable bread! Cooked directly in the ashes and then sand. Very nice.

  • #19
  • Comment by Jill
Mouth-watering pictures, I can almost smell the bread cooking. And you were right the first time - it is "proving" for bread.
  • FX's answer→ Thanks a lot, yes the fire, yeast and baking itself is quite an all-senses show!

Cheers Maestro,
I love this and will try it in a friends oven in Italia , this will be superb with the Porchetta de Monte in our town, and of course id serve the bread with roasted peppers, olives, cheeses, white anchovies, and as crostini,
Bravi, Buon lavoro, Buon aperitivo, buona fortuna
Foodhuntermark
  • FX's answer→ Hello Mark, thanks for your visit! I loved your TV show on Arte, the part with the elephant crushing the fruit in India is priceless! Yes this bread would work great with such toppings and recycled as crostini the next day. Let me know if you come near Switzerland!

  • #23
  • Comment by Deb
The word "proving" is perfectly correct and possibly more commonly used here in the UK than "proofing," which is more common in America. So nice to have you back.
  • FX's answer→ Thanks Deb, that is proof enough. All you need is stretch and throw them in the oven!

  • #25
  • Comment by Catherine
Looks delicious! Perhaps the process of building the wood oven deserves its own post sometime?
  • FX's answer→ Ah well it surely does deserve an article - or even a few - but first I need to finish a couple things!

  • #27
  • Comment by Claudio
Dear François
Good to see your site alive again !
A few ideas:
1. a series of articles about wood fire oven cooking. It's a special magic, colors, scents, pleasure of cooking on fire ...
2. I have been using my oven for more than 20 years, and one must after a night of pizza baking with friends is to clean the hot oven, and put some meat wits bones that usually takes hours to bake in it over night, until the next day lunchtime. The result is outstanding, provided tou use aluminum foils to prevent the meat to dry&burn. Close the oven and leave the meat until short before serving, then leave it w/o the foil just to get some color.
3. Did you ever try the bread fouée with some filling (like cheese) ?
Rgds
  • FX's answer→ Thanks Claudio, indeed I agree, a wood oven is really magical. Now there are already several articles that mention it and I need to refrain myself so that the majority of my readers, who do not have this kind of oven, do not feel excluded. But you'll see it plenty. How do you season the meat and at what stage do you put it in the descending heat?

  • #29
  • Comment by Itchy
FX,could you possibly do a blog post on the construction of your wood oven? Thanks!
  • FX's answer→ Oh but I will do more than one post, don't worry! Just wait until I sort out a few of the fanciest parts so that everything is like I dreamt it would be.

  • #31
  • Comment by TFP
Dear Francois, it's so good to see you're back! I've been following your blog since 2009 (I found it after searching for a Hypocras recipe)... Thanks for doing what you do!
  • FX's answer→ All roads eventually lead to FXcuisine! Thanks for remembering me

  • #33
  • Comment by Frank
Thank you.  Looks tasty.
  • FX's answer→ And it sure is!

  • #35
  • Comment by Elena
Dear FX,
I am so happy to see you back!
Do you think of sharing here your knowledge of building the oven? It would be really helpful, especially made by you, as you are notorious for perfecting the result.
  • FX's answer→ Thanks Elena, no problem an article will be made in due course, it is a rather complex project and the oven is unique in several respects so I will need time. Thanks for visiting!

Delightful,as usual! :)
  • FX's answer→ Thanks Simona!

  • #39
  • Comment by Peo
Could we have a whole post about the oven please - How you build it, cost, materials, lots of pictures etc.?

Thank You, it's great to have you back posting.. and so frequently too!
  • FX's answer→ Peo there will be several posts about my oven - no worry. Your having waited for 7 years for my return shows that you have the patience. The cost will not be covered as I am still trying to forget about that! But for one who is not shy of working with his hands there are several ways of building a really affordable bread oven. Good planning is accessible to all who research, draw and think long and hard before laying the first brick!

What a treat!
  • FX's answer→ Thanks Cynthia!

  • #43
  • Comment by Christian Elling
Looks delicious!

Great to see the page (and you) back in action - you have been greatly missed! Thank you for many an inspiration through the years - believe me when I tell you, it is much needed in Denmark, considering our "cuisine".

Kind regards from Christian

  • FX's answer→ Thanks for your kind words Christian, I hear you have some really great chefs in Denmark! And lots of other cool things including fantastic TV fiction

Wonderful! Just realised that you are blogging again. Have missed your lovely posts.

Cheers,

Rosa (Rosa's Yummy Yums, now Reveries, Brambles & Scribbles))
  • FX's answer→ Thanks Rosa, congratulations on your new blog!




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