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[Photograph: Donna Currie]

As always with our Knead the Book feature, we have five (5) autographed copies of The Art of Baking Bread to give away this week. Enter the contest here.

Since The Art of Baking Bread by Matt Pellegrini is technique-heavy rather than recipe-heavy, we're giving you some techniques here that can be applied to your own bread-baking routines.

Fougasse looks fancy, but it's pretty forgiving. It doesn't have to be perfectly shaped, so it doesn't matter if you don't make perfectly even cuts or the dough misbehaves in the oven. It's still an interesting-looking bread.

Step by Step

  1. Place a preshaped round piece of dough in front of you.
  2. Lightly pat the surface of the dough to expel the unwanted gases.
  3. Gently stretch the dough until it resembles the shape of a large leaf.
  4. Using a small scraper, make a cut all the way through the dough near the pointed edge of the dough, about an inch from the edge of the dough.
  5. Continue cutting down the center of the dough until you are approximately an inch from the end of the dough.
  6. Make an angular cut, about 35 to 40 degrees off the center cut, stopping an inch before the end of the dough. Do not let the angular cut intersect the center cut.
  7. Repeat step 6 two more times down the right side of the dough, making each cut longer than the next so it is proportionate wth the width of the dough.
  8. Repeat steps 6 and 7 on the left side of the dough, then gently stretch the dough to open up the cuts.
  9. After greasing a baking sheet with butter and dusting it with cornmeal, place the fougasse on it, cover it, and allow it to proof.

Tips for Shaping Fougasse

  • Stretch the fougasse into the final form on the surface you intend to proof and bake the dough—most often a baking sheet. If you try to lift the fougasse from the work surface and place it directly onto a baking stone, the dough will become misshapen and may tear.
  • The thickness of the fougasse depends on your vision for the final product and the size of the dough. But, as a general rule, I've found that the texture of the final product becomes tougher the thinner the dough. For the most part, don't venture thinner than 3/4 of an inch.
  • The best tool to cut the fougasse is a small bowl scraper. Its compact size and overall stiffness make it perfect for the more precise cutting required for this shape. If you don't have a small bowl scraper, use a paring knife. It's not ideal, but if you're careful and diligent, you can get the same effect. Another option is to use the shorter end of your larger bowl scraper. The edge is a little long, but you can still make do if necessary.

What Worked: The instructions were clear, and it's great that there were several options given for tools to cut the dough.

What Didn't: My dough got a little over-enthusiastic and it rose more than expected and closed up some of the holes. It still looked good, though, and not the fault of the instructions.

Suggested Tweaks: I think this is a loaf that would look pretty with an eggwash.

Adapted from The Art of Baking Bread by Matt Pellegrini. Copyright © 2012. Published by Skyhorse Publishing. Available wherever books are sold. All Rights Reserved

About the bread baker: Donna Currie has been cooking for fun and writing for pay since the days when typewritten articles traveled by snail mail. When she combined those talents in a food column for a newspaper in her area, she realized that writing about food is almost as much fun as eating. You can find her on her blog, Cookistry or follow her on Twitter at @dbcurrie.

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