The bakers of Nice fill their windows with stacks of fougasse every day and are usually sold out by early afternoon. I love coming across an unusual topping. Most of them are made with Nicoise black olives. But every once in a while someone would go totally crazy and make them with fresh grapes. Or bits of pink sweet things. Or wink and press into their dough crazy little chunks of pork crackling.

Crowds strolling through the open air market could score a free piece if they were there at the right time. This popular flat bread is sliced into big squares and eaten on the go or nibbled on later in the day with a glass of wine.

I thought I would try making some with sugar cube sweet cherry tomatoes I happened upon at the store. I thought they might become celestially sweet if I baked them, and against the salty deep tasted of black olives might make for a great match. A fougasse would be their soft bed. The recipe didn’t make it into my cookbook, Cuisine Nicoise: Sun-kissed Cooking from the French Riviera—but it will the next one!

The first step was to get the yeast to bubble, mix it up with the flour, and knead it lightly into a ball. I placed it into a bowl covered with plastic wrap and a towel and tucked it into a warm corner near the stove to give it time to rise.

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It just about doubled after an hour and a half nap.

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I oiled a 15 x 10 baking sheet with good olive oil then gently rolled this big boy over onto the sheet and patted it out into a free form rectangle. I also put my thumb to work in making large indents all over the dough to catch olive oil and other goodies that might be dropped on later. It took a second rising of about an hour.

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Then I got to play. Fresh brined olives from Greece, oil cured olives from France, local cherry tomatoes and herbs from my garden.

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Into the oven and 20 minutes later a fragrant lovely bread.

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I am probably the only one that eats fougasse with butter, but I so love sweet butter on freshly baked warm bread of any kind, and this was no exception. The cherry tomatoes performed as asked, the bread was light, the olives meaty, the herbs fragrant. Superb.

Fougasse Nicoise

Ingredients: 

1 packed active dry yeast (.25 ounces)

1 2/3 cups very warm water

pinch of sugar

3 cups unbleached bread flour

2 cups all purpose flour

1/4 extra virgin olive oil (plus more for drizzling)

Fleur de sel to scatter, 2 teaspoons salt to add to flour

Toppings: cherry tomatoes, olives, herbs

Method:

1. Take the temperature of the water you will use. You want to have at least 105 degrees warm. Then add the sugar, stir to dissolve, and add the yeast, stir to dissolve. Let sit for 10 minutes until the yeast bubbles and foams.

2. On a large space where you will be working with the dough, make a mound of the flour and salt, with a well in the center.

3. Add the wet mixture to the well. Add the oil to the well. Now begin to incorporate with your hands the wet and the dry until you get a smooth and sticky dough. If it feels too dry add up to a 1/4 cup of water gradually. If it feels to wet, add a tablespoon more of flour. Knead until smooth.

4. Oil a bowl and turn the dough into the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap then a towel and put in a warm place for the dough to rise and double. It takes at least 1 1/2 hours.

5. Using extra virgin olive oil, oil a 15 x 10 inch baking sheet and then press the dough into the sheet into a rectangle. Cover with plastic wrap you have sprayed with oil, place somewhere warm, and let it rise again for about an hour.

6. Heat the oven to 425 degrees.

7. Make little indentations in the dough to catch olive oil and salt. Place the cherry tomatoes and olives around the dough. Scatter fresh herbs. Shower with fleur de sel. Drizzle a bit more olive oil if you wish.

8. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden then serve immediately. Enjoy!

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