Fouace or Fougasse?

June 13th, 2006

You can’t sneak a bite of fouace without a bit of evidence: a cheek dusted with sugary crumbs. The traces are quickly brushed away, leaving only a smirk behind. We first encountered rings of fouace in the Auvergne at Aurillac’s annual June Snack Festival, Fête du Casse Croûte. Once discovered, I took on the duty of sampling fouace across southern France. Not a bad assignment. Initially, this briochy and light yeasted bread was in the basket for our after-market picnic lunch. Then it traveled along to be sliced for breakfast in a Rhône valley gîte. With its airy texture and a hint of orange-flower water (many are brushed with this before baking), fouace soon replaced a morning croissant with my first cup of café au lait. I found fouace in both large and small sugar-studded rings on baker’s stalls in the Albi and Castres markets, or shaped in ovals and topped with glossy cherries in Céret. The latter version lifted a humble hearth bread into a new role as a festive dessert.

When I stumbled upon a savory fougasse in the Nyons market, I wondered if the two breads were related in some way. Not at all. The easily-gripped ladder bread or fougasse is firm and often has a salty topping of onions or olives. It can be snapped apart rather than sliced, so a knfe isn’t essential. With slits to separate the bread in parts, its maximum crust makes fougasse a good partner for cheese. Across the diverse regions that make up sunny Provence, I have seen many variations on the fougasse theme. In some markets, one might find a sweet version, Gibassier, flavored with almonds and orange flower water, though it is not as common as the slitted, salty fougasse.

As is true of many regional specialties, both fouace and fougasse can be found in some Paris markets. I have bought fouace, made by a baker from the Auvergne, in the 5th arrondissement’s Rue Monge market. The more widely popular fougasse is sold in bakeries and city markets, such as the bustling Bastille market on Sunday morning. Which is best? Its all a matter of mood, appetite and the time of day. Why not begin the day with a feather-light slice of fouace and save the fougasse for an evening picnic, to nibble while watching the sun set over the Seine- or over a rolling panorama of Roussillon vineyards?

Best Bites, Catalonia

June 12th, 2006

In the markets: Look for olives, olive oil and a selection of tapenades from Domaine de l’Arbre Blanc. Visits to the oil mill by reservation.
Corine Henuset & François Boutroux
Chemin du Pas de l’Arbre Blanc
66700 Argeles sur Mer
Tel/fax: 04 68 95 91 06

Lunch or dinner bites: Discover a menu of unique flavors in French-Japanese fusion cuisine, all prepared with market-fresh ingredients. This tiny restaurant is on a winding back street in Collioure.
Le 5eme Péché (the Fifth Sin) Restaurant
18 rue de la Fraternité
66190 Collioure
Reserve a table: 04 68 98 09 76