“Coques” (singular: coca), in Valencian, are an entire division of “flat breads” typical from the area. They’re sometimes called “tortas” in Spanish, but most commonly referred to as “cocas”.
There are many versions: sweet or savoury, subtle or brutal. They’re often very seasonal: there are cocas for specific times of the year, festivities and events. They can also vary a lot between regions; seasonings and toppings might combine to make a very different result from what you’re used to, even if the base or the appearance are very similar.
Coca de Fira is traditionally eaten during the annual fair (fira, in Valencian) in my hometown. It is a really substantial dish, and a serving can keep you going for a long time, so it’s very suitable for browsing the goods on display and haggling for hours! (specially when November turns out to be cold, which happens from time to time).
This year marks the 600th anniversary of the fair, and my mum was telling me about all the celebrations she was attending to mark the occasion, and how of course they were celebrating with Coca de Fira. I got “a bit” jealous and so I decided to bake my own.
It is a bit difficult to achieve the exact coca you would get if you were in my hometown, because their cured meat has a very particular flavour provided by the seasoning, and also because they use a special type of mushrooms that I’ve never seen in London, but in the best spirit of the dish, I focused on getting a good base, and replaced ingredients with the closest I could get. And the result made me incredibly happy!
For the base
- ~630 gr strong white flour
- fine sea salt
- fresh / dried yeast (22 / 11 gr)
- 2 eggs
- 130 gr oil (I used grapeseed, but you can also use sunflower or olive oil)
- 150 gr milk
- 4 morcillas de cebolla (you can get these from Spanish shops, I got these from Brindisa in Borough market); if you can’t find them, just add more sausages or omit them.
- sausages (the best you can find, but preferably without funky English seasonings like chorizo or cheese)
- 2 artichokes, if you can find them, or 2 courgettes
- Mushrooms, ideally saffron milk caps, but if you can’t find them, go for the nicest and fullest of flavour mushrooms you can find. I used Portobello mushrooms.
- Olive oil, to sprinkle.
- We start preparing a ferment.
Mix 156 gr flour, 3 gr salt, 2 gr fresh yeast (1gr if dried), and 113 gr room temperature water. The result is this messy looking blob:
- Cover the bowl with cling film or any other tight-wrapping implement, and leave it to rest for as long as you can. Ideally you’d do this overnight, placing the bowl in the fridge, but if you don’t mind having lunch at 4pm, you can do this in the morning, and let the bowl rest in the counter at room temperature (having lunch at 4pm is a totally acceptable Spanish custom ?).
- Next day, or in a couple of hours (depending on your planning skills), the ferment might have raised a bit:
It’s still a bit messy looking, but we don’t care because we’re going to mix it with the rest of dough ingredients now
- In the ferment bowl, add 20 gr of fresh yeast (if using), 2 eggs, 130 gr oil, 150 gr milk (I used whole milk), and mix it well together; it’ll be pretty liquid.
- In a separate bowl, add 470 gr of flour, 10 gr dry yeast (if using) and 9 gr of salt, mix them well, then add the liquid mix from the other bowl, and mix it thoroughly.
- The result will be this sort of bumpy dough:
- We now need to knead it (ah, I was so looking forward to making this terrible pun ?). I used the “slap and fold” method we were taught in Bread Ahead, which basically consists in slamming the dough against the counter and folding it back into a ball, for 7-8 minutes.
- The dough looks all round and elasticated after the ‘treatment’
- Cover it and let it to raise (1-2 hours, depending on how it progresses). Half-way through this raising period, get the dough out of the bowl and put it back again. This will make it ‘release some air’ and encourage more yeast activity, Bread Ahead dixit. Look, I’m just cargo-cult-ing here; it might not have any effect, but it also doesn’t seem to do any harm either.
- Now we oil a tray – just in case yours is sticky. I did it out of practice but you might not need to do it, as this dough is quite oily.
- It’s time to ROLL! We want to make this into a sort of rectangular shaped base, so roll, stretch , repeat… you’ll notice the dough is VERY elastic and wants to come back to its initial shape. It’s OK, just do your best.I love using the rolling pin, there’s something so satisfying on making things flat! Pretty rectangular, not bad!
- Now, pick it from the counter and place it in the tray. It is VERY elastic and it’s probably going to contract. It’s fine, stretch it back again. You can see all the marks from my fingers on the dough when I was trying to (unsuccessfully) fight it.
- Cover this rebel dough with a cloth, and place it in the oven with the light on only. This makes it sort of lukewarm, and encourages the dough to raise even further. Leave for 1-2 hours.If this were Spain, it was a sunny day and you had a balcony, you could sit outside reading the newspapers while the dough keeps you company and slowly raises under the gentle autumn sun, but it isn’t, so we have to find alternatives. Light in the oven it is, then!
- After the rest period, or when the dough is starting to turn into a monster, take it out of the oven.
- Turn the oven on to about 180-200ºC
- Shape the dough again: stretch it to use as much space as possible. This time it will be a little bit less elastic! Then we use a fork to punch the dough multiple times, in order to avoid funny bubbles forming while baking.
- We’ll prepare the toppings while the oven gets to the right temperature. Wash and slice the courgettes in half, make a nice grid pattern on them with the knife, so they get cooked throughout, and add a very generous bunch of salt on top of them so they start sweating, then leave them aside:
- Also prepare the mushrooms. I sliced them because they were pretty big, this makes them easier to place in the upcoming ‘topping Tetris’.
- Lightly fry the morcillas and sausages:
You don’t want to overdo this as the morcillas will disintegrate quite easily. Be very gentle (specially when turning them around, as their skin might get stuck to the pan and break).
- Optional: when the oven is ready, place the tray with the dough back in.We bake it for 10 minutes maximum – we just want to dry it a bit so the toppings don’t sink on the dough. They call it a ‘heat stroke’ in Valencian!
If it starts getting a lot of colour, we take it out, even if the 10 minutes are not over yet.
I took mine out after about 7 minutes, you can see the dough is starting to get colour in places.
- Now we place the toppings as well as we can:
- If there was any oil left in the pan after frying the meat, we also pour it on top of the toppings. Sprinkle also with some olive oil, for good measure.
- Place the tray in the oven again, this time about 5-10 minutes, although it might be more or less – adjust depending on whether the vegetables look cooked enough. You might want to turn the temperature down a bit if things are cooking too quickly.
- Mine did cook a touch too quickly so it’s a bit more browned than I’d like, but it was still delicious!
- Look at the fluffy thick crust… mmm!
We had it with some really nice red wine from my partner’s collection (I think it was Cypriot). The flavours in this coca are really brutal, so white wines will taste of nothing with it.
After you have this, and specially if you have it with wine, you’ll feel pleased with life and at peace with the world. And the final recommendation is to sit comfortably and digest with a smile on your face…
My grandmother was the champion of fluffy bases. She really prided herself on getting the dough to raise monumentally, and got really upset when it didn’t. From what I have learned after asking my mum (I didn’t pay attention to this when I was a child!), she did a double (and long) fermentation.
Also, she didn’t have an oven in her place until very late—she only had a gas stove. But that didn’t prevent her from baking; after all, the only step where you actually need an oven is the last one. So she would prepare everything, and when it was ready to bake, she’d cover the coca with a cloth and bring it to the nearest bakery, where it would be baked in the big oven for a small fee.
At that time, it was very common to bring things to the bakery, and midday was such an spectacle to witness, as everyone picked up their creations from the bakery, and the whole streets would be filled with an amazing ‘food is ready’ smell. They walked home, with their baked goods covered with cloths with a very characteristic checkered pattern, and underneath them were all sorts of delicious creations: cocas, oven baked rices (arròs al forn), stuffed peppers, you name it… yum! Ah, some times I miss these things.
This post (in Valencian / Spanish) has a recipe with pictures using local ingredients, and also looks into the etymology of the word ‘coca’: apparently it is connected to the Dutch ‘kok’, English ‘cake’ and German ‘Kuchen’. The things one learns!