Fogassa d’Ontinyent

This is an enriched sweet bun which also happens to be one of my absolutely favourite Valencian sweets. It has everything you could wish on an autumn bun: softness and fluffiness, aromas, caramelised nuts, juicy raisins… EVERYTHING!

It is my hometown’s local take on the slightly more widely known “Fogassa de Tots Sants” i.e. All Saints’ Fogassa, which was eaten on that day before going to the graveyard to pay respect to the dead. Nowadays you can buy it during the whole month, and you might even convince a local baker to make you one out of season (por encargo).

What I have also found is that by virtue of being so extremely local, the recipe isn’t readily available online or in books, and it has taken me about six iterations to come up with a recipe that tastes how I remember it tasted. In fact, the pictures for this will show you how I ended making four fogasses last week-end, trying two flours and two yeast amounts. I am that scientifically committed to the quest for the perfect fogassa!

And I am also finally pleased with the results and happy to share! 😎

A fogassa sliced open, so we can see the soft fluffy crumb with the ocassional raisin and aniseed. There are almonds and sugar on top
Nice fluffy crumb

Ingredients

  • 500 g plain white flour
  • 25 g fresh yeast, or 12.5 g dry yeast
  • 5 g salt
  • 100 g sugar
  • 30 g sweet anise liquor (“anís dulce”)
  • 50 g raisins
  • 1 tbsp aniseeds
  • 100 g milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 60 g olive oil
  • 85 g water
  • whole almonds and walnuts, to decorate

Preparation

Place the raisins in a bowl with the anise liquor, cover and leave them to absorb the liquid while we follow the rest of steps. You can also leave them to soak overnight (if you remember).

Warm the milk until tepid, and dissolve the yeast in there (if using fresh yeast). Otherwise, add the dry yeast to the mixing bowl when you add the flour.

Beat the eggs. Reserve a tablespoon of the mixture for later.

Add the rest of the eggs to a big mixing bowl, plus the flour, salt, sugar, olive oil, the raisins with the anise liquor, the aniseeds, the milk with the yeast, and 85g tepid water, mixing everything well.

Four bowls with ingredients for a fogassa, before mixing
Four bowls with ingredients for a fogassa, before mixing

It will be a very sticky dough. Like REALLY sticky. So get as much dough as you can off your hands, cover the bowl and leave it for about 10-20 minutes before trying to do a light circular kneading using a bit of olive oil on your hands and on the surface of the dough.

Four fogassa buns in bowls, before proofing
Four fogassa buns in bowls, before proofing

Repeat this step a couple of times; the dough will be smoother and less sticky each time.

Then cover again and allow to proof for quite a long time – about three hours or until the dough seems to have doubled in size.

Four fogassa buns in bowls, after three hours of proofing
Four fogassa buns in bowls, after three hours of proofing

While the dough is proofing, take the spoonful of beaten egg that you reserved before, add a spoonful of water, a bit of sugar, and mix really well until it’s all dissolved. I normally put this mixture in an tightly sealed container and place it back in the fridge, since the proofing takes a very long time and I don’t want to leave an egg mixture at room temperature for so long.

When the dough is all raised up and puffy, take it out of the bowl and carefully do a blanket fold. It will become quite flat again, but don’t worry; it’ll raise again! Leave the folded dough in the counter for 10 minutes, covered with the bowl (upside down).

Fogassa dough after a blanket fold
Fogassa dough after a blanket fold

Now shape it into a loose ball (don’t add a lot of tension!), and place it in the baking tray (with baking paper on it), seam side down. Then flatten it slightly with your hand (the fogassa is meant to be a bit flat, not entirely puffed up). You can also place the bowl on top so it doesn’t dry out.

Leave it to proof again, for another hour or so. You’ll see that it raises nicely again.

Alternatively, you can divide the dough into two or more pieces after the first proofing, and then make blanket folds and shape into flat balls each of these mini doughs. Do cover them with a wet piece of fabric while proving, to avoid the surface drying out too much!

Four small fogassa buns in parchment paper in oven trays, before baking
Four small fogassa buns in oven trays, before baking

In the meantime, you can turn the oven to 175ºC fan.

When the oven reaches the temperature, brush the top of the dough with the egg and sugar mixture. Add walnuts and almonds to decorate, and optionally sprinkle some more sugar on top.

Geometric/symmetric decorations with nuts on top of a fogassa bun before baking
I went for simmetry

Bake for about 25 minutes; you might need to cover the top with a piece of foil at about 15 minutes in if the walnuts or almonds start taking in too much colour.

A fogassa just out of the oven - a round bun with almonds and walnuts on top and sugar on top
If text could smell, you’d be eating into your screen now

At the end, the fogassa should have a really deep brown colour, but it should not be burned!

To make sure it is properly cooked, you can test with a skewer: insert one and if it comes out clean, then it’s cooked. Although I frequently also use a thermometer to REALLY make sure it is cooked throughout: if it doesn’t reach almost 100 ºC in the center of the piece, I put it back in the oven for 5 more minutes (and at this point I would be baking with the piece of foil on top to avoid it burning).

This is specially important if you try baking a bigger piece! The first time I tried making this, the center was raw. Aghhh! 😨

How to enjoy this: multiple options!

You can have it on its own, for example as a mid morning or afternoon snack (what we call merienda!). It’s great on the first days when it’s all tender and fresh. Like eating an anise cloud…

Made to order fogassa with a v60 02 coffee server and two small glasses of coffee
Merienda: fogassa with filter coffee

You can also have it with your coffee or tea—I take both without sugar, and I find the sourness makes a good contrast with the slightly sweet bun! Another hot drink you can combine it with for maximum feel good factor is hot chocolate, but prepared the Spanish way: thick and unctuous. Let’s leave the watery milky Cadbury version out of this…

We do the latter sometimes on week-ends, specially cold chilly week-ends after a walk or run outside, as it is very comforting but it also requires more time to prepare the chocolate and then enjoy the whole ceremony of dipping the pieces on it, them breaking, splashing chocolate randomly everywhere, getting stains in your clothes or in your face, and in general getting everything to be a bit messy, which is fun and the sign of a successful leisurely breakfast 😉

Another option, if you want the chocolate flavour but don’t have enough time to prepare hot chocolate, is to have a square or two of chocolate with your fogassa. Simple! As kids, we would often be sent out with a piece of fogassa and a few squares of chocolate, all wrapped in foil paper, for merienda. Us being kids and doing what kids do, the bundle would experience a few pushes and shoves in the meantime, so by the time you opened the package the squares had been dented into the fogassa, and it had all been a little bit squashed, but it was delicious nevertheless, and we did not mind its ugliness at all!

Finally, another version which I’ve never been super convinced by, is to spread Nutella or any other chocolate spread on one side (such as Nocilla, the Spanish answer to Nutella). But this only works when the fogassa starts getting dry and consistent enough that you can spread things on top. Although I somehow feel that the anise flavours are fighting the hazelnutness of the Nutella… and that’s why this doesn’t quite work for me!

Notes on ingredients and substitutions

I am aware that some of the ingredients can be a bit hard to find in the UK. I am going to propose some substitutions or alternatives so you can enjoy a nice fogassa even if you can’t source everything I’ve listed.

Aniseed

The recipe uses literal anise seeds (description in Wikipedia). I bought mine in Spain; because their smell is so strong and powerful, a small jar can last a long time.

There are retailers in the UK that sell them, such as Steenbergs or Spice Mountain.

If you don’t want to get the jar to use them only in one recipe, maybe I can convince you by saying you can also use the seeds in more delicious recipes such as tortas de anís, St Anthony’s bread and even speculoos biscuits!

If I still did not convince you, let’s look at your kitchen cupboards. You might already have star anise, which is frequently used in Chinese cuisine, and it has a very similar smell to aniseed, so you could do what I did one time when I did not have aniseed in my kitchen, and infuse the milk with star anise by simmering the milk with several star anise pods, until they release their nice aromas, and then use the infused milk in the dough, once it cools down a bit (but do use a thermometer, make sure it is below 38ºC before it gets in touch with the yeast or it will kill them). And this ingredient is way more available in the UK, in Chinese grocery shops and the “Asian” section in supermarkets,

Anise liquor

This is another ingredient that you might struggle to find unless you live in Spain or somewhere close to the Mediterranean or with a culture of anise liquors in general…

I bought my bottle of Anís del Mono (a classic Spanish brand) in Gerry’s in Soho, which is basically like Noah’s Ark but for alcohol. Their online shop lists a few results for anis. I got mine in 2018 and it still lasts since I only use it for cooking. It is outrageously expensive (like 3.5x expensive) compared with what it would cost in Spain, but hey. I suppose you could also use the cheaper escarchado they show, although I’m not sure how sweet it is in comparison. Likewise you could use Marie Brizard Anisette, or any other anise liquour like the Greek ouzo, but if they’re not sweet, you might want to add a touch of extra sugar to the mix.

If you don’t want to invest in an anise liquor bottle, you could replace the amount with a neutral-ish alcohol, like vodka. Although I will admit I did use a non-flavoured gin one time. Needs must.

Another twist: if you have the vodka or gin, you could also infuse it with some seeds rather than just replacing the liquor like for like. Measure the amount of liquor, place it with a spoonful or so of seeds, cover and leave overnight to infuse. The alcohol will steal the aroma out of the seeds. Fixed!

Or… replace the alcohol weight with water.

Some trivia (and a confession)

This recipe is very similar to a mona de pascua which is another type of enriched sweet bun, except that the dough for this one does not include orange zest or peel, but has anise seeds. In contrast, the mona does not feature almonds or walnuts on top, which are in season when the fogassas are typically made—they normally are decorated just with sugar, eggs or with an egg-white and sugar soft meringue called caramull. But once you get the hang of how to make these buns with long fermentations, it’s very easy to make any recipe.

I also have a fun story with a confession: the most tempting parts of this sweet for me are the nuts on top. Roasted and with caramelised sugar on top… yummmm!

So when I was a kid and I’d smell a fogassa in the kitchen (the anise is intense), I would maybe sneak in and take a couple of nuts from the top and hope no one would notice. Then say something like “oh, they must have fallen out on the way from the bakery”… and hope no one would see how much of a lie that was 😅

The temptation is so big with this!

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