If you think you can’t make this Fiddlehead Focaccia, you’re wrong. Whenever I post any recipe with yeast on this blog I fully expect it to go unmade. Sure, people will look at it, maybe even consider it. But most will chicken out. And it’s not because they’re lame or incapable. It’s just that somewhere down the line they convinced themselves they couldn’t bake a decent loaf of bread. And how do I know all this? Well, I used to be this person. Yes, I’ve had my heart-broken by many a bread. And like so many before and after me, I initially blamed myself. If this sounds like you, read on because I promise it’s not you.
I have a theory that it only takes one bad bread-making experience to hurt you. One loaf doesn’t rise and you’re scared. I’m not sure when this happened, but at some point in our society, we started to believe that baking a loaf of bread was a highly specialized skill. And, of course, it can be. If you’re shooting for absolute perfection or baking on a large scale, baking can be a very complicated and involved process. But I would hazard to guess that the vast majority of my readers are not looking to crank out loaf after loaf of San Fran sourdough with near mechanized accuracy. Just a hunch.
So, is today’s Fiddlehead Focaccia the pinnacle specimen of yeasted perfection? No. Is it a simple bread that you can own with minimal effort? Very much so. Also, it looks real good on a charcuterie platter. And how do I know this? I did the research for you. You’re welcome. But before I leave you to pursue your own charcuterie dreams, I want to let you in on a little secret.
Now, the thing about this secret is it makes the recipe below seem a little counter-intuitive. You see, my secret to owning any yeasted dough is to not follow the recipe. Yeah, I know. It’s controversial. Especially in baking where precision is absolute key, and yes, in most cases that remains a hard truth. But when it comes to yeasted doughs, touch and intuition rule the day. I used to make ultra-dense loaves of the bread that wouldn’t rise because I took recipes as law. I would add as much flour as was written and it would always be way too much. That’s what you get for putting too much trust in a recipe.
The fact of the matter is yeasted doughs have a lot of potential variables that dictate the amount of flour you should use. Humidity, altitude, room temperature, the age of the yeast. All of these things can either rob the dough of its moisture or add to it. So, you have to pay attention to the texture of the dough.
Take this Fiddlehead Focaccia for instance. The day I made it, it was quite humid in my kitchen, so I wound up adding an extra 1/4 cup of flour. I knew what the finished texture of the dough should be, so I was able to assess and troubleshoot the dough on the fly. This is where the practice comes in. It’s not so much about being excessively talented or smart. It’s about recognizing patterns and having good recall.
So, that about does it for the focaccia portion of this Fiddlehead Focaccia, but what about the fiddleheads? You know, the other day, I posted a photo of fresh fiddleheads on Instagram. The photo itself was nothing special, the kind of photo I post all the time. So, I posted it and walked away and when I came back was absolutely shocked. No, it didn’t go viral, it’s not Kim K’s ass. But what shocked me was the number of people that were completely and utterly perplexed by fiddleheads. So many of you had never seen them before. It was strange to me because where I’m from they’re commonplace. Now, I didn’t bring up this story in order to wag a finger at fiddlehead-related ignorance. I bring it up to demonstrate how easily we mistake our bubble for the whole world.
I know, fiddleheads aren’t a pressing issue in the grand scheme of things, but I do think my fiddlehead-scenario can serve as a harmless example of how much time we spend with our heads up our own asses. This is part of the reason I love the culinary world. Every day I learn about some fruit in a far-flung jungle I’ve never experienced. Or, for instance, a method of cooking rice I wouldn’t have thought of in a million years. Food provides a very clear window to similarities in the world, yes. But it also reminds us of how varied our day to day experiences can be. I never ever thought a fiddlehead would make me wax poetic like this, but here we are.
Anyway, fiddleheads are actually young shoots of an ostrich fern. If they were left to their own devices and not eaten by me, they would eventually unfurl to form a new fern. Typically fiddleheads are sauteed with butter and garlic and served as a side dish. In Nova Scotia, we usually serve them alongside fish, which I’m sure is a surprise to no one. Sometimes fiddleheads are roasted, but in all instances, fiddleheads are often boiled as a safety precaution. Because of their delightful curl, fiddleheads are difficult to clean, so washing and boiling them before preparing them is the best defense against foodborne illness.
But there’s no reason to be afraid of fiddleheads. The fiddleheads on this Fiddlehead Focaccia are boiled, sauteed and baked. There ‘ain’t nothing nefarious on them, I promise. But having said that, they are surprisingly toothsome, in spite of being cooked three ways. In fact, they caramelized so beautifully that they kind of turned into fiddlehead jerky.
So, that’s all the deal with this Fiddlehead Focaccia. And if you think you can’t make it, I said it before and I’ll say it again, you are wrong. So so wrong.
- 2 cups fresh fiddleheads washed and trimmed
- 3 tablespoons olive oil divided
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 clove garlic sliced thin
- 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon salt divided
- 1 3/4 cups warm water
- 2 1/4 teaspoons dry active yeast
- 2 1/2-3 cups all purpose flour
- Fill a large saucepan with water and place over high heat. Bring the water to a boil and add the fiddleheads. Boil for 5 minutes or until just tender. Plunge the fiddleheads into a bowl of ice water and then drain. Set aside.
- Place 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the garlic and crushed red pepper flakes and saute until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the fiddleheads to the pan and season with 1 teaspoon of the salt. Toss to coat, then remove from the heat. Set aside to cool, then refrigerate until ready to use.
- Pour the water into a large stand-mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the yeast and let stand for 5 minutes or until foamy. Add the remaining olive oil and salt and set the mixer on it's lowest speed. Start adding flour to the mixer in 1/4 cup increments. Continue adding flour until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and starts to climb the dough hook. It should be silky but tacky to the touch. Add only as much flour as you need to to get the dough to this point.
- Transfer the dough to a well-floured surface and knead briefly. Form the dough into a ball and transfer to an oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean dish towel or plastic wrap and let rise for 1 1/2 hours.
- Punch the dough down and divide it into two equal parts. Press each piece into two 9-inch oiled cake pans. Cover each pan with plastic wrap and set aside to rise for another 1 1/2 hours.
- When only 30 minutes remains in the second rise time, preheat the oven to 425°F.
- Press the fiddleheads into the surface of each loaf of focaccia. Cover the focaccia with a quick drizzle of olive oil and a light sprinkling of finishing salt.
- Transfer the focaccia to the oven and bake for 25 minutes or until golden. Transfer the focaccia to a cooling wrack and let cool.
- Serve with olive oil and balsamic vinegar or your favorite cheeses.