Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Going Crackers

Having a flexible summer schedule can wreak a little havoc with the use of some more inflexible objects, such as desk-top computers. I’ve been away from my desk, so to speak, for quite some time, so if you’ve been bored enough to look for something new to read here, I’m sorry that there has been no such thing. I hope to get some extra posts in over the next week or so, so that my June 2010 archives don’t look quite so bare.

First of all, I thought I’d get back to that olive oil flatbread that I made with fresh thyme from my container garden to go with Asparagus and Goat Cheese Dip so long ago. Really, it’s a sort of rustic cracker broken into irregular shards that beg to be dipped in or spread with something thick and creamy. I bumped up the WFQ* from the original recipe by switching out some of the all purpose flour for whole wheat pastry flour, and that turned out to be a great mix with the thyme and olive oil.

This dough is quite simple to make. You just mix flour and oil and water and herbs until they come together into a ball that you only need to knead a few times, just to keep it in line a little better. You could use any herbs you like (I used the thyme to match that in the Asparagus and Goat Cheese Dip) or probably any spices. I’d also like to try some flours from other grains (especially rice flour) and perhaps add some finely ground nuts or seeds such as sunflower or sesame. Oh, the possibilities!

The tricky thing about this stuff is that you really do need to roll out the dough onto parchment paper if you want to have any chance of turning it into anything beyond dough. It isn’t gooey or particularly messy, but it would adhere rather hopelessly to a counter or table, so use the parchment.

The hardest part of making these rustic crackers is getting the rolled-out dough into the oven. I baked it on a preheated pizza baking stone and transferred it there using a wooden peel, but you could invert a baking sheet on the oven rack and slide the dough and parchment onto that. If you don’t have a peel, try using the back of another baking sheet or a rimless cookie sheet.

Really, the chances are that you’re more physically coordinated than I am anyway, and won’t need the years of pizza-baking experience I’ve had just to get a dough like this into the oven without maiming yourself. If you’re not exactly a culinary acrobat, I say give it a chance, and perhaps practice baking these crackers before your next dinner party. You’ll probably really impress your friends by making your own crackers, especially ones as delicious as these. Then again, depending on your friends, they may just think you’ve gone insane.

Rustic Homemade Crackers with Thyme
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 cup all purpose flour
¾ cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
½ cup water
1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for brushing
additional salt for sprinkling (this would be a good place to use a flaky sea salt)

1. Preheat oven to 450 F with a baking stone or an inverted baking sheet on the rack in the middle of the oven.

2. Combine all purpose flour, whole wheat pastry flour, baking powder, ¾ teaspoon salt and thyme in a medium size bowl. Whisk together until well combined.

3. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Add the water and 1/3 cup olive oil. Stir into the flour mixture until all is just moistened. Remove the dough from the bowl and knead 5 to 8 times, or until it has all come together into a ball.

4. Divide the dough ball into three pieces. Set aside two of the pieces and cover them with plastic wrap or a clean towel. Spread a piece of parchment paper out on your work surface. On the parchment paper, roll one piece of dough out into a roughly 10-inch round. The shape is not important, but the dough should be very thin.

5. Lightly brush the surface of the rolled dough with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt. Gently press the salt into the dough with your hands. Using a wooden peel or the back of a baking pan or cookie sheet, slide the dough, still on the parchment paper, into the oven on the preheated baking stone or inverted baking sheet.

6. Bake for 8 to10 minutes or until it is crisp and golden brown and has a few darker brown spots. Carefully remove from the oven and cool on a rack. Repeat with remaining two pieces of dough. When the crackers are cool enough to handle, remove from the parchment and break into rustic shards. These will keep for a day or two in an airtight container.

*WFQ: Whole Food Quotient

One Year Ago: No-Knead bread

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