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Homemade Multigrain Crackers

20 Sep

Is it odd to admit that, though I will never bat an eye when it comes to baking my own bread, it never really occurs to me to make my own crackers? In our house, at least, there is not much separating a cracker from a slice of bread in terms of utilization. Both crackers and bread get topped with some sort of cheese, or eaten with fruit, or spread with almond butter. Crackers, though more crisp and tiny, are, like bread, a combination of flours, a leavening agent, and some liquid, so why my indifference about making them at home?

To be quite honest, I rarely make crackers at home because, unlike homemade bread, I have a difficult time making homemade crackers taste as good as crackers I buy. Homemade bread is always a treat, even if I end up making a loaf (or two) that ends up sort of squat or misshapen, the bread always tastes phenomenal, and the experience of making bread always makes me feel soothed and comforted. Making crackers just makes me want to get back all the time I just spend laboring over something that tastes underwhelming, with a texture that is never quite cracker-ish enough.

You know where this is going, right? You can all stop the presses, because here, right now, I have for you the very best homemade cracker recipe you’ll ever find. With a magical combination of rye flour, whole wheat flour, and wheat bran, the texture of these crackers is just about perfect. The taste, slightly nutty from the mixture of flours, is pumped up ever-so-slightly with a dose of light brown sugar, a spoonful of tiny seeds, and a nice undertone of butter. The dough is a dream to work with, and it comes together to form the most perfectly crisp, yet sturdy, crackers that make a delightful pairing with cheese, nut butter, or even just a cup of hot tea. As an added bonus, these crackers are a huge hit with kids. Formed into many an animal shape, the crackers are a perfect weekend afternoon project for kids and adults alike, and, though I am not the type to shoo a child away from a cookie, making crackers and eating them is, if you’re looking for some encouragement, a slightly more virtuous endeavor than turning out a few sheets of cookies. Not that it will matter, though. These crackers, I swear, are just about good enough to choose over a cookie, any day of the week.

Last Year: Tomato Tartlets with Rosemary

Homemade Multigrain Crackers Recipe

Inspired by a recipe in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison

¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

½ cup dark rye flour

½ cup wheat bran

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon sea salt

¼ cup lightly packed light brown sugar

1 stick (8 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1 large egg

½ cup buttermilk or soured milk

1 teaspoon sesame seeds

1 teaspoon poppy seeds

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the flours, wheat bran, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and brown sugar.

In a small bowl, beat the egg into the buttermilk, then set aside.

Add the butter to the dry ingredients and mix it in using your mixer’s paddle attachment, or by rubbing the butter into the dry ingredients using your fingers. Stir in the egg and buttermilk mixture until evenly distributed. The dough should be quite combined and sticky at this point, but if it appears to be a bit dry and crumbly, add in a few more drops of buttermilk and continue to mix the dough until it clings together. Stir in the sesame seeds and poppy seeds. Shape the dough into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 10 minutes.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the slightly chilled dough until it is about 1/8-inch thick. Cut out the crackers using a 2-inch biscuit cutter, or several cookie cutters. Combine, reroll, and recut any remaining scraps of dough. Prick the tops of each cracker with a fork, then place on an ungreased baking sheet and bake, one sheet at a time, in the center of the oven for 12 to 15 minutes, until they are lightly browned. If you have cut your crackers into very small shapes, bake them for only 10 minutes at first, then check them for doneness.

Makes about 5 dozen 2-inch round crackers. Makes substantially more crackers if you cut them using tiny cookie cutters.

Semolina Flatbread with Arugula, Mint, and Spinach Pesto

25 Jun

Generally, when I gather together the elements to make a meal, I attempt to strike a reasonably healthy balance of protein, grain, and vegetable.  In the winter months, you’ll see a fair amount of polenta and pasta sitting in for the grain component, their hearty and warm properties providing the perfect bit of comfort one seeks to counteract the cold and drizzly weather.  In the summertime, when the sun beckons and our meals are almost exclusively eaten outdoors, we eat hunks of bread with our slices of cheese and heaping plates of garden vegetables.  And during the intervening weeks, which means now, when the sun appears only sporadically and our days are often still drenched with the cold and the wet, our meals are punctuated with foods that exist in between, not too hot, not too cold, but a rather Baby Bear-like middle ground.

A flatbread like this, hearty and crisp with semolina, slathered with a pert combination of spicy arugula, fresh mint, and lots of lemon zest, is the perfect example of the type of accompaniment I like with my meals on these days of in between.  It’s a great companion for soups (cold weather), or salads (warm weather), and it packs up perfectly for a picnic (dreamy weather).  Paired with yogurt-marinated chicken skewers and some slices of fresh raw bell pepper, it was the defining element of a springtime dinner last week, on a day that couldn’t figure out if it wanted to be rainy or sunny, so it decided to be both several times over.

But, guess what else?  This flatbread has a bit of a secret weapon.  In addition to making a fine side dish at lunch or dinner, it is also able to transform itself, with the addition of a single ingredient, into a fantastic breakfast meal.  By simply cracking some eggs onto the flatbread midway through cooking, your flatbread emerges from the oven as a cross between a breakfast pizza and the most flavorful eggs and toast you’ve ever had.  Don’t want to bother with making the dough in the morning then sitting around waiting for it to rise?  I don’t blame you.  Luckily, you can get around it by throwing the dough together the night before, then leaving it to rise in the refrigerator overnight.  Come morning, you’re one step closer to fresh flatbread dotted with baked eggs, and some great leftovers for lunch or dinner, rain or shine.

Last Year: Mango and Avocado Salsa

Semolina Flatbread with Arugula, Mint, and Spinach Pesto Recipe

Semolina Flatbread:

¾ cup warm water

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon honey

1 ½ cups bread flour

½ cup semolina flour

pinch sea salt

1 teaspoon rapid rise yeast

In a small bowl, or in a measuring cup, whisk together the warm water, olive oil, and honey.

In a large bowl, whisk together bread flour, semolina flour, pinch of salt, and rapid rise yeast.  Pour the water mixture into the flour mixture, stirring with a wooden spoon.  When the ingredients are well combined (the mixture will look a bit shaggy), start kneading the dough, still in the bowl, with your hands.  Knead the dough, turning it over onto itself several times, until it is smooth and somewhat shiny, about 3-4 minutes total.  Form the dough into a ball.  Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the top of the dough, then roll it around in the bowl to coat it all over with oil.  Cover the bowl with a sheet of plastic wrap or a moistened towel, and leave the dough to rise for 1 ½ to 2 hours, until it is large and puffy and more than doubled in size.  Alternately, you can cover the bowl with plastic wrap and then place it in the refrigerator to rise overnight.

While the dough is rising, make the pesto.

Arugula, Mint, and Spinach Pesto

½ cup packed fresh arugula

¼ sup packed fresh mint leaves

1 cup packed fresh spinach

1 large clove garlic, roughly smashed

1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

2 tablespoons roasted almonds, chopped, sliced, or slivered

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus another ¼ cup for topping the flatbread after it bakes

salt and pepper to taste

In the bowl of a food processor or in a blender, combine arugula, mint, spinach, garlic, lemon zest, almonds, olive oil, and ¼ cup of Parmesan cheese.  Add salt and pepper to taste (the cheese is a bit salty already, so you won’t require much additional salt).  Process or bend the ingredients until they are fully incorporated and have turned into a rich paste.  You will have to stop several times to scrape down the sides of the bowl or blender, but it is necessary in order to make sure all the ingredients are properly combined.

Makes about ¾ cup pesto.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place a pizza stone or heavy baking sheet on the lower middle rack of the oven as it preheats.

Line a rimless or overturned baking sheet with a large piece of parchment paper, and set aside.

When the dough has fully risen (if you are taking the dough out of the refrigerator after it has risen overnight, allow it to rest on the counter for 20-30 minutes so it can lose some of its refrigerator chill and is easier to work with), turn it out onto a well-floured surface.  Using your hands, shape the dough into a 14-inch by 10-inch rectangle, gently stretching and poking the dough in order to coerce it into taking shape.  Place the rectangle of dough onto the parchment-lined baking sheet.  Spread the pesto over the surface of the dough, leaving a ½-inch border around the edges.

Slide the dough, still on its sheet of parchment paper, onto the heated baking sheet or pizza stone in the oven.  Bake for 10 minutes, until the edges of the dough are golden brown and slightly puffed.

If adding eggs to your flatbread, crack 3 to 4 eggs into a bowl.  After the flatbread has baked for 5 minutes, carefully pour the eggs onto the flatbread, directing the eggs as far from the edges as possible (if the eggs are too close to the edges they will simply slide off onto the hot baking sheet, which makes an incredible mess).  Bake the flatbread for an additional 5 minutes, until the egg whites are fully cooked and the egg yolks are slightly runny.  If you’d like your eggs firmer, add them a minute sooner so they have time to bake a minute longer.

Remove flatbread onto a wire rack to cool slightly.  Sprinkle with remaining ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese.  When bread has cooled a bit, cut into squares and serve.

Savory Olive Oil and Walnut Sables

27 Feb

My friend Corinna once confessed to me that when her child was a mere toddler, she developed the habit of calling all crackers “ccokies.”  It’s not like her toddler knew the difference between a cookie and a cracker at that point, having never been served a cookie at that point in his life, so I, of course, thought her plan was pure, platinum genius.

When you really think about what makes a cookie a cookie, I suppose there is not a lot, besides sugar, that really separates a cookie from a cracker.  There is a similar correlation, I feel, between what makes a muffin a muffin and not a tiny little cake (because, really, in most cases there is very little that separates a muffin from a cake, save for serving size and variations in toppings and/or frosting).  Both crackers and cookies begin with some sort of flour, followed by some sort of fat to provide texture and flavor.  After those two building blocks come flavorings and leavening agents, both of which will then veer you off in the direction of either cookie or cracker.

But what happens when you start thinking of how to join the two elements?  Is it possible to make a cookie that is more like a cracker, or a cracker that is suspiciously like a cookie?  Perhaps more importantly, why would someone want to accomplish such a thing?

The answer to all those questions, I give you this:

Melt-in-your-mouth sables that have the delicate, shattering texture of a cookie, but are speckled with fine bits of walnuts and a sprinkling of savory spices.  This is why you merge a cookie and a cracker.  Because there is nothing finer to nibble while having a glass of wine at the end of the day.  Because sometimes when you want a bit of a snack, you don’t really want any sugar to go along with it.  Because these, my friends, may be the most delicious experiment I have ever dreamed up on a whim, and I think you’d be missing out terribly if you didn’t try them out for yourself.

Savory Olive Oil and Walnut Sables

¼ cup walnut pieces

1 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon sea salt

1 egg yolk

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons water

Optional toppings: caraway seeds, truffle salt, poppy seeds

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse walnut pieces 5 or 6 times until they are ground medium-fine, with a few small chunks of walnut remaining.  Add flour and salt to walnuts and pulse to combine.  Add the egg yolk and pulse 2 or 3 more times to combine.

With the food processor running, pour in the olive oil in a slow stream, allowing the mixture to become uniformly combined.  With the food processor still running, drizzle in the water, then allow the dough to just start to clump together.

Shape the dough into a disc, then wrap in plastic and allow to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Turn the rested dough out onto a well-floured work surface.  Roll out the dough until it is very thin, somewhere between ¼” and 1/8”.  The dough will be a bit crumbly, so roll with care.  Using a floured 2-inch biscuit cutter or cookie cutter, cut out rounds of dough and place on parchment lined baking sheet.  Reshape and reroll the dough as needed.  Using a fork or the tip of a small, sharp knife, poke several holes on top of each cracker.  If adding toppings, sprinkle each cracker with just a pinch of whatever toppings you choose.

Bake the crackers on the center rack of the oven for 10 to 12 minutes, until the edges are golden and the tops just beginning to develop color.  Cool on the sheet pan for 1 minute, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.  Crackers will be extremely delicate when hot, so transfer them with care.

Makes roughly 2 dozen sables.

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