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This has been my most exciting Daring Bakers Challenge yet! Why, you ask? Because I got to be a “hostess-with-the-mostest!” (Have any of you seen Spinal Tap? Oh, wasted youth, how I miss thee…). Oh, and because we got to chose our recipe, I wasn’t confronted with subbing 27 eggs, because the recipe was VEGAN! Ha! It was also possible to do a Gluten Free variation, because darn it, we’re Alternative, and we’re worth it! :
When the gracious and talented Natalie of Gluten A Go Go asked me to co-host with her I was wonderfully surprised and terribly flattered. I’m a baby Daring Baker, and my inaugural Challenge, veganizing Dorie’s Perfect Party Cake, was my first real brush with a baking disaster (luckily my second attempt at Daringness was a success and my Tofu Cheesecake Pops rocked the casaba). It was during this second challenge that I “met” Natalie (during our Alternative Bake-Along) and started visiting her blog on a regular basis.
Working with Natalie on this project was pure joy! We were in sync from the very beginning, knowing we wanted to move away from the sticky-sweet challenges we’ve seen of late (though I love sweet, and I can’t wait for the next sugar-filled challenge!). There was also this bread vibe that passed between us, and from the beginning we moved towards baking bread or crackers, and Natalie suggested adding dips and spreads to the mix. We also knew that we wanted an easily convertible recipe so that our GF and Vegan Bakers wouldn’t have to re-invent the wheel!
Natalie mentioned Peter Reinhart, and I took advantage of my State-Side vacation to pick up his phenomenal (IMHO) book The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, which was, without exaggeration, life-changing for me! I couldn’t put it down, and fell deeper and deeper in love with the glossy photos of his venerable chef d’oeuvres. As a very new baker, I was reminded of my early ballet career and seeing the Bolshoi Ballet for the very first time – W-O-W! Once the two of us were armed with Apprentice, we were baking to beat the band : trying different recipes for their GF or Vegan-friendliness, trying to find the perfect fit between a clear, structured recipe, and the possibility to bake outside of the box and add one’s own creative stamp to the Challenge.
After baking many a bread, we decided on the Lavash Crackers (recipe at the end of this post), for their adaptability, their deliciousness, and their utility (everyone should make their own crackers at least once, right?). We sincerely hoped that because of the different toppings possibilities, the dough add-ins such as herbs or spices, and of course the multitude of GF and Vegan dips or spreads to accompany them with, that this challenge could truly be yours, so that it would be a pleasure to make as well as to eat!
I want to thank Natalie for allowing me this opportunity for culinary collaboration, something I’d never done before. I felt like I was in school again working on a project with a friend, and the many emails we shared over the summer months fine tuning our ideas were rich and entertaining. It’s thanks to my fellow Daring Baker that I discovered Reinhart and his fabulous book, and I’ve learned so many new things and become all the richer for it. Thanks also go out to our co-founders Lis and Yvonne, who gave us the green light for our idea, and who have made the blogosphere a much more tasty place to be! Thank you!
I’ve made these crackers five times since we decided on the recipe. I have made savory and sweet versions, once adding dried basil and rosemary to the savory dough and another time I added all spice and vanilla for a sweet version. I’ve rolled the dough thicker for a pita-like bread, and much thinner, more crackly crackers. I broke them apart to make shards, cut them into pita triangles, and used cookie cutters. I’m thrilled to have this recipe in my repertoire, and I hope you are, too!
You might be wondering why there are no pictures of my dips? Well, mostly because I just forgot to take them! I’m sorry, I was so concentrating on the cracker-aspect of the Challenge! I made hummus, homemade salsa, Thai Almond dip, Smokey Black Bean dip, and I don’t remember what else. I think because I make these things so often, they just didn’t seem very photo-worthy…?
I think what I most enjoyed (besides eating the crackers), was this Challenge (hopefully) helped dispel some of the clichés surrounding what “Vegan” means – often people have a rather reductionist vision of what we eat, and they think we dine on soy 3 times a day, and supplement with twigs and berries (ok, maybe not!), but my family doesn’t really eat much soy at all, and when we do, it’s usually in the form of tempeh (so less processed). Our diets consist of a vast variety of foods, mostly veggies, fruits, and grains…and desserts, too! So many of what are considered “comfort foods” in North America are vegan – chips & salsa, PB & J, and if you’re ever in France, stop by my place for a vegan apple pie – you’ll NEVER know the difference! There was a spirit of curiosity buzzing about the forums, and I was so proud to be a member of this Daring community where my fellow Bakers took the Challenge to heart and sincerely moved outside of their comfort zones (the way the Alternative Bakers do, too!).
Lavash Crackers from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice
Here’s a simple formula for making snappy Armenian-style crackers, perfect for breadbaskets, company and kids…It is similar to the many other Middle Eastern and Northern African flatbreads known by different names, such as mankoush or mannaeesh (Lebanese), barbari (Iranian), khoubiz or khobz (Arabian), aiysh (Egyptian), kesret and mella (Tunisian), pide or pita (Turkish), and pideh (Armenian). The main difference between these breads is either how thick or thin the dough is rolled out, or the type of oven in which they are baked (or on which they are baked, as many of these breads are cooked on stones or red-hot pans with a convex surface)…
The key to a crisp lavash,…is to roll out the dough paper-thin. The sheet can be cut into crackers in advance or snapped into shards after baking. The shards make a nice presentation when arranged in baskets.
Makes 1 sheet pan of crackers
* 1 1/2 cups (6.75 oz) unbleached bread flour or gluten free flour blend (If you use a blend without xanthan gum, add 1 tsp xanthan or guar gum to the recipe)
* 1/2 tsp (.13 oz) salt
* 1/2 tsp (.055 oz) instant yeast
* 1 Tb (.75 oz) agave syrup or sugar
* 1 Tb (.5 oz) vegetable oil
* 1/3 to 1/2 cup + 2 Tb (3 to 4 oz) water, at room temperature
* Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, or kosher salt for toppings
1. In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt yeast, agave, oil, and just enough water to bring everything together into a ball. You may not need the full 1/2 cup + 2 Tb of water, but be prepared to use it all if needed.
2. For Non Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead for about 10 minutes, or until the ingredients are evenly distributed. The dough should pass the windowpane test (see http://www.wikihow.com/Determine-if-Bre … ong-Enough for a description of this) and register 77 degrees to 81 degrees Fahrenheit. The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), satiny to the touch, not tacky, and supple enough to stretch when pulled. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
2. For Gluten Free Cracker Dough: The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), and slightly tacky. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
3. Ferment at room temperature for 90 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size. (You can also retard the dough overnight in the refrigerator immediately after kneading or mixing).
4. For Non Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Mist the counter lightly with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter. Press the dough into a square with your hand and dust the top of the dough lightly with flour. Roll it out with a rolling pin into a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches. You may have to stop from time to time so that the gluten can relax. At these times, lift the dough from the counter and wave it a little, and then lay it back down. Cover it with a towel or plastic wrap while it relaxes. When it is the desired thinness, let the dough relax for 5 minutes. Line a sheet pan with baking parchment. Carefully lift the sheet of dough and lay it on the parchment. If it overlaps the edge of the pan, snip off the excess with scissors.
4. For Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Lay out two sheets of parchment paper. Divide the cracker dough in half and then sandwich the dough between the two sheets of parchment. Roll out the dough until it is a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches. Slowly peel away the top layer of parchment paper. Then set the bottom layer of parchment paper with the cracker dough on it onto a baking sheet.
5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Mist the top of the dough with water and sprinkle a covering of seeds or spices on the dough (such as alternating rows of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, kosher or pretzel salt, etc.) Be careful with spices and salt – a little goes a long way. If you want to pre-cut the cracker, use a pizza cutter (rolling blade) and cut diamonds or rectangles in the dough. You do not need to separate the pieces, as they will snap apart after baking. If you want to make shards, bake the sheet of dough without cutting it first.
5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crackers begin to brown evenly across the top (the time will depend on how thinly and evenly you rolled the dough).
6. When the crackers are baked, remove the pan from the oven and let them cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. You can then snap them apart or snap off shards and serve.