Saturday, January 10, 2009

Daring Bakers - September '08 Challenge!

OK, I really have been doing a few things over the last few months.... Among other things, Hubby took the camera off to the deer camp before I could unload my pics from the memory card, and now that deer season's over I had him get it out of his truck so that I could actually PUBLISH THESE BLOG POSTS.

So as you can see, this is coming out quite tardily and, although I guess I can't prove it, I was not late in actually DOING the challenge. Whatev's. I'm just glad that I actually typed this up in September, because then all I needed to do was make a few changes and add my pics. And there is NO freaking way on God's earth that I could have remembered all the details 4 months later....

Anyway, the September challenge was something really cool and, to me, totally unexpected: Lavash Crackers! Our honorable September Hosts were Natalie from Gluten a Go Go and Shel from Musings From the Fishbowl. Natalie and Shel are two of our Alternative Bakers, Natalie being a gluten-free cook and Shel a vegan one. Our challenge was to make lavash, which is a cracker bread made in many different cultures. It was to be accompanied by a dip, and the crackers AND dip both had to be gluten-free and/or vegan. Aside from that, we were wide open and could use any flavorings, sweet or savory, that we desired.


Lavash Crackers & Toppings

(Recipe from The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering The Art of Extraordinary Bread
by Peter Reinhart)

The key to a crisp lavash, 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

Mise en place, clockwise from top left: Flour , Water, Olive oil, Sugar, Yeast, & Salt

1. In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt yeast, agave/sugar, 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. [I did need all the water.]

Sweet Pea mixes

2. 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 for a discription 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.

Pre 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. 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.

Ready to roll!

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 precut 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. 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.

This was fun and extremely easy to make! Of course, I got a little nervous seeing yeast in the list of ingredients, because I always have this fear of making something that just totally falls flat. But such is the life of a Daring Baker -- to laugh at the possibility of nonresponsive yeast and motor on! Bwahaha!!

Seriously, I had no problems with the yeast. It didn't seem to rise like I expected, but I think I always expect dough to like septuple in size or something. Eh.

Naturally, my Sous Chef, Sweet Pea, helped with the mixing. She was mildly irritated that I didn't give her dough to knead, as I have in the past, but I wasn't working with a large batch of dough this time. In retrospect, I had plenty to spare, so next time she can play along.

I cut my crackers into swirly patterns with my pizza cutter and sprinkled some poppy seeds, cumin seeds, Italian seasoning, and sea salt over everything. I originally wanted to do bands of each separately down the dough and cut them so that the pattern showed on each cracker, but I then realized I didn't have enough cumin seeds to do that. So I spread everything equally across the entire dough -- then realized that cumin and dried Italian herbs might not really mesh. Whoops! But it was OK.

I had made one of those Knorr spinach-veggie dips just the day before, but of course that was not vegan since it had sour cream. Gah! So I made a pseudo-hummus dip. I say "pseudo" because I had no tahini in the house, which gives hummus this layer of lovely je ne sais quoi, but it was still good because of the garlic and lemon juice. Mmmm. I drizzled extra virgin olive oil over the top and sprinkled on a little Hungarian paprika.

Then I had this creative idea and made a vegan/non-vegan yin-yang. Ha ha!

Many DB's took a break from the sweetness and made savory, but others still made some ravishingly good non-savory creations. Be sure to check the ever-growing Daring Bakers Blogroll to check them out!

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