Daring Bakers Challenge September 2008
I procrastinated!! This is totally unlike me. I hardly ever procrastinate. I am not going to say "never" because I have been known to put back tasks or jobs to the bottom of my list. Those little jobs that one kind of pushes back because they are not interesting or one thinks they are easy enough to tackle at some other time.
This month's daring bakers challenge was very interesting and I was quite intrigued as it was the first in it's kind in the group. See, it was a vegan and a gluten-free challenge! Since April 2007, when I first joined this amazing group, we have made incredible pastries, cakes and sweets. The group has grown to accommodate so many nationalities, cultures and lifestyles. I was always extremely inquisitive by the way my gluten-free and vegan colleagues in the group adapted each challenge to fit their dietary lifestyle. Often I marveled and admired their resourcefulness.
This month I was excited as the lovely Natalie from Gluten A Go Go (yes the same Natalie who helped with my own challenge last month) and co-host Shelly of Musings From the Fishbowl chose Lavash Crackers from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering The Art of Extraordinary Bread. It's a book I've been eying for quite some time to help me get rid of my bread-baking phobia!
Why did I procrastinate with this one? I was so relieved to read the instructions for this challenge, when it was announced at the beginning of the month. First it was savory (however, I have noticed a few sweet varieties appearing on a few blogs as we speak!) and second it sounded so easy. Well I simply pushed it back from day to day thinking "I'll do it tomorrow!"
Well finally today came and I still had no lavash crackers. Out came my mixing bowls, flour and measuring cups and after breakfast I began with the challenge.
The challenge came in two parts. While Natalie asked us to make the lavash crackers gluten-free, Shelly challenged us to make vegan dips to accompany the crackers. We were however, left with the option to make the crackers non gluten-free, using normal unbleached flour.
For me, this challenge was really the opportunity to try and understand a tiny bit about such dietary restrictions. So, earlier in the week I had gone to my organic store in search of a gluten-free flour blend and xanthan gum. They also had wonderful looking fresh red bell peppers and juicy eggplants. Right then I decided on the dip that would accompany these crackers.
I love the flavors of roasted red pepper and aubergines. One of my favorite dips is ajvar, a delicious relish or dip popular in the Balkan countries, but there are versions of it found in Turkey and the Middle East. It is made with fresh red pepper, aubergines and garlic. One of my good friends, who comes from Bosnia was the one who inspired me to make this wonderful dip. It's a breeze to make, the only real work being the peeling of the vegetables.
Sumac and Za'atar where my toppings of choice. I love the aromatic lemony flavor, sumac gives to dishes and za'atar lends it's herby zing giving my crackers a wonderful Middle Eastern flair. The marvelous aromas seeping out of the kitchen evoked delicious memories of my childhood in Qatar, where toasted pita bread covered in a buttered mix of za'atar and olive oil, dipped into bowls of labneh - strained yogurt sprinkled with sumac were my snack of choice.
The recipe amount is quite small, so if you are expecting friends increase the amount as required. I doubled the amount as I thought this would be a great and healthy snack for Soeren and his sleep-over friend this evening.
I'll leave you with the recipe now, excuse me while I nibble on a few of these and check out the the grand lavash creations from the rest of the Daring Bakers.
Printable version of recipe here.
Makes one sheet pan
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, sumac, za'atar or kosher salt for toppings
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.
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 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C 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).
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.
Ajvar -Roasted Bell Pepper, Aubergine & Garlic Dip
Printable version of recipe here.
Makes about 6 servings
2 large aubergines
6 red bell peppers
3-4 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon coriander leaves, chopped
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and fresh cracked black pepper
Heat the grill function of your oven to 250 degrees C. Cut the bell pepper in half, de-seed and them. Cut the aubergine in half. Place them skin side up, along with the garlic cloves, on a baking tray lined with aluminum foil.
Roast the vegetables for a good 30 minutes until the skins of the peppers and aubergines have charred and blister.
Remove from the oven and cover with a kitchen towel to allow them to steam for 10 minutes.
Peel the skins off the peppers and aubergine using your fingers. Squeeze the garlic clove out. Place in a large bowl and mash or purée depending how chunky or fine you would like it to be.
Add olive oil and the remaining ingredients and incorporate with a wooden spoon. Salt and pepper to taste.
You can store the ajvar in air-tight jars for up to a week.
- Chop up a green chili and add it to the mixture for a bit heat
- Use fresh mint leaves instead of the coriander for a new flavor level
Well Soeren and I have nibbled on a few of these already and are addicted. To all mummies out there - this is guilt free and healthy snacking for the kids. We plan to have the rest tonight with Soeren's sleep-over buddy while watching Happy Feet. I loved the crispy and crunchy texture these crackers have. They taste great, with the tangy sumac and aromatic za'atar. The dip adds all those perfect roasted flavors that one associates with vacations by the sea!
Would I make this again?
Are you kidding I am already thinking of toppings for the next batch. Maybe a sweet variation, although my savory ideas are pretty tempting. I really do believe I have found the perfect snacking bites for my family and guests. The fact that these are easy to whip up makes it all the more attractive.
What did I learn from this challenge?
I am glad I gave the gluten-free version a go. It's simply good to be able to experiment with different techniques and forms, when you would not have if the need did not arise. This challenge has opened an interesting door for me - to dare to experiment with more vegan and gluten-free recipes.
Thanks to Natalie and Shelly for daring me to be different this month!
A few of the past challenges:
|Tender Potato Focaccia|
|Jewish Purists Bagels|
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