Friday, January 18, 2013

Gluten-Free Sesame Crackers

Years ago, my friend Emily was freaking out over an international trip she and her husband were planning, and the stress it would put on their tight finances. She mentioned these gnawing fears to an older neighbor, who gave her these words of wisdom: money is for travel and education. And she's so right.

As much as I am reduced to obsessive researching and wavering over any purchase totaling more than about $25 (beyond food), I know that those are the two categories where you must unequivocally open your purse strings. It's what the purse is for. There's no way around it — travel and education pretty much always come with a hefty price tag. But paying the price tag opens up the world to you, and makes your life so much richer for it.

A few months ago, my dear friend (and former housemate) was faced with a likely downsize at work. So he decided to opt for the most awesome of responses: he's packing up his belongings, renting out his house, and spending a full year traveling the world with his love. Morocco, Ghana, Italy, Croatia, Russia, China, India, Vietnam, New Zealand. And more. They got it right, and I'm so happy for them. And just a tiny bit fiercely jealous.

But the downside to this great idea is that some people I like a lot are going to be pretty far away. So when my friend mentioned a brief window in his packing/working/appointment-making/task-checking life yesterday, I jumped at the chance to come over. But I couldn't come empty handed. Since he offered to provide the fire and cocktail, I figured I could bring the cheese and crackers.

But how could I bring store-bought crackers for such an occasion? And especially, how could I bring store-bought crackers when my friend is gluten-free? GF crackers are often off-the-charts expensive, and/or of an entirely different species. They'll be rice-based, or just a small paving of seeds — good in their own right, but not the traditional cocktail hour cheese accompaniment. Also, who can bear spending $6 for a box of what is, essentially, flour and water? Well, also butter.

I was first converted to the cracker-making gospel by my friend Ivy, who kindly gave me some feedback on going gluten-free (namely too much cornstarch renders a cracker "thirsty," and butter gives a nicer flaky texture than olive oil). I also threw in some sesame seeds, because I love them, baked them up, and grabbed an assortment of cheeses and a nice crisp apple. And we sat down in front of the wood stove while my dog chewed some kindling, and ate our cheese and flaky, savory, delicious crackers, and drank a toast to the world. I hear it's lovely.

Gluten-Free Sesame Crackers

yield will vary depending upon cracker size, but should be ~3 dozen

4 1/2 ounces (a heaping cup) brown rice flour
2 ounces (~1/2 cup) sorghum flour
2 ounces (~1/3 cup) cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt (plus additional for sprinkling)
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pats (you can substitute shortening for a vegan version)
3 tablespoons sesame seeds (or a bit more, if you like it extra seedy)
~1/2 cup cold water

Preheat your oven to 400° Fahrenheit. Take out two cookie sheets, a rolling pin, and a few sheets of parchment paper.

In a food processor or large bowl, mix together the rice flour, sorghum flour, cornstarch, baking powder, salt, and xanthan gum. Add the butter, and pulse (if using a food processor) or cut with a pastry cutter or two knives until it's reduced to little oatmeal-sized bits (don't over-process, as you want your crackers to be flaky). Turn the mixture into a large bowl, and mix in the sesame seeds. Add the water, starting with a scant half cup at first and adding more as necessary, until the mixture comes together in a nice ball of dough.

Divide the dough in half. Leave half in the bowl (covered, so it doesn't dry out), and place the other dough ball between two sheets of parchment paper. Roll out with a rolling pin until it's quite thin, ~1/16th-inch. Cut into cracker shapes of your choosing (you can use a pizza wheel to cut squares or rectangles, or make things more difficult for yourself and cut out rounds and re-roll the scraps). Place the crackers on a parchment-lined sheet (you don't need too much space between), dock them a few times with a fork so that they don't puff up, and sprinkle with bit of additional salt. Bake until browned, ~15 minutes. Let cool slightly, then serve with cheese to celebrate world travel.


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