Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Lavash Crackers

I generally am not a fan of single-use kitchen appliances. But I make an exception for my pasta machine. There are a few reasons for this dispensation: first and foremost, it makes amazing pasta, which is pretty near impossible without it. And secondly, my dear sister gave it to me. And third, it is a chunky metal machine with no electric parts (thus thrilling my Luddite heart, and nearly getting around the whole 'appliance' category). And this past weekend, I discovered another charm: it's not single use! In addition to making pasta, it also makes kick-ass crackers.

I was asked to bring appetizers to a party with a delicious Middle Eastern theme, for a reception in honor of one of the best books I've read in a long time. So I made some trusty hippie hummous, fancied up for the occasion with a topping of sumac, toasted hazelnuts, and fresh mint (for the record: highly recommended combination). But to go with? The pita bread at the closest grocery store was a bit underwhelming, and I wasn't up to schlepping to the Middle Eastern market. So I looked up cracker recipes. Namely lavash, in keeping with the evening's theme.

These lavash come from the amazing Peter Reinhart, and have many things to recommend them (beyond giving your pasta machine newfound purpose). They're fairly easy to make, cheap, and infinitely adaptable (I went with a topping of flaky salt and cumin seeds, as it seemed vaguely thematic). They're quite dramatic if you present them whole, and between their thin-ness and the yeast, they bake up deliciously light and crisp. And yes, you can roll them out with a rolling pin if you don't have a pasta machine. But if you have one, I highly recommend exploring this off-label application.

Lavash Crackers

Adapted from The Bread Baker's Apprentice, Peter Reinhart
yields enough lavash for a party

1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon active yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups flour (or more, as needed)
toppings: coarse salt, whole seeds

Place the water in the bowl of a stand mixer (or just a large bowl, if you prefer to knead by hand), sprinkle in the yeast, and let soften a few minutes. Add the salt, honey, and olive oil, then knead in the flour (with a dough hook or your hands), until you have a firm dough, somewhat on the dry side (not quite as stiff as pasta dough, but fairly stiff — if the dough is too loose, it'll be hard to roll out later). Add more flour as needed to form a firm dough. Continue kneading for several minutes, until the gluten is well developed and the dough is smooth and supple. Place in an oiled bowl, swish around and flip over so that the now-oiled bottom is on top, and cover and set aside to rise until doubled (~90 minutes, though you can also do this in the refrigerator the night before).

When the dough is risen you're ready to make the crackers, line a few baking sheets with parchment or grease them very well (I haven't tried the latter, so it's possible there may be some sticking). Gather some toppings, and a spray bottle of water (or a dish of water with a pastry brush), and preheat your oven to 350° Fahrenheit.

You can roll these out as thin as you can with a rolling pin, but for best results, use a pasta machine. Take walnut-sized lumps of dough, and flatten with your hands until they can go through the machine at the widest setting. Run it through on thinner levels (because it's softer than pasta dough, you can likely skip levels), ultimately cranking it through level 5. Gently place the thin rolled-out lavash on your prepared cookie sheets. Spritz or brush gently with water, then sprinkle with desired toppings.

Let the prepared lavash rise for 5 minutes on the sheets, then transfer to the oven, and bake until mostly golden, ~15 minutes. Remove, let cool for a moment on the racks, and then transfer to a rack to finish cooling. Repeat with remaining dough.

Serve lavash whole for dramatic effect, or break into shards.


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