Sunday, September 22, 2013

What Polly Wants:

OMG Crackers with Chernuska seeds

This past July I had the opportunity of attending The Kneading Conference in Skowhegen, Maine. There I was privileged to attend many workshops, the best two of which were led by Naomi Duguid. Duguid is a flatbread-maker extraordinaire. Her work has inspired many meals in my house, including simple sip-the-soup-and-crunch-the-cracker affairs. 

The workshops: Artisinal Crackers and Using The Tandoor, produced foods I could not eat (The Kneading Conference was a wheat-eater affair) but I learned a tremendous amount - including that my OMG Flatbread mix could be used to make breads that "work" in a Tandoor.

The column and recipe below were published in my e-newsletter before I ever went to Maine, but as summer ends and I look back over its significant events I can't resist reprinting it here.


Creating crackers was never part of my summer program. After coming up with a flatbread that could be made on stove top or outdoor grill, I figured the test kitchen was closed until mid-August, when I'd put finishing touches on a Back-To-School bread. But if the forces of the universe conspire, you've gotta follow.

In early June I was lounging on the couch reading Diane Morgan's excellent cookbook, Roots, and discovered that if I wanted to make a classic Peruvian hot sauce for South American style potatoes (I did), I needed to use saltine crackers. Of course this got me thinking: Was there a gluten-free equivalent? I'd never tasted one.

A few days later, while picnicking with friends Sara and Claude, Sara began rhapsodizing about crackers. She doesn't suffer from celiac disease, so no grain is off-limits, but she'd just tasted a flatbread made from my OMG Flatbread mix and was certain it could make a great cracker.

And then I recalled how my wife Leslie preferred the baking experiments I rejected as too thin and crunchy. Yes, the universe was telling me something.

Digging into cookbooks I soon came up with a half-dozen good-sounding cracker recipes. Eliminating all but the easiest reduced the field to one: Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid's rye cracker recipe, in their massive and wonderful volume, Home Baking. I didn't want to make my crackers with rye, of course, but I was sure the basic formula would work with OMG Flatbread flour, and it did.

cut crackers ready to bakeYou couldn't find an easier recipe than this. One needs only butter, sugar, salt, rice flour for dusting and some OMG Flatbread mix. You can complicate things if you wish with spices like Charnushka (to me this is an ingredient well worth finding), but the hardest part of making these crackers is tolerating oven heat on a summer day.

A thought on this: I suspect crackers can be made in a toaster oven or even a BBQ with a pizza stone and a lid. I never got around to trying, but if one of you does, kindly let me know how it works.

OMG Crackers
Yield: about 30, 2-inch-square crackers


1/2 cup OMG Flatbread flour mix 

1/8 tsp granulated sugar
1 TBLS unsalted butter
1/4 cup warm water - 100 - 115F
About 2 TBLS white rice dusting flour
Coarse salt to sprinkle on cracker surface
(optional) Charnushka - available at Savory Spice Shop

You will also need:
Medium bowl
Whisk, stirring spoon or fork
Large work surface or cutting board
Pizza stone or cookie sheet
Rolling pin or empty cylindrical bottle
Sharp knife or pizza wheel cutter
Water spritzer (you can dip your fingers in a bowl and flick the water if you don't have a spritzer)
Cooling rack

Optional first step: Using an immersion blender or small food processor, process flour mix for 1 minute, or until very fine.

• Using a medium bowl, add flour and sugar and whisk to blend. Cut butter into lima-bean-sized chunks. Toss into flour/sugar blend and rub in with fingertips until mixture has the texture of coarse sand. Add water and stir to mix. Let stand about 5 minutes, then beat dough vigorously until it is smooth - 50 or more strokes. (A power mixer may be used.)

• Thoroughly dust a work surface or large cutting board (It must be at least 12" X 16"). Turn dough out onto dusted surface and sprinkle dough with dusting flour. Pat and shape dough into a rectangle that is about 6" X 8", turning and dusting frequently. Dust a rolling pin or cylindrical bottle and roll dough very thin. (see photo).cut crackers with fork for scale Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut dough into rectangles or squares. Prick surface with tines of a fork. Cover with plastic wrap or a dry towel and put in a warm-ish place to rise.

• Heat oven to 425 F. If you have a pizza stone, use it. A heavy cookie sheet works well too. If your cutting board is plastic you'll need to transfer the crackers to a flat, heat-proof surface, such as a peel or a flat cookie sheet and then tip or slide crackers onto hot stone/cookie sheet. If the cutting board is wood, gently brush away excess flour and then tip the crackers onto the hot stone/cookie sheet in the oven. Spritz them lightly with water and sprinkle with salt and/or charnushka.

• Bake 10 minutes or until slightly browned (see photo at top of this page). It's a good idea to turn the pizza stone or cookie sheet 180 degrees halfway through, but be very careful moving a hot stone. Remove crackers to a rack to cook. They should be cool enough to eat in 10 minutes. Sit down in front of the tube, boot up an old episode of Dr. Who, and try not to eat every last one!

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