August 3, 2010
If you've been on the fence about getting a pasta roller -- either an attachment for your stand mixer or a hand-cranked one for your biceps -- I may be able to offer the justification you were hoping for: a pasta roller proves handy for homemade crackers, too.
You see, to make good crackers, you need to roll the dough out thinly, for optimal snap, and evenly, so that they'll bake in a uniform fashion, without doughy or burnt spots.
And as I learned from my talented friends at Hidden Kitchen (see their blog), a pasta roller is the ideal tool to achieve that. You'll use the first roller only, the one that's just two cylinders facing each other and rolling inward, and switch from narrow to narrower, exactly like you would for pasta, until you have a super thin strip of dough, ready to be baked.
It's also a kitchen activity that ranks high on the fun-o-meter: rolling pasta or cracker dough never fails to remind me of my play-doh days, and I could spend all afternoon doing just that.
My cracker recipe is quite simple: regular flour and semolina flour (the latter provides a slightly more rustic texture), some seeds (I use sesame and poppy seeds), a bit of salt and olive oil, and enough water to bind into a dough that will be smooth but not tacky (or it will gunk up your pasta roller).
The crackers you get in return for your efforts are impeccably crisp -- sturdy enough to scoop up stuff, but thin enough to shatter under your bite -- and will remain so for a few weeks.
This is a good thing because the recipe makes quite a bit, but as long as you're taking out the roller and preheating the oven, you might as well bake a good batch. And really, once you have them around I don't think you'll run out of things to eat them with: hummus, roasted eggplant and yogurt dip, anchoïade, muhammara, peacamole, cashew cheese, you get the idea.
The recipe is naturally open to variations, so you could add the spices and dried herbs of your choice, and possibly some grated hard cheese to the dough. If you decide to play around with the seeds, though, I recommend you stick to teeny ones, or they'll get in the way of the thinning of the dough.
Sourdough starter note: If you maintain a sourdough starter, you can use up some of your excess starter in this recipe, according to the same conversion rule I've described before: here, I've been using 100 grams (3 1/2 ounces) 100%-hydration starter, and lowering the amount of flours to 125 grams (4.4 ounces) each and the water to 75 ml (5 tablespoons).
Olive Oil and Seed Crackers
- 150 grams (5 1/3 ounces) all-purpose flour (I used the French T65)
- 150 grams (5 1/3 ounces) fine semolina flour (if you can't find semolina flour, just use all regular flour)
- 20 grams (3 tablespoons) toasted sesame seeds
- 15 grams (2 tablespoons) poppy seeds
- 7 grams (1 1/2 teaspoons) fine sea salt
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 120 ml (1/2 cup) water
Place the flours, seeds and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the olive oil and stir it in with a fork. Add the water and mix it in.
When the water is absorbed, turn the mixture out on a clean work surface and knead the dough gently to gather into a smooth ball. Add a touch more water if the dough feels too dry to come together, but the consistency you're shooting for is smooth, not at all sticky or tacky.
Divide the dough into 8 pieces of (roughly) equal size, and cover with a kitchen towel.
Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F) and prepare two baking sheets lined with parchment paper or silicon baking mats -- this is so you can bake two batches of crackers at a time, but if you only have one baking sheet, that's fine, too. If you have a rectangular or square bread stone, place it in the oven as it preheats; you'll need only one baking sheet in addition to the stone then.
Take one piece of dough (keep the others covered to prevent them from drying out) and flatten it into an oval disk between the palms of your hands. Set a pasta roller on the widest setting, and slip the disk of dough in the roller to thin it out. Fold the strip of dough in half so the two short sides meet, and slip the dough into the roller again, fold in first. Repeat 3 or 4 times until the dough feels supple; you are essentially kneading the dough in the process. If it gets sticky at any point, dust it with a little flour.
Switch the pasta roller to the next (= narrower) setting and slip the dough in (just once this time) to thin it out. Repeat with the subsequent settings until you reach setting #5, and get a thin, long rectangularish sheet of dough. Place it on one of the prepared baking sheets, or a flour-dusted peel if you're using a bread stone.
(If you don't have a pasta roller, perhaps you can borrow one from a friend? Otherwise, roll up your sleeves, whip out your rolling pin, and roll the dough out as thinly as you can.)
Repeat with more pieces of dough until there is no room left on your baking sheets. Using a dough cutter, a pastry wheel or just a knife, score the sheets of dough into square or triangular pieces so they'll be easier to break off.
Insert the baking sheets into the oven (or, if you're using a pizza stone, slide the dough in using the pizza peel) and bake for 7 to 10 minutes, or until golden to golden brown. It's nice to bake each batch of crackers to a slightly different shade of golden because that will result in slightly different flavors.
Transfer to a cooling rack, and repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.
The crackers will keep for a few weeks in an airtight container.
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