Crack(er)ing the Mystery of Lavash

A few months ago, I made crackers; or, rather, I tried to make crackers. What I made was a crumbly mess. I didn’t even bother trying to bake them.  So, when it came time to make the Lavash Crackers for the BBA Challenge, I was a little nervous. All the more so because my cracker fail was with a different Peter Reinhart recipe.

Although I guess I must not have been too nervous, as I decided to make two batches of crackers — one with yeast and the other sourdough. I figured I’d mix the dough according to the recipe in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice and then try my hand at sourdough crackers. That way, I’d have an idea what the dough should look and feel like.

I gathered my ingredients and started mixing.

Lavash Cracker Ingredients

If you make these crackers, you’ll notice that the recipe calls for honey and oil (in that order). If you weigh your ingredients (and you should), I recommend that you to measure your oil first, then use the same bowl to measure the honey. The oil remaining in the bowl with keep the honey from sticking.

PR points out that this is a very stiff dough, somewhere between French bread and bagel dough, and he recommends kneading it by hand. I took him at his word, and kneaded the dough for 10 minutes.

Kneading Lavash Crackers

As you can see, it was a rather small lump of dough, so even though it was pretty stiff, it wasn’t much of a chore to knead. I had added all but about an ounce of the water called for in the recipe to get the dough to come together, and I found I had to add a bit of flour to get the it to the correct consistency — stiff, supple and not at all tacky. I got a nice window pane at the end of 10 minutes of kneading, and set the dough aside to ferment.

After about 90 minutes, I rolled out the dough. I found that I didn’t have to stop and rest it, as PR said I might. Rather, the dough rolled out beautifully with almost no pull-back. I had decided to bake the crackers on my Silpat, so I rolled the dough out to the edges, which made it somewhat larger than the recipe called for. But I figured, the thinner the better for crackers.

Rolling Lavash Crackers

I topped the dough with alternating rows of sesame and poppy seeds, and sprinkled Diamond Crystal kosher salt over the whole thing.

Lavash Crackers with poppy & sesame

Then I cut the edges into a nice rectangle, and cut the crackers into diamonds.

Lavash Crackers Cut

While the Lavash dough was fermenting, I mixed up the dough for my sourdough crackers. I had just fed Adrian the night before, and I measured out 5 ounces into my mixing bowl. Since I keep my starter at 100% hydration, I cut back the flour and water in the recipe by 2 1/2 ounces each. And of course I omitted the yeast. I had to use almost all of the water to get the dough to come together, and again added quite a bit of flour during kneading. And I had to knead a few extra minutes to achieve a window pane.

The sourdough didn’t rise much during the bulk ferment, and I let them go a bit longer than the straight dough. But the dough still rolled out nicely and easily stretched to cover my Silpat.

I decided to top the sourdough crackers with pumpkin and sunflower seeds  and Maldon smoked sea salt. (Aside: if you haven’t tried smoked sea salt yet, do yourself a favor and sneak a box into your shopping bag or your next King Arthur order.)

Sourdough Lavash with pumpkin & sunflower

PR notes that you can cut the dough into crackers before you bake it or bake it whole and break it into pieces for a more rustic look. I decided not to cut the sourdough crackers. I don’t know if it was the difference in the dough or if I had underfermented the sourdough and so ended up with monster oven spring, but whatever the cause, my sourdough crackers blew up like a giant pita.

Baked Lavash Crackers

Both batches were delicious and have helped me overcome my fear of homemade crackers. The sourdough version may not be much to look at, but I think the combination of the seeds, sourdough and smoked salt gave these crackers the clear edge in the taste department.

Chalk up another great recipe for Peter Reinhart. And another baking challenge for me.

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Italian Bread, the BBA Way

My current BBA Challenge bread is Italian bread. I’ve made lots of Italian bread (mind you, not as many as some of my Italian friends, but for an Irish-Cherokee boy from the Midwest, quite a few), so I was interested to see how Peter Reinhart‘s recipe would stack up to the rest. I needn’t have wondered. As always, the recipe in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice is excellent. Perhaps the best Italian bread I’ve ever eaten, let alone baked.

Peter’s recipe starts with a biga, which is a form of prefermented dough. In this case, it consists of flour, water, and yeast at about 67% hydration.

Biga for Italian Bread

After mixing up and kneading the biga, I let it ferment on the counter for about three hours, at which point it looked like this:

Biga - After Fermenting

A second quick knead,

Biga - Second Knead

then I covered it with plastic wrap and stuck it in the fridge overnight. In the morning, it had risen several times in size.

Biga in the Morning

I took the biga out and cut it into pieces, then let it sit for several hours to come to room temperature. PR recommends an hour, but I have found that it takes several hours to really get the chill off refrigerated dough. I also tend to increase the temperature of my liquid to make up for the chilled dough.

Biga Pieces for Italian Bread Dough

After letting the biga pieces warm up for a few hours, I proceeded to mix up and knead the dough in my Kitchen Aid mixer. This was a really nice dough, supple and just barely tacky. It rose faster than the recipe said it would.

After about and hour-and-a-half of fermenting, I weighed out the dough into 4-ounce pieces, and preshaped them into rolls.

Italian bread - preshaped

After a five minute rest, I shaped the dough into torpedoes.

Italian bread - torpedos

The final proofing also went faster than the recipe said it might. I baked the rolls with steam in a reducing oven, and they came out beautifully.

Italian bread

As I mentioned above, this may be the best Italian bread I have ever tasted. We had sandwiches on them for dinner tonight, and my family all agreed: another winning recipe from Peter Reinhart.

Recipe — Peach Iced Tea

Have you noticed recently that a lot of restaurants and fast food joints have started to carry flavored iced teas? Ever wonder how they brew so many flavors? I’ve done some nosing around and have discovered that most of them start with regular iced tea and add flavored syrups.

Which got me to thinking: why not make my own flavored syrup? My kitchen is overrun with fresh produce at the moment, so I decided to make some peach simple syrup to use in peach iced tea.

The ingredients are simple and few:

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 medium peaches

First, measure the sugar and water into a medium sized saucepan.

Sugar & Water

Put the saucepan on the stove over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally until it comes to the boil. While the mixture is heating, peel the peaches, cut them into chunks, and place them in a medium sized bowl.

Making Simple Syrup

Allow the mixture to come to a boil, then boil for about 30 seconds to a minute. When you remove it from the heat, the syrup should be clear.

Symple Syrup - After Boiling

As soon as the syrup is ready, and while it is still very hot, pour it over the peaches in the bowl.

Soaking Peaches in Syrup

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the peaches to steep for 30 minutes. Drain the syrup through a fine strainer, and discard the peaches (or, if you’re a glutton like I am, eat them!).  

You’ll end up with about 1 1/2 cups of peach syrup, which will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks, and will make the best peach tea you’ve ever tasted.

Green Peach Iced Tea

English Muffins (or, if You’re English, Muffins)

This week’s BBA Challenge was English Muffins. For some reason, my friends in Britain simply refer to these as “muffins”. (I wonder what they call the muffins we eat for breakfast, like blueberry muffins?) And what do the French call French toast? The Spanish, Spanish peanuts? The Irish, Irish stew? Ah, but I digress.

I had made this bread before, but to be honest, I don’t recall whether it was PR’s recipe or a different one. I don’t recall finishing the muffins in the oven, so I suspect it was another recipe.

I followed PR’s recipe, except for the following departures:

  1. I doubled the recipe. As others have pointed out, I knew six muffins wouldn’t last long around here.
  2. I substituted sourdough starter (actually discard) for part of the flour and water.
  3. I used water and buttermilk powder in place of the milk/buttermilk.
  4. Due to a Sunday afternoon nap, I overproofed the dough a bit.

Also, since I was doubling the recipe and had made muffins before, I decided to make six muffins and one loaf.

I used 15 ounces of sourdough starter discard in the recipe. Since I keep my starter at 100% hydration (the weight of flour and water are equal), I knew I was adding 7.5 ounces each of flour and water, so I adjusted my ingredients accordingly. As I mixed the dough in my Kitchen Aid mixer, I could tell it was too sticky, so I added a bit of flour to make it tacky. After about 8 minutes of kneading, I put the dough in an oiled bowl to ferment.

At the end of the fermentation period, I weighed out dough into six 3-ounce muffins, rolled them into balls, and shaped the remaining dough into a loaf. That’s when I lay down for a nap. Luckily, I set the timer for 90 minutes. By the time it beeped, the dough looked like this:

English Muffins and Loaf - Risen Dough

I was surprised how much the dough in the loaf pan had risen. When I panned it, it barely reached the edges of the pan; after an hour-and-a-half, it had crested the pan. And the muffins had risen to the size of baseballs. The combination of the sourdough and yeast made for a very active dough. I thought the dough might have overproofed, but I couldn’t tell for sure until I started baking the muffins.

I preheated the griddle to 350 degrees F, oiled it lightly, and then placed the dough on it. After 8 minutes, I flipped the muffins. They had baked beautifully on the first side, but hadn’t started to flatten at all.

English Muffins on the Griddle

I baked them on the griddle for another 8 minutes. Again, they browned nicely but didn’t flatten. As noted above, I didn’t remember finishing the muffins in the oven the last time I made them, but these muffins would obviously require some oven time to finish baking through. By the time the muffins and loaf were done, they looked like this:

English Muffins and Loaf - Baked

The muffins were baked through, although they were lacking the nooks and crevices you expect from English muffins. They had a definite sourdough flavor, which was really nice.

I enjoyed these muffins and will make them again. I would do them with sourdough again, too; but I’ll pay closer attention to keep them from overproofing.