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Daring Bakers Challenge September 2008

I’ve gone crackerdogs for vegan lavash!

First off let me say that I’m a die-hard omnivore who really doesn’t understand leaving meat, dairy and eggs out of her diet.  I’m always a little surprised when I find out that I’m eating something “vegan,” void of any yummy animal products, and loving it.  Turns out that lavash, a wonderful Armenian crackerbread, is one of those happy baked goods that is both delicious and vegan and also happens to be this month’s Daring Bakers Challenge, hosted by the intrepid Natalie from Gluten A Go Go, and co-host Shel, of Musings From the Fishbowl.  Lavash Crackers from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice were so easy to make and so wonderfully tasty, I’m afraid there’s not much drama for a good story…but here goes!

Almost all the ingredients go together in a bowl

and get mixed into a rough ball.

One modification I did make – the recipe calls for instant yeast, which I don’t keep in the house, so I substituted dry-active yeast, which worked just fine.  I read somewhere that you just use an additional 25% dry-active, although that formula does tend to create amounts like “1/3 teaspoon,” which isn’t easy to measure.  I always just guesstimate and it always works out.

This recipe calls for ten minutes of kneading and then the “window pane” test, which I had heard of, but never done.  I am happy to report that my first attempt failed! (We have to have some drama here)

A few more minutes of kneading (another five, I think) and a successful window pane.

The very uniform dough was then oiled, put in a bowl, covered with plastic and set to rise for 90 minutes.

It doubled in volume right on schedule. I turned it out onto an oiled surface, then…I…started rolling… was great…and…zzzzzzzzzzzz…oh, sorry.  It’s just not as interesting when everything goes right!  Once the dough had risen, it was turned out onto a cutting board (the recipe calls for it to be turned out onto the counter, but ours is tile and not flat) that’s sprayed with oil, which I thought was a little odd since the dough was already oiled.  You can see from the photo how slick it all is.

A couple of points here.  The recipe calls for the dough to be rolled out to fit on a cookie sheet.  Mine rolled out so thin it made two baking sheet’s worth of crackers.  I’m not sure if the dough was supposed to roll out that thin, but the crackers were wonderful, so I’m suggesting separating the dough in half and rolling it out thin enough to make two standard sized baking sheet’s worth of lavash.  The dough went out very thin, very easily.  I didn’t need to let it relax and there was no way I could pick it up and wave it about like the recipe suggests.

It was also not a uniform rectangular shape, which necessitated some trimming.

I took the trimmed scraps and rolled out a third batch of lavash.  That one did not roll out nearly as thin, but still produced some nice crackers, although they were definitely more like pita bread than the super-thin crisps from the first two batches.

Since we were going vegan with the topping as well, I wussed a bit and decided to make the Cook’s Illustrated Restaurant-style Hummus for a dip, because it’s easy and I knew it would be delicious.  For cracker toppings, I opted for cumin seeds and salt as flavoring, to compliment the hummus.

I had a little difficulty getting the crackers to brown evenly and had to turn them a couple of times.  Our oven is very small and for some reason, is much hotter in the front than the back.

I did two batches as a sheet like this one and one batch pre-cut.  The perfectionist in me like the pre-cut idea, but the shards were definitely prettier.

The squares just aren’t as sexy as the random pieces, which go with the exotic nature of the lavash.  The other thing that goes with this lavash?  The hummus.  I might have wimped out by falling back on an old standby, but it was delicious.

Both of these recipes are fantastic, straightforward and easy to make.  They can be made in advance and travel easily to a party or picnic.  They will be devoured in no time…just don’t tell any thick-headed omnivores like me that they’re vegan!

Lavash Crackers from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice

The key to a crisp lavash is to roll out the dough paper-thin.  The sheet can be cut into crackers in advance or snapped into shards after baking.  The shards make a nice presentation when arranged in baskets.

Makes 1 sheet pan of crackers

* 1 1/2 cups (6.75 oz) unbleached bread flour (I used unbleached regular flour)
* 1/2 tsp (.13 oz) salt
* 1/2 tsp (.055 oz) instant yeast (I used dry-active yeast – use 2/3 of a teaspoon if you use dry active)
* 1 Tb (.75 oz) sugar
* 1 Tb (.5 oz) vegetable oil
* 1/3 to 1/2 cup + 2 Tb (3 to 4 oz) water, at room temperature
* Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, or kosher salt for toppings

1.  In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt yeast, sugar, oil, and just enough water to bring everything together into a ball.  You may not need the full 1/2 cup + 2 Tb of water, but be prepared to use it all if needed.

2. Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter.  Knead for about 10 minutes, or until the ingredients are evenly distributed.  The dough should pass the windowpane test (see for a description of this) and register 77 degrees to 81 degrees Fahrenheit. The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), satiny to the touch, not tacky, and supple enough to stretch when pulled.  Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

3. Rise at room temperature for 90 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size. (You can also retard the dough overnight in the refrigerator immediately after kneading or mixing).

4. Mist the counter lightly with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter.  Press the dough into a square with your hand and dust the top of the dough lightly with flour.  Roll it out with a rolling pin into a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches.  You may have to stop from time to time so that the gluten can relax.  At these times, lift the dough from the counter and wave it a little, and then lay it back down.  Cover it with a towel or plastic wrap while it relaxes.  When it is the desired thinness, let the dough relax for 5 minutes.  Line a sheet pan with baking parchment.  Carefully lift the sheet of dough and lay it on the parchment.  If it overlaps the edge of the pan, snip off the excess with scissors.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with the oven rack on the middle shelf.  Mist the top of the dough with water and sprinkle a covering of seeds or spices on the dough (such as alternating rows of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, kosher or pretzel salt, etc.)  Be careful with spices and salt – a little goes a long way. If you want to precut the cracker, use a pizza cutter (rolling blade) and cut diamonds or rectangles in the dough.  You do not need to separate the pieces, as they will snap apart after baking.  If you want to make shards, bake the sheet of dough without cutting it first.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crackers begin to brown evenly across the top (the time will depend on how thinly and evenly you rolled the dough).

6. When the crackers are baked, remove the pan from the oven and let them cool in the pan for about 10 minutes.  You can then snap them apart or snap off shards and serve.

Restaurant-style hummus (worth the fussiness – do all the steps!)

3 tablespoons juice from 1 to 2 lemons
1/4 cup water
6 tablespoons tahini , stirred well (see note)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 (14-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (see note)
1 small garlic clove, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1/2 teaspoon)
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch cayenne
1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro or parsley leaves

1. Combine lemon juice and water in small bowl or measuring cup. Whisk together tahini and 2 tablespoons oil in second small bowl or measuring cup. Set aside 2 tablespoons chickpeas for garnish.
2. Process remaining chickpeas, garlic, salt, cumin, and cayenne in food processor until almost fully ground, about 15 seconds. Scrape down bowl with rubber spatula. With machine running, add lemon juice-water mixture in steady stream through feed tube. Scrape down bowl and continue to process for 1 minute. With machine running, add oil-tahini mixture in steady stream through feed tube; continue to process until hummus is smooth and creamy, about 15 seconds, scraping down bowl as needed.
3. Transfer hummus to serving bowl, sprinkle reserved chickpeas and cilantro over surface, cover with plastic wrap, and let stand until flavors meld, at least 30 minutes. Drizzle with olive oil and serve.

One Comment

  1. […] sauce/paste can be used for a variety of things; spread it on crackers and eat it like this by itself or with a bit of fish or some tomato.  Make a pasta sauce out of it […]

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