Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sesame Semolina Crackers

Wild Yeast is one of the best food blogs I know. The subjects, the photos, the style of writing are all beautiful and very instructive. If ever I decide one day to start experimenting with sourdough and serious bread-making, this will be my first place to learn. For the moment though, I'm happy simply admiring Susan's work.

A perfect recipe

But this recipe for crackers caught my attention, and I'm delighted to add it to my repertoire. No yeast, no rising, only four minutes in the oven. The crackers are extremely thin yet resilient. They stay crunchy even if left out for a while. They're pretty even if you break them. You can play with flavorings. They are somewhat healthier than other snacks. And, completely addictive.

So really, a perfect recipe: easy, original, tasty, not fussy, somewhat healthy, the crackers store well, and lend themselves to variations.



For those who don't have gadgets...

Susan and I both used the pasta roller attachment to our Kitchenaid to roll out very thin sheets of dough. I went as far as level 6, I believe she made hers even thinner. I was happy to use my new toy, and yes, it makes the rolling out process a little faster.


The crackers after rolling out, brushing with oil and sprinking with salt. Rolling out with the pasta roller lets you make such thin sheets the dough can get a little wrinkly. But the wrinkles only add hand-made charm to the crackers.

However, you do not need a pasta roller. I tried rolling a few crackers by hand and had no difficulty, as you can see here.


The dough is easy to handle, and barely needs a dusting of flour for rolling out by hand.


The two crackers on the left -- marked with herbs -- were hand-rolled. The two on the right were machine-rolled.


The front two crackers were hand-rolled.

I did bake the crackers on a preheated baking stone. I should have tested without the stone, for readers who don't have one. But I imagine preheating a cookie sheet in the oven and placing the crackers on it to bake would probably have a similar effect.

Finally I used my pizza peel to slide the crackers onto the stone, but that really isn't necessary. Just put a piece of baking paper on the back of a cookie sheet, then use the cookie sheet to slide the crackers with the paper onto the preheated stone or cookie sheet in the oven.

Variations

I played with a few variations, sprinkling the crackers with pepper, grated cheese and rosemary. The pepper was good for those who like spicy crackers. The cheese very tasty too, though I kept it light (this isn't pizza!). The rosemary did not adhere to the crackers, so I can't say it added much. I tried rolling some rosemary leaves in with the dough, but this caused tearing.

I also substituted a good portion of whole-wheat flour for the all-purpose flour, and the result was great. Once I didn't have enough semolina flour, so I substitued corn meal for part of the semolina. I liked the result very much, though it made them a little grainier.


A cracker sprinkled with grated cheese (Gruyère). Next I'll try parmesan.



I tried reproducing the photo Susan took but hers is better, do have a look at her post



Sometimes when I was a little too quick to roll the dough, it tore a little. But even with tears, the crackers hold up very well. I find it gives them a lacy effect


Recipe: Sesame-Semolina Flatbreads

Source: Wild Yeast
(adapted from “Sardinian Crackers” in Savory Baking from the Mediterranean by Anissa Helou)

Yield: 12 large flatbreads

Time:

* Mix/rest: 45 minutes
* Roll/bake (total time for 12 flatbreads): 25 minutes

Ingredients:

* 150 g flour
* 150 g semolina
* 22 g (2 T.) black sesame seeds
[Susan used black sesame seeds (I only had white), which makes the crackers even more visually appealing.]
* 6 g (1 t.) salt
* 170 g lukewarm water
* olive oil for brushing
* coarse Kosher salt for topping

Method:

1. Preheat the oven, with baking stone, to 450F.
2. Mix flour, semolina, sesame seeds, and salt in a medium bowl.
3. Add water are stir to incorporate into the dry ingredients.
4. Turn dough onto an unfloured counter and knead for 3 minutes. Cover the dough and let it rest for 15 minutes.
5. Knead for another 2 minutes. Cover and rest for 20 minutes.
6. Divide the dough into 12 or more pieces and form them into balls.
7. Cut a piece of parchment paper the approximate size of your baking stone.
8. Roll a ball of dough through a pasta roller, starting with the thickest setting and adjusting the thickness setting down with each successive pass, to the desired thinness. Alternatively, roll out as thin as possible with a rolling pin.
9. Place the rolled flatbread on the parchment. Repeat with as many flatbreads as will fit on the parchment.
10. Brush the flatbreads lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with a small pinch of Kosher salt.
11. Transfer the breads, parchment and all, onto the stone. Bake until the edges are nicely brown and rippled, and the tops have golden brown patches, about 3 – 4 minutes.
12. While one batch is baking, roll out the next batch.
13. Cool on a wire rack. Break into pieces to serve.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Power of Packaging




I bought these cardboard boxes on my last visit to Mora, thinking they might come in useful for gift-giving. Not that I give away so many sweets, but I do like boxes!


I recently remembered them and decided a friend's celebration of her two older children's first communion was a good occasion for baking and giving cannelés and macarons.

What a difference a nice box makes! Home-baked goodies seem much more professional presented in a simple white box.


Lemon and salted caramel macarons. I also made coffee macarons but they were a failure. Argh, macarons!


I also purchased some plastic bags for smaller gifts.



(I gave one of these to my husband to take to work... and he left it on the bus. I hope whoever found the macarons ate them!)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Homemade Pasta



I am so lucky. A dear friend gave me the pasta roller accessory for my Kitchenaid mixer.

I had been longing for a pasta machine for literally ten years. That's when I bought one as a wedding gift (at Broadway Panhandler... a wonderful shop in New York) for a work colleague.



I had no idea it was so easy* to make delicious pasta. I will never buy fresh pasta again! Really and truly. Just mix some eggs and flour, knead (with a little help from a machine or using strong arms), rest, then roll and cut.



This was my first batch. The only difficulty I had was when the pasta stuck together after cutting.


My first batch stuck together

However I have since learned how easy it is to avoid sticking. Either let the sheets of pasta dry for half an hour or more before cutting them into fettucine or spaghetti. The dough feels a little like leather at that stage, stiffer but still pliable. Or simple dust the sheets with lots of flour.

Hand-cranked vs. electrical pasta roller vs. hand rolling

The Kitchenaid accessory works exactly like a hand-cranked machine; the advantage is you have an extra free hand to catch the pasta with. If you own a stand mixer, I would recommend getting this attachment, as extra ease of use means you're more likely to use it. But I believe a hand-cranked machine works very well too.

Of course, if you want to be a purist, nothing less than hand rolling the pasta will do. The stretching motions, and the irregularity of the surface of the wooden rolling pin all apparently make for better texture than the compression by metal cylinders. I may never be able to judge for myself, as this is one challenge I'm not eager to pursue. And I believe many Italian households use a rolling machine, so that's good enough for me.

However do stay away from extrusion contraptions (the kind to squeeze out tubular pasta). These have overall bad reviews, from what I can tell. Even the Kitchenaid one.

Ravioli

I was surprised that ravioli weren't that time-consuming or difficult to make. Perhaps because I'm used to spending hours on desserts? All you have to do is mix a simple filling (I tried two: spinach & ricotta and asparagus & ricotta, both were good, but I still have to find the perfect recipe for the filling), roll out a sheet of pasta, plop little mounds of filling regularly along one edge, wet the dough around the mounds with a finger dipped in water, then fold over the other edge of the dough. Press around the dough to seal (avoid air bubbles if you can), and use a pastry cutter to cut into ravioli.








Sauces

The different sources I've read so far about pasta (the Dean & Deluca cookbook, Marcella Hazan) indicate that fresh pasta and factory-made pasta are used with different sauces. Fresh pasta benefits from lighter flavored, butter or cream-based sauces, whereas factory-made pasta can withstand the stronger flavors of olive-oil based sauces better.




I tried a slap-dash version of carbonara with prosciutto and enjoyed it, though I have to confess I also like my homemade pasta with olive oil and herbs. But I must develop my sauces repertoire to showcase homemade pasta better.

Storage

Did you know homemade pasta dries very well, can be stored for several weeks, and still tastes better than most store-bought fresh pasta?



Dry fettucine or tagliatelle

As for ravioli, flash-freeze them in a single layer for half an hour to an hour, then you can move them to a plastic bag and store them for several weeks. Just drop them frozen into a big pot of boiling water, and they're as good as fresh-made.


Frozen ravioli

Recipe: Homemade Pasta Dough

This is embarrassingly simple*:

Weigh four eggs. Add double the amount of flour and a pinch of salt. Knead until dough is neither crumbly nor sticky. You may have to add a few teaspoons of milk. Cut and form into four balls. Rest for half an hour well wrapped. Then roll as directed by your pasta machine maker.

Quantity: this makes two meals of tagliatelle for a family of five, three of whom are small children.

*Or at least pasta-making seems easy to me: I am a beginner, and if I have missed some of the finer subleties of pasta-making, feel free to let me know, I don't want to remain ignorant!