This morning after being poked awake at 7:30 by W, instead of going to the gym (this makes it sound like the gym would be my normal routine, when really I just keep meaning to make it my normal routine) I made my way downstairs and lugged in the Saturday paper, then curled up on the couch with a lovely espresso and wedge of banana bread. All three of us shared a down comforter and we all had our own plates banana bread, and W had Goodnight Gorilla to read, and even though it was far too early for a weekend, all was very cozy and dreamy. Mike flipped open the paper to the Living section and there, filling the front page, was a photo of our disastrous kitchen, with W and I at the counter, backs to the camera, blocking the zucchini and avocado W was concentrating on chopping, oblivious to the photographer shooting a) my back rolls, and b) the whole kitchen, not just the counter area that I had cleaned and cleared for his arrival. He was going to shoot W helping me make dinner, and I offered to clear away the clutter on the other side of the stove and overflowing (but not with bread) breadbox if it was visible. I told Mike not to bother mopping the floor. I suppose it is an accurate depiction of dinnertime at our house, except that W had clothes on and wasn’t running around in circles with the dog barking, screaming AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! And my drawerful of kitchen gadgets wasn’t emptied out all over the floor.
The insert was a photo of a lovely kitchen from a showhome or IKEA catalog or something with the caption: The Dream. Beside it, my kitchen, with the caption: The Reality.
Went down to 17th Avenue to apply a bowl of cafe mocha to my face (at Beano they use grated Bernard Callebaut chocolate), but the lineup was too long, and the outside benches were scattered with newspaper sections, some exposing my very un-Martha kitchen to everyone who had the patience (or didn’t have the toddler) to wait. Ended up at The Palomino for lunch, or rather a late breakfast, but far more than anyone would ever really eat at breakfast: mine was eggs Benny over pulled pork (I decline to comment; suffice to say I’m often disappointed with eggs Benny and should have known better, plus they looked like a set of bad implants), W had French toast stuffed with peanut butter and grilled bananas (a great concept, and something I might try at home, minus the grilling, but all he actually ate was the side of bacon), and Mike will always order a burger topped with a fried egg if there is one to be had on a menu (unfortunately the fried egg was hard-cooked, which sort of defeats the purpose of the yolk oozing out and mingling with the burger fixins’). Everything was accompanied by a shocking quantity of hash browns; the spicy, spongy cubed kind. Lunch planted itself in our guts and held a sit-in all afternoon, straight through dinner.
But in the evening we needed something to nibble on, and fortunately it was the day I was to make snappy flatbread crackers for my Daring Bakers challenge. Thankfully it wasn’t much of a challenge, but I’m so glad to have tried them, especially considering crackers/flatbread of this kind go for about $8 a package at most gourmet shops. They are just flour, oil and water. They were easy and fantastic, and such a basic recipe could take on any flavouring well. (I actually had chopped a bunch of garlic and then kneaded the dough with my garlicky hands, and it infused the crackers with the subtlest hint of garlic.)
I try to leave well enough alone with these recipes, but couldn’t help a few tweaks: you can use honey or sugar instead of agave nectar, which most people don’t keep on their shelves, and when I make crackers I like to sprinkle the surface with salt or spices and then roll again lightly with the rolling pin to press them into the surface, so that they don’t roll off once baked. And although the recipe said ‘makes one sheet of crackers’, if you do roll the dough out paper thin you fill two rimmed cookie sheets, the large ones, so really you get two sheets, and need to cut the dough in half, otherwise it would drape over all four sides and probably bake up into a giant inverted rectangular bowl.
To go with, I made a batch of roasted carrot hummus. Generally I make this only when I have leftover roasted carrots, but I was in the mood so roasted 3 in my toaster oven especially for the occasion. Add a roasted (or steamed, or boiled) carrot or three and a hefty shake of cumin to any hummus recipe to make it.
Armenian Crackers (Pideh)
adapted from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering The Art of Extraordinary Bread, by Peter Reinhart
Here’s a simple formula for making snappy Armenian-style crackers, perfect for breadbaskets, company and kids. It is similar to the many other Middle Eastern and Northern African flatbreads known by different names; mankoush or mannaeesh (Lebanese), barbari (Iranian), khoubiz or khobz (Arabian), aiysh (Egyptian), kesret and mella (Tunisian), pide or pita (Turkish), and pideh (Armenian). The main differences between them are the thickness of the rolled dough and the type of oven in which they are baked (or on which they are baked, as many of these breads are cooked on stones or red-hot pans with a convex surface).
The key to crisp crackers 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.
1 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour or gluten free flour blend (if you use a blend without xanthan gum, add 1 tsp xanthan or guar gum to the recipe)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. instant yeast
1 Tbsp. canola or olive oil
1 Tbsp. honey, agave syrup or sugar
1/2 cup + maybe 2 Tbsp. water, at room temperature
Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, or kosher salt to sprinkle on top
In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, yeast, salt, oil, honey and just enough water to bring everything together into a ball. (You may not need the full 1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp. water, but be prepared to use it all if needed.)
Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead for about 10 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. 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.
Let it sit 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).
Mist the counter lightly with nonstick spray 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. 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. When it is the desired thinness, let the dough relax for 5 minutes. Line a sheet pan (or two) with baking parchment or spray it with nonstick spray. Carefully lift the sheet of dough and lay it on the sheet, cutting it in half and dividing it between two sheets if you need to.
Preheat the oven to 350F with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Mist the top of the dough with water and sprinkle with seeds, salt or spices. Be careful with spices and salt – a little goes a long way. If you want to precut the crackers, use a pizza cutter 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).
When the crackers are baked, remove the pan from the oven and let them cool on the pan for about 10 minutes. Snap them apart or snap off shards and serve.