Its been a hectic and travel-filled fall and my weekly The Bread Baker’s Apprentice home bread baking regiment has suffered as a result. It’s a new year and a fresh-start so back on track. First bread up is a cracker; Lavash Crackers.The ingredients, as with most breads, are few and simple: bread flour, yeast, salt, water, vegetable oil and honey. Peter Reinhart recommends hand kneading this medium-firm dough for ten minutes. Ug, hand kneading. During my Bread Baker’s Apprentice time I’ve developed perhaps an unhealthy co-relationship with my stand mixer and it’s dough hook. Why hand knead for 10 minutes when my stand mixer can turn out perfectly kneaded dough that passes the window pane test in about 6 minutes? In the spirit of the new year and fresh-starts I diligently follow directions and hand knead.
Where is this rhythmic, comforting ritual that other bread bakers value? The first few minutes of hand kneading where difficult and cumbersome. Push, push, flatten, push, fold, turn, flatten, push, flatten, push, push. This was an awkward dance with two left hands. If I was going to do 10 minutes I had to get a rhythm going. Fold, push down with the heel of my right hand, push down with the heel of my left hand, turn, fold, push, push, turn, fold. I have found my bread kneading groove thang.
What’s the attraction to bread baking? It’s the pure magic of turning, powdery flour into a smooth, stretching dough. Before this “magic” was mechanical, I poured the flour into the mixing bowl, flipped a switch and then turned out a beautiful ball of transformed dough. Now I was feeling this transformation taking place within my own hands.
I used the entire 1/2 cup of water that Reinhart called for and wetted my hands before kneading to help bring together the dry clumping dough. The kneading did it’s magic and at the end of ten minutes I had a smooth, non-tacky, medium-firm dough.
The dough rolled out smoothly and easily exceeding the 15 x 12” dimension that Reinhart recommended. I laid the dough on the parchment-lined sheet pan and trimmed off the edges, rolling them into another smaller sheet of crackers. I bake in a small, microwave-convection oven that only fits a half-sheet pan. If I had a larger over I could have easily baked the entire rolled out sheet of dough on a flat sheet pan.
Once the dough is transferred on the baking sheet spritz with water then sprinkle on the toppings. Problem, how much do you spritz with water? Reinhart was silent on this question. Lightly spritzing the first batch of crackers and resulted in a light, golden brown top. I was more generous with the water spritz for the second batch of crackers and was rewarded with better browning and found that the seeds and seasonings adhered better.
Most of the crackers were crisp and crunchy. Where the dough had been slightly thicker I had thin bread, not crackers. Good but not that crunch, snap off in your hands cracker texture.
There is no better way to get back into a routine then to begin with a success. I’ll definitely be baking more bread in 2010 and perhaps even begin a new routine of hand kneading — perhaps.
Dough thickness: If you want a really crispy cracker roll the dough out very thin. I had more dough then the suggested 15 x 12 and had to trim the edges when I transferred the dough to the cookie sheet. Next time I’ll divide the dough, rolling out just half so that I have the thinnest, crispest crackers possible.
Water spritzing: be generous with the spritzing, it helps with browning and helps the salts, seeds and spices sticking to the dough.
Seasonings: easy on the salt. I am not a salt fiend and wish I had a lighter hand with the sea salt sprinkling.