Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I Suck, Here are Some Crackers

I realized the other day that this month I've only posted four entries, one of which was not of food but of my chinchilla posing as an 18th century warlord. I'm not sure why I've been lagging in the baking department but perhaps it has to do with the fact that my two new favorite activities are napping and watching 900 consecutive episodes of The Office. So I decided to whip up something last night to cram into the March section while I still had time. I chose a past recipe that the Daring Bakers did a few months back before I joined: lavash. Though I've read that some lavash recipes yield a soft flat bread, this recipe made crunchy, rustic crackers.

The original recipe also gives directions to make gluten free crackers but I think it's confusing to read those directions within the same recipe so I deleted those instructions. If you want to make gluten free lavash, see the full recipe here.

Makes 1 sheet pan of crackers


* 1 1/2 cups (6.75 oz) unbleached bread flour or gluten free flour blend
* 1/2 tsp (.13 oz) salt
* 1/2 tsp (.055 oz) instant yeast
* 1 Tb (.75 oz) agave syrup or 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, agave, 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 http://www.wikihow.com/Determine-if-Bre … ong-Enough 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. Ferment 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 pre-cut 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.

5. 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.


The recipe was really pretty simple. The hardest part was rolling out the dough but compared the the lasagna dough, this stuff was a breeze to work with. After rolling out my first pan, I had some dough left over which we rolled out again (enter the use of my Joe 3000 pasta machine) but it didn't roll out as well. I think it needed to relax more but I was impatient. Regardless of the second batch being on the thick side, they were still good, more like pita chips.

I went pretty simple on the toppings: kosher salt on the first batch and garlic powder and salt on the second. I'm not a huge fan of seedy crackers. I also made an impromptu dip to go along with the crackers, which consisted of sour cream, plain yogurt, garlic, salt, pepper, cayenne and chopped dill. It reminded me a lot of tzatziki sauce, actually. I think in the actual Daring Bakers challenge, they had to make a vegan dip to go along with the crackers, which are also vegan. But I forgot about that part, otherwise I would've thrown together some hummus or something. Regardless, these would be great to make to impress your vegan buddies and they're simple to boot.

One word of warning: don't let your overzealous boyfriend score the crackers. I let Joe score the second batch and he traced bizarre patterns in the dough that made a sort of cracker puzzle. We ate them all though, fortunately hideousness doesn't negatively influence taste.

Friday, March 27, 2009

March Daring Baker's Challenge: Attack of the Hand Rolled Pasta

March was a big month for the Daring Bakers. Our new, extremely awesome, website was launched, complete with cute new logos. Check it out here: http://thedaringkitchen.com

Standard blurb-o'-da-month: The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

The challenge for March was to make lasagna. Including the pasta. By hand. DUN DUN DUN. The other components required were a ragu and a bechamel sauce. But I didn't care about those aspects much. Because I was going to have make pasta. WITH MY HANDS.

So I recruited Joe to help me because as I've mentioned before, I have the upper body strength of a stick insect. And I am without a pasta maker. Without his help I would've been pounding the dough hysterically with a rolling pin for hours whilst crying. The end results probably would've been a kind of lasagna sandwich with one inch pasta slices with 9 lbs of ragu sandwiched in between.

Luckily, this was not the case. To make the challenge easier, we broke the recipe into parts and made the ragu a few days ahead of the pasta. This shaved off a few hours off the pasta making day, which probably save my sanity. Joe played a big role in the ragu too, since I've never made ragu because um, I don't meat. I wasn't sure how to go about making a vegetarian ragu and Joe, I'm told, makes an excellent meat ragu. He's used to veggifying dishes for me so he guided my efforts and the end result was excellent. Here's what we did:


Joe's Vegetable Ragu


2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 small eggplant
1 large carrot
3 small onions
3 ribs celery
5 garlic cloves
1 can (7 oz) tomato paste
1 cup TVP
1 cup vermouth
1 Tbsp Vegetable bouillon paste (such as Better than Bouillon)
2 Parmesan cheese rinds
1 Tbsp Vinegar
Nutmeg to taste
Salt and pepper to taste


Pour the TVP in a bowl and cover with water to rehydrate. Finely dice the mushrooms. Melt butter to a medium stock pot and melt over high heat. Add olive oil. Add mushrooms and cook until mushrooms are brown and water has cooked out. Finely dice eggplant and add to mushrooms, cooking until soft and brown. Dice the carrot, onions, celery and garlic and add to pot, cooking until soft. Add tomato paste and TVP. Add water to fill pot, and then add cheese rinds and bouillon. Let cook over medium low heat until most of the water has cooked out and mixture is very thick, about 2 hours. Remove cheese rinds. Add vinegar and nutmeg. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn off heat. Chop parsley and add to finished mixture.

Mushrooms in the pot!
Mushrooms + carrots + onions + celery, etc.
After adding the water
After cooking out, the ragu should look something like this. Nice and thick.

Okay, it's hard to take an appetizing picture of ragu. Ragu is delicious but not pretty. BJ saw it and said, "Wow. Um. That looks like something you would find in the woods. And not the good kind of finding stuff in the woods." I'd like to pose the question to the internet: what is the "good kind of finding stuff in woods"? Is there some sort of male secret society that treasure hunts in the woods? Living with boys boggles my minds.

So, the pasta. The pasta wasn't so bad to make, though I'm glad I did have Joe to help out with the rolling. I am familiar with handmade pasta since I was spoiled by having a foodie father who made pasta and bread by hand pretty regularly when I was growing up. Granted, my dad has a pasta machine. But I guess I did have a pasta maker. His name is Joe.


Pasta Verdi

Preparation: 45 minutes

Makes enough for 6 to 8 first course servings or 4 to 6 main course servings, equivalent to 1 pound (450g) dried boxed pasta.


2 jumbo eggs (2 ounces/60g or more)
10 ounces (300g) fresh spinach, rinsed dry, and finely chopped; or 6 ounces (170g) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
3&1/2 cups (14 ounces/400g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour (organic stone ground preferred)


Working by Hand:


A roomy work surface, 24 to 30 inches deep by 30 to 36 inches (60cm to 77cm deep by 60cm to 92cm). Any smooth surface will do, but marble cools dough slightly, making it less flexible than desired.

A pastry scraper and a small wooden spoon for blending the dough.

A wooden dowel-style rolling pin. In Italy, pasta makers use one about 35 inches long and 2 inches thick (89cm long and 5cm thick). The shorter American-style pin with handles at either end can be used, but the longer it is, the easier it is to roll the pasta.
Note: although it is not traditional, Enza has successfully made pasta with a marble rolling pin, and this can be substituted for the wooden pin, if you have one.

Plastic wrap to wrap the resting dough and to cover rolled-out pasta waiting to be filled. It protects the pasta from drying out too quickly.

A sharp chef’s knife for cutting pasta sheets.

Cloth-covered chair backs, broom handles, or specially designed pasta racks found in cookware shops for draping the pasta.

Mixing the dough:
Mound the flour in the center of your work surface and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs and spinach. Use a wooden spoon to beat together the eggs and spinach. Then gradually start incorporating shallow scrapings of flour from the sides of the well into the liquid. As you work more and more flour into the liquid, the well’s sides may collapse. Use a pastry scraper to keep the liquids from running off and to incorporate the last bits of flour into the dough. Don’t worry if it looks like a hopelessly rough and messy lump.

With the aid of the scraper to scoop up unruly pieces, start kneading the dough. Once it becomes a cohesive mass, use the scraper to remove any bits of hard flour on the work surface – these will make the dough lumpy. Knead the dough for about 3 minutes. Its consistency should be elastic and a little sticky. If it is too sticky to move easily, knead in a few more tablespoons of flour. Continue kneading about 10 minutes, or until the dough has become satiny, smooth, and very elastic. It will feel alive under your hands. Do not shortcut this step. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and let it relax at room temperature 30 minutes to 3 hours.

Stretching and Thinning:
If using an extra-long rolling pin work with half the dough at a time. With a regular-length rolling pin, roll out a quarter of the dough at a time and keep the rest of the dough wrapped. Lightly sprinkle a large work surface with flour. The idea is to stretch the dough rather than press down and push it. Shape it into a ball and begin rolling out to form a circle, frequently turning the disc of dough a quarter turn. As it thins outs, start rolling the disc back on the pin a quarter of the way toward the center and stretching it gently sideways by running the palms of your hands over the rolled-up dough from the center of the pin outward. Unroll, turn the disc a quarter turn, and repeat. Do twice more.

Stretch and even out the center of the disc by rolling the dough a quarter of the way back on the pin. Then gently push the rolling pin away from you with one hand while holding the sheet in place on the work surface with the other hand. Repeat three more times, turning the dough a quarter turn each time.

Repeat the two processes as the disc becomes larger and thinner. The goal is a sheet of even thickness. For lasagna, the sheet should be so thin that you can clearly see your hand through it and see colours. Cut into rectangles about 4 by 8 inches (10 x 20 cm). Note: Enza says that transparency is a crucial element of lasagna pasta and the dough should be rolled as thinly as possible. She says this is why her housekeeper has such strong arms!

Dry the pasta at room temperature and store in a sealed container or bag.


Pile o' fresh basil.

Dough mixed up and ready to rest.
The Joe 3000 Model pasta maker.

I did have to modify the pasta recipe a bit for it to come together, I added an egg and 3 Tbsp of water because my dough was still dry, dry, dry. You could probably just add 2 extra eggs if you had the same problem. I also used basil instead of spinach for my greens since our AeroGrow was overflowing with basil. In the end product you can't really taste it so use what you have around.

The bechamel was probably the easiest aspect of the dish, it came together pretty quickly with no problem. I was hesitant to make it because I generally don't like rich white sauces. But Joe convinced me that it would be good and it was, I really liked it and it worked really well in the overall product. This lasagna didn't call for a gooey cheese of any kind and the bechamel added a similar creamy richness without being overwhelming. YUM.



4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) unsalted butter
4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour, organic stone ground preferred
2&2/3 cups (approx 570ml) milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste

Using a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over low to medium heat. Sift over the flour, whisk until smooth, and then stir (without stopping) for about 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk a little at a time and keep the mixture smooth. Bring to a slow simmer, and stir 3 to 4 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Season with salt, pepper, and a hint of nutmeg.

No pictures of the bechamel, it's not that pretty. And I forgot.

WHEW. Did you get all that? So, to assemble: preheat oven to 350. Grease baking dish. Spread a layer of bechamel over the bottom of the pan. Layer cooked pasta noodles over bechamel. Spread a layer of ragu, bechamel and grated parmesan over the pasta. Repeat layers, ending the last pasta layer with a generous helping of bechamel and more cheese. Place in the oven, cover with foil, and bake for about 40 minutes. Remove foil and brown cheese for about 10 more minutes.

I can how good a dish is fairly well by how fast the three of us go through it and this was gone in 24 hours. So two thumbs up indeed. Not sure if I would make it again because it is very labor intensive and I normally don't have all of the ingredients on hand. But it was worth the effort at least this one time. I'm glad I made pasta by hand finally though if I did it again, I'd want a pasta machine to let my boyfriend off the hook.

I'm actually craving this right now so maybe I will make it again, though probably with store bought noodles. Because I'm lazy, okay? Alright, good.

Looking forward to April's challenge!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Luck of the Irish: Soda Bread

Ah, St.Patrick's Day. I'm not Irish, I don't eat meat, so corned beef is out of the picture, and I don't like to drink so I don't have much use for St.Patrick's Day. Somebody once tricked me into trying an Irish car bomb by telling me that it tastes like chocolate milk. I want you to know that is a dirty, dirty lie and I almost died. This is also the time I learned that I cannot chug a drink to save my life. And the time everybody else learned that I am no fun to have at a college party.

The only reason St.Patrick's Day is different from any other day is that I get harassed for not wearing green when I inevitably forget and Brian somehow manages to get drunk twice in one day.

What is it about St.Patrick's Day that compels random people to pinch me? "Oh, weren't you aware it's St.Patrick's day?? PINCH, HAHA!" to which I say, "Oh yes, but I was not aware that we were transported back in time to kindergarten when it was still acceptable to pinch strangers because they weren't wearing the color of shirt you so desired them to wear. PUNCH IN THE FACE, HAHA!"

I do, however, like Irish soda bread. In the past, I've used a recipe that was more of a quick bread, baked in the loaf pan. It's not traditional in any sense but it was good and easy. This year however, I could not find the recipe I normally use. Otherwise known as STORY OF MY LIFE.

I am not organized, to say the least.

So this St.Patrick's Day I found a recipe with good ratings on All Recipes and based my bread off of that one. I really liked this recipe too, probably more than my old one. The old one had a tendency to be doughy and dense but this one was really light and tender.

I like this picture because you can see Joe in the background, doing what he does best: neurotically cleaning the kitchen.

Irish Soda Bread


  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 cup dried currants
  • 2 Tbsps caraway seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk for basting
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Lightly grease a large baking sheet.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add currants and caraway seeds. Cut in the butter until the consistency of small peas is reached. Combine 1 cup of buttermilk and egg and add to flour-butter mixture just until combined. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead slightly. Form dough into a round and place on prepared baking sheet. In a small bowl, combine melted butter with 1/4 cup buttermilk; brush loaf with this mixture. Use a sharp knife to cut an 'X' into the top of the loaf.
  3. Bake in preheated oven for about 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Continue to brush the loaf with the buttermilk while it bakes to form a shiny crust.

I modified the directions to make more scone like, since the recipe looked like a scone recipe to me. It worked out, it had a texture like a giant scone. Still not traditional in any way but I liked it and it had the essential components I associate with soda bread: currants and caraway seeds.

Stay tuned for the next Daring Baker's challenge!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Warning

I must take a time out from baking and leave the interweb with a very important warning.

My chinchilla is clearly planning world domination. Prepare yourselves.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Brown Sugar Glazed Banana Cupcakes

Happy St.Patrick's Day! I'll have a more festive post later, for now here's what I made the other night.

I've been a bad blogger lately. I've made two desserts that I didn't photograph, gaspity gasp. The first one was chocolate banana bread pudding which turned out well (especially considering I made it up as I went along) but was ugly as sin and I didn't want to make a post about my own personal Rosemary's baby. The next was key lime pie for my baby brother (who is somehow not three years old anymore but seventeen, when did that happen?) and I just plum forgot my camera. Oh wells. Here, imagine them.

This is where you think about chocolate banana bread pudding.

Here is where you think about key lime pie.

I did finally get around to getting pictures of my most recent baked goods. I made these as thank you gifts for some nurses and I was soooo indecisive when trying to decide what to make. I finally settled on banana cupcakes because I'm always freezing overripe bananas and always have an extra eight million frozen brown bananas in case there's a sudden world shortage on disgustingly overripe frozen bananas. I decided on a glaze instead of frosting since I was going to have to cart these to the hospital with me and any frosting would just get destroyed on the journey.

This is actually the first banana cake recipe that I've tried that is actually cake-like in texture. I've tried others that were basically banana bread in a cup, which is nice but I've been looking for something with a lighter crumb. This is definitely more cake-like, less quick-bread. I cut down the sugar since I knew I was going to glaze them and I know Joe likes less sweet desserts. I know, he's not from this planet.

Here's the recipe I used:

Banana Cupcakes


  • 1/4 cup shortening
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup mashed ripe bananas (this was three bananas for me)
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  1. In a large mixing bowl, cream shortening, butter and sugar. Add the eggs, vanilla, bananas and buttermilk. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; add to banana mixture. Fill 18 paper-lined muffin cups two-thirds full.
  2. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove to wire racks to cool completely. In a small mixing bowl, cream the butter, sugar and enough milk to achieve desired spreading consistency.
For the glaze, I just combined 1/2 cup of brown sugar with a splash of vanilla and 2 Tbsp water. I dipped the tops of the cooled cupcakes a few times to form a nice glaze over the top. You could also just drizzle it.

The glaze makes a nice crunchy, sugary shell and since the cupcakes weren't too sweet, it wasn't overwhelming. I approve.