oh la vache! *
In keeping with theme of this week (all things Mediterannean and North African), I decided to make lavash. Lavash is another common thread amongst the countries in those regions; everyone has their own version of it and call it something different. But it's basically the same thing: a flat bread. I've got an enormous amount of hummus at home, and I'm out of pita, so I decided to make lavash crackers.
When we moved to Alpharetta, the boy got a job baking bread at the now-defunct Rainwater (Chef Jay Swift was running the kitchen back then – he's now opened 4th & Swift in town, and I'd love to go there some day). The boy made breads until some spots opened up in other parts of the kitchen – it's not that he's not fond of bread and pastry making, it's just not his "thing" (having said that, all the awards he won in culinary school were for bread and pastry, so go figure). The lavash cracker was one of the restaurant's signature breads that they provided in baskets to every table, and those first few months of his tenure there, the boy would come home and tell me animated stories about how much he loathed making it. I'm really not quite sure why, although I'm sure he's told me why and I just plumb forgot. They used this set of rolly flattening machines to get the lavash to the just right thickness, and I think every once in a while the damn thing would break or not work properly. It's been ages now since he's even made it, but when I told him this week that I was going to make lavash, he snarled. Funny how those kinds of memories stay with you forever. I bet you that even in 25 years if I mention the word "lavash" to him, he'd still snarl.
To be honest, this was probably the easiest bread I've ever made. Ridiculously easy. You can make it in the space of a few hours, or you can start it and plop it in the fridge overnight, like I did. You will be required to knead the dough by hand, because it is pretty tough, and I don't think your stand mixer can handle it. it almost reminds me of pasta dough in it's consistency, just not as smooth.
After spending the night in the fridge, i took it out to bring to roomish temperature yesterday afternoon while i went and did something else for a while (attended a production call, if you should know). and then i retrieved the pasta roller attachment from my kitchen aid mixer, because i thought, Why not? it has the consistency of pasta, and if they used something similar at Rainwater, why can't i?
it just seemed to go much quicker using the pasta roller attachment, but if you don't have one of those, you could always definitely use a good old fashioned rolling pin and give your shoulders a workout.
i split my portion of lavash in two to make it easier to smoosh through the roller. i started with the widest setting first, only making one pass through each setting until i got the lavash to my desired thickness (i went through 4 settings and stopped there). after i passed each piece through the second setting down, i cut those pieces in half since they were getting pretty long; i ended up with four long, thin strips of dough. this is the dough after going through the first setting; and it will look not unlike those strips of skin that Buffalo Bill took off the backs of his victims in The Silence of the Lambs. well, it did to me.
the original recipe calls for bread flour; but apparently i'd run out of it some time ago and hadn't remembered to buy more. i used regular all-purpose flour, and the end result turned out really well. the next batch i make will be made with bread flour, because i'm curious to see what the difference will be.
adapted from "The Bread Baker's Apprentice", by Peter Reinhart
Makes 2 sheet pans of crackers
1.5 cups all purpose or bread flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon yeast
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/3 to 1/2 cup of water (room temp)
seasonings (i used kosher salt, za'atar, black sesame seeds, paprika, cumin. you can use any mixture of whatever you want that you think might go well).
In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt, yeast, honey, oil, and just enough water to bring together in a ball. you may not need the whole 1/2 cup of water.
Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer dough to the counter. Knead by hand for at least 10 minutes. The dough will feel not unlike pasta dough, if you've ever kneaded that before. When ready it should feel really smooth and firm. Oil a bowl and put the dough into the bowl while rolling it around to coat it. cover with plastic wrap and put aside for 90 minutes or until it's doubled in size. Alternatively, you could put the bowl in the fridge overnight and take it out a couple of hours before using, until come to room temperature.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Here you have two options: you can roll by hand, or if you've got a pasta roller, you could use that.
if rolling by hand:
Sprinkle flour onto the counter and transfer the dough there. 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. cover it with a kitchen towl or plastic wrap if it needs resting. When you've rolled it out to desired thickness, let it relax for 5 minutes. Line sheet pans with parchment or silpat; carefully life the dough and lay it on the parchment. snip off excess dough with scissors if it overlaps.
if rolling by machine:
cut dough in half, and starting with the widest setting on your roller, pass each piece of dough through only once. move down to the next setting and pass it through once. you may have to cut your dough lenghts in half vertically if it starts to get too long. go down to the next setting and pass the dough lengths through once. do this until you've reached your desired thickness (i did mine through 4 settings. When you've rolled it out to desired thickness, let it relax for 5 minutes. Line sheet pans with parchment or silpat; carefully life the dough and lay it on the parchment. snip off excess dough with scissors if it overlaps.
Mist the tops of the dough with water from a spray bottle and sprinkle a covering of seeds and spices onto the dough. you can alternate bands of seasonings or sprinkle them all over, up to you. you can precut the dough into triangular shards with a pizza cutter or ridiculously sharp knife (if using a knife, be careful not to pull too much on the dough when running the knife through). if you don't want to precut them, you can always break them into shards once they are done baking.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, keeping an eye on them to ensure you get even browning. you might have to switch the sheet pans around from top to bottom half way through baking. Once they are browned to your liking, remove pans from oven and let the crackers cool in the pan for 10 minutes before snatching one and running off with it.
I'm not sure how long these will keep; i've got mine stored in a Ziplock baggie right now, but i plan on taking them to a party later where i'm sure they'll be snatched up.
*Holy cow! But it's a play on words. Lavash, la vache.... get it? yeah. Clear as mud.