Saturday, September 27, 2008

Sep 27: Daring Bakers - Lavash Crackers (Vegan)

Challenge number three for me.
Hey! I'm a poet and I didn't even…
realize it. lol! :P

This month's challenge is hosted by Alternative (Gluten-Free and Vegan) Daring Bakers: Natalie who blogs at Gluten A Go Go and Shel who blogs at Musings From the Fishbowl.

After last month’s difficulties with the eclairs, this month's challenge is a straight-forward yeast bread challenge. Alright! Yeast breads is something I’m familiar with! I may not be the definitive expert, but at least I’ve made yeast breads and have a feel for kneading dough.

The twists (dough humor?) for this month's challenge is that we select a vegan option or a gluten-free option. Also, we use our imaginations for the toppings and make accompaniements that are gluten-free and vegan-friendly.

The trick is roll the dough as thin as possible to develop the crispy crunchy cracker. However, if you don’t roll thinly, you end up with a pita-like flat bread… so it’s a win-win situation.

The following is the description of the challenge. I chose the vegan option, so the description has been edited to show only the vegan bread flour version I made. If you’re interested in the gluten-free version, please feel free to see Natelie’s link above.

**** The Challenge *****
Make Lavash Crackers and create a dip/spread/salsa/relish to accompany it. This challenge allows for large helpings of creativity and personality, with the crackers, your flavor choices for the crackers, and with your dip/spread choice. You can create your own dip/spread recipe, use one of your favorites, or use one of the recipes we’ve provided at the bottom of this post. Get crazy ! Just be sure to post the recipe along with your challenge crackers so we can see what you made and how you made it (so we can try it, too!).

The Rules : You have so much freedom! You can make the Lavash Crackers either with all purpose wheat flour or you can try making them gluten free. You may use any variety of spices/seeds/salt to top the crackers. All dips/spreads/relishes/salsas must be vegan and gluten free.

The Definitions:
Vegan - no animal products of any kind (

Gluten Free - No wheat (including kamut and spelt), barley, rye, and triticale, as well as the use of gluten as a food additive in the form of a flavoring, stabilizing or thickening agent. For the purposes of this challenge, we are also excluding oats, even though there are gluten free oats available in some parts of the world. (

Heads Up :

* You can do so much to make this recipe your own – adding dried herbs or roasted garilic, etc., to the dough, using gourmet spices-salts-seasonings-seeds to sprinkle on top, etc.
* Read carefully ! The following recipe includes directions for both gluten-free crackers (à la Natalie !) and traditional AP flour crackers.
* The key to crispy crackers is rolling out the dough as thinly as possible. We noticed that the crackers turned out better if you divide the dough in half before rolling. You’ll roll out the dough as per the directions, decorate and cook the crackers in two batches.
* We’ve included some links with examples of the finished Lavash at the bottom of the post. J

RECIPE - Recipe Reference: The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering The Art of Extraordinary Bread, by Peter Reinhart. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA. Copyright 2001. ISBN-10: 1-58008-268-8, ISBN-13: 978-158008-268-6.

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, such as 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 difference between these breads is either how thick or thin the dough is rolled out, or 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 a crisp lavash, 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.

Makes 1 sheet pan of crackers

* 1 1/2 cups (6.75 oz) unbleached bread
* 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.

I was surprised to find out that granulated sugar, mainly cane sugar, may not be vegan. Apparently, cane sugar is made via a two-step process. One of the steps calls for filtering the sugar (syrup?) through activated charcoal. One source of making activated charcoal is using animal bones. Beet sugar does not require this step. However, most brands of sugar can be either cane or beet sugar. I wanted to keep in the spirit of the challenge so I opted out of using sugar.

I recently purchased some palm sugar. Having never used or tasted palm sugar, this would be a good time to give it a try.

The palm sugar must have some inherent moisture. Instead of cracking during slicing, the palm sugar sliced into thin sheets

Yeast and salt in the flour – blend before adding the liquids

The palm sugar was added to 1/3 C water and 1 T oil. I figured melting the sugar would help distribute the sugar in the dough more evenly.

Added the 1/3 C water + 2 T additional water until the flour formed a ball. I was debating with myself about adding another 1 T (Tablespoon of water), but this was close enough.

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 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.

The next three pictures illustrate how I hand knead dough.

Roll the dough over on itself. I use my finger tips and roll the dough up 1/3rd.

Next, I smash with the heel of my palm. The motion is similar to CPR. You bend at the waist and push down. No need to pump with your arm. You'll just tire yourself out a lot faster. Repeat about three times... the rolling and smashing.

After you need one side, you rotate the dough 90 degrees so the long side is now pointing towards you. Repeat the rolling and smashing for about 10 to 15 minutes.

How do you know you're done kneading? When you can strech the dough out thinly without tearing and you can see light shining through. This is known as the "window pane" test.

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).

Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, roll the dough ball around the bowl to coat the ball. Cover with plastic wrap.

After a few hours, definitely a doubling and more!
The dough was divided in half so I could make the basic recipe and a variation.

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.

The dough has been rolled and being transferring onto the parchment paper. So far so good… seems thin enough.

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 precut 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.

Added the seeds (from left to right – Sesame, sunflower, caraway, pecan, poppy, sunflower and sesame. Also, sprinkled a 1/ 2 t Kosher salt) and pre-slicing the dough before baking.

6. 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).

Right out of the oven and onto a cooling rack. Baking time was about 15 minutes.

7. 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.

Variation: Asian flavors
With the other half of the dough, I added a little (1/4 t) Chinese 5-Spice powder. With 5 spice, a little goes a long way. Also, added a few drops of toasted sesame seed oil.

The dough was kneaded again to incorporate the flavors. The dough was allowed to rise again.

I was more patient with rolling out the lavash this time. If the dough shrank while I was rolling, I let the dough rest 5 to 10 minutes before rolling again. This time the dough ball rolled out thinner and larger. Also, the topping was applied free form. No pre-slicing.

Baked out a lit thinner and crispier. Baking time was about 15 minutes.

Tried breaking into shards by hand, but the bits ended up looking sloppy. I like the pre-slicing method better.

For my toppings, I experimented around.
For the basic lavash, I used chive oil - since I like the taste of chives.
For Asian style lavash, a garlic-ginger-scallion-soy syrup and a fried tofu-carrot-waterchestnut salad. Say that 10x fast. lol!

Chive oil
5 or 6 ounces (about 2 cups) Garlic Chives, cut into 1 to 2 inch lengths
1/2 C Olive oil
1/2 C Vegetable oil (Soybean oil)
11/2 tsp Kosher salt

1. Blanch the cut chives in boiling water for about 10 seconds... drain on a towel. Squeeze out extra moisture as needed.
2. Add the blanched chives, oils and salt into a blend and blend into a smooth puree.
3. The mixture will be frothy from blending so let sit for an hour or two before straining. I used a paper towel to strain since I didn't have a coffee filter or cheesecloth.

Basic Lavash drizzled with chive oil.

Tofu Topping
The Topping
1/2 C fried Tofu (marinaded in tamari, toasted sesame oil and garlic powder)
2 T Waterchestnut, julienned
2 T Carrot, julienned
Lime Juice
Toasted sesame seed oil

Mix all the ingredients... season to taste.
I purposely kept the tofu topping lightly seasoned since I was adding a reduction on top.

Soy Ginger Garlic Reduction
4T Tamari (Wheat-free)
2T Green onions, minced
1t Ginger, minced
1 clove Garlic, minced
Lime Juice (1 lime about 2T)

Lightly saute the garlic, green onion, ginger.
Add the lime juice and the soy sauce... mix and gently reduce the mixture.

Asian inspired lavash topped with the tofu salad. Drizzled with a soy-garlic reduction and chive oil.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sep 24: Chicken Noodle Soup

After my little splurge of fried chicken, I was craving a healthier meal
Since I have freshly made chicken stock, chicken soup seemed like the logical choice.

Chicken Noodle Soup
1/2 C Celery, coarse chopped
1 C Potatoes - I used Red.
1/2 Onion, chopped
1/2 C Carrot, chopped
1 pinch of Oregano (I didn't have marjoram)
1 pinch of Thyme
Salt and Pepper
Noodles - I only had macaroni (1/2 Cup Dry)
1 T Butter
1/2 C Chicken, Raw coarsely chopped.
6 C Stock

Saute the veggies in butter. Add salt and pepper.
The objective is not to brown but to soften the veggies a little and start extracting the flavors.

After 5 minutes, add the broth and simmer another 5 minutes.

Add the noodles and chicken... I only had macaroni and didn't want to wash another pan so I just added the macaroni dry.

Give the soup a stir to disperse the chicken and macaroni.
Simmer about 15 minutes.

Served: A bowl of chicken noodle soup. Add salt and pepper as needed.

A nice spoonful.

The soup turned out nicely. Good chicken flavor without the salty, msg'ness from canned soup.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Sep 22: Chicken Broth

Being frugal... I made stock with the chicken bones and bits from the chicken I cut up a few days ago.

Stock is easy and a nice substitute for water in most savory recipes.
There are many stock recipes on the web, but here's a simple stock recipe I've been using for years.

Chicken Stock
1 Carrot, coarse chop
1/2 Onion, coarse chop
2 stalks Celery
1 Bay Leaf
1 t Salt
10 C Water*
Chicken Bones and giblets (minus the chicken liver. The liver can be bitter.)

Add enough water to cover the bones... about 10 cups.
Add the the rest of the ingredients.

Over medium heat bring to a boil. Skim if you like.
Sometimes I skim and sometimes I don't.
This time I skimmed the foam as the water was coming to a boil
I think the harder you boil the bones the cloudier the stock... so I gently/barely simmer on medium-low for a few hours.

After the stock has simmered... cool and refrigerate.
The fat will solidify on the top which you can skim off.
Some people actually save the fat for cooking, such as, frying potatoes.

Strain the stock and toss all the solids out.
Now the stock is ready to use.

*Note: You can use 8 cups of water to make a richer stock. Depending upon your water to chicken bit ratio, the stock will actually gel in the refrigerator. The natural gelatin adds to the rich mouth-feel in soups.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sep 21: Buttermilk Fried Chicken

I had another half raw chicken so I stuck with fried chicken.
The majority of the recipe is the same as yesterday, except the buttermilk soak.

2 cups buttermilk
1/3 to 1/2 C hot sauce
Season chicken with salt, pepper and garlic powder.

Mix everthing in a bowl and soak overnight... I actually soaked 24 hours.

Drain the chicken pieces.

The breast was cut into strips and coated with a seasoned self-rising flour.

The Finished Results
The fried breast chunks... fried about 8 mintues total.
The top right pieces were fried first. The coating was rather light.
The bottom left pieces were double coated - dropped back into the buttermilk and another coating of flour

The dark meat - fried about 20-25 mintues total.

Overall, I enjoyed yesterdays batch better. This batch still had good flavor, but the buttermilk didn't add as much flavor as I thought it would and the coating turned out darker (due to the milk sugar?).

The breast pieces were drier than yesterday's batch. Yesterday's breast nuggets were still very moist. Also, I had to double dip the pieces to obtain a thicker coating.

I need to find the recipe that calls for buttermilk to see if I need to add more salt and seasonings to the mixture, thus creating a buttermilk brine.

As it stands right now, the simple recipe from yesterday turned out better chicken. This batch was good, but just seemed like it was more work and waiting - a 2 day recipe.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Sep 20: Fried Chicken

My earliest memories of eating fried chicken was in SF's Chinatown at a luncheon somewhere. The chicken had a flavorful, juicy, crispy batter crust. The chicken seemed to be infused with a nice flavor of garlic and ginger.

Also, the local chicken place was not a KFC, but a Pioneer Chicken.
I remember Pioneer Chicken had a battered crust and a lot of flavor.
Their logo looked like an Italian Chef wearing chef whites and chefs hat riding in a chuck wagon. The color scheme of the restaurant was orange. Orange?!?!
Yes, in the 70's orange was an in-color. lol!

This website popped up with Pioneer memorabilia. They all must have looked the same for I could swear that's how the neighborhood Pioneer chicken looked with the brickwork and the sloping windows.

My first bite into KFC was in high school. Back then KFC was still known as Kentucky Fried Chicken until Fried became a bad word. I thought the colonel's chicken was kind of bland, except for salt, and soggy.

Moving away to college and with the closing of Pioneer Chicken, that's when I went on my quest to perfect my fried chicken recipe.

For me, the key to fried chicken is obtaining a thick crispy crust. Making flavorful chicken is actually the easy part. It's the crust that has been more elusive. I've tried batters, different types of coatings and flour. For the most part, the flavor was their, but the crust just wasn't their for me.

In college, my roommates were the Guinea pigs. I've had roommates wake up in the middle of the night to eat the last pieces of chicken. lol... funny stuff.

After college, my fried chicken quest kind went to the wayside. I lost recipes from numerous moves, frying makes a mess, takes a lot of time to fry and people eating healthy.

A few years ago, I was watching Paula Deen on The Food Network. She was making fried chicken using self-rising flour. I gave it a try and the crust turned out really nice. Crunchy and has some thickness to it... so self-rising flour has been my go to coating when I make fried chicken.

Today, I make fried chicken. The basis is Paula Deen's Recipe: Southern Fried Chicken.

Fried Chicken
2 eggs
1/4 to 1/2 C Hot Sauce
2T Water
1/2 Chicken - half breast, thigh, drumstick and wing.
garlic powder
1 C flour
1 1/2 t Baking Powder
1/2 t Salt
1 t Cajun Seasoning
Oil for frying (I had soybean oil)

Hot sauce, eggs and chicken.

Season chicken with salt, pepper and garlic powder. I didn't measure the amount. Season to your liking.

Beat the egg with 2 T of water and add the hot sauce. I added about 1/4 of hot sauce or until the mixture looks orange.

Add the chicken pieces to the egg mixture and let marinade.

Making self-rising flour is very easy. What makes self-rising flour self-rising is the addition of baking powder and a little salt. I added Cajun seasoning to add flavor to the flour.
Dump into a Ziploc and mix.

Heat a skillet or a pot with oil... 350F.
When the oil is about to reach temperature, add the chicken to the flour and coat thoroughly, as shown below.

Carefully place the chicken into the oil. I increased the burner to medium-high.
Cook 10 minutes before flipping.

The pieces are flipped and allowed to cook another 15 to 20 minutes.
Turn occasionally to ensure even cooking.

Total cooking time for these pieces was about 20 to 25 minutes.

While the chicken was cooking, the breast was sliced into "fingers"/"nuggets" and placed back in the egg mixture to marinade.

Pieces dredged and coated.

Fry about 3 or 4 minutes before flipping.
After flipping fry another 3 or 4 minutes.

The finished chicken! Total cooking time was about 45 minutes.

For me the thigh piece is the best part of fried chicken. Stays moist and has a lot of flavor.

Overall, the chicken turned out nicely. Very nice, thick, crunchy coating.
A very nice flavor. The vinegary hot sauce adds a very faint tang and the Cajun season, plus the garlic powder, adds extra flavor.

I do usually add extra herbs and spices... my secret blend... but I wanted to keep the chicken very simple.