By Charlie Kalish
Crackers are a simple and fail-proof vessel for serving cheese, and so are crispbreads. Crispbreads are common in Scandinavia and are essentially sourdough crackers, and I eat them with cheese and cultured butter on a regular basis.
I like crispbreads because of their crunch and the delectable flakes of salt that melt on the roof of your mouth. By adding seeds and spices and toppings, you can create unlimited combinations of flavors and textures (as well as pairings for cheese, wine, beer, you-name-it). Beyond being tasty and having excellent shelf life, they also have a pleasing visual aesthetic.
How to make your own
Getting Starter with a Starter
The recipe below is adapted from Tartine Bakery's recipe for "Wheat-Spelt Crispbreads with Sesame & Fennel Seeds" (p.212) in Tartine Book No 3. In order to make this crispbread, you will need a sourdough starter to create a leaven. Sourdough starter takes a week to develop, and requires minimal cost, time and effort, but it's easier to pilfer some starter from a friend if available. If starting from scratch, here is a starter/leaven recipe from the New York Times' instructions for Tartine's Country Bread (see Steps 1-3) and another from Serious Eats.
1. Mix the leaven and water in a medium bowl until leaven is blended into the water. Set aside.
2. To the second medium bowl, add the flours, wheat germ and sea salt and mix with your hands. Add the water-leaven mixture and mix to form a dough.
3. Cover the bowl with the kitchen towel and let ferment in the refrigerator overnight.
4. In the morning, portion the dough into 50 g pieces and work with your hands into balls (see right)
5. Coat a flat work surface with wheat or rye flour and add one dough ball. Press the ball flat with the palm of your hand and coat the top with more flour. Roll out with rolling pin until a thin sheet. Alternatively, roll out until flat enough to put through a pasta machine, which is not only quicker and easier but also ensures even thickness which will help ensure even baking. If uneven, thin parts may burn while thick parts remain chewy and un-fully baked.
6. Transfer the dough to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush top of the dough lightly with water and sprinkle with toppings. Set seeds and salt into the dough by pressing gently with your hand.
7. Bake dough at 425 deg F (220 deg C) until golden brown, 8-15 minutes depending on the strength of your oven. If the dough starts to darken (and it'll happen quickly), it's all over, so keep a close eye on it. As soon as the dough changes to golden brown, remove from the oven and place on a wire rack. Repeat with all of the remaining crispbreads.
8. Once you have baked all of the crispbreads, reduce the oven temperature to 200 deg F (95 deg C). Return the crispbreads to the oven all at once, placing them directly on the metal racks, and continue to bake for 10-15 more minutes with the oven door slightly ajar. This will further dehydrate the dough, giving it a nice crispy texture. The color should not change.
9. Transfer the finished crispbread to a cooling rack and enjoy!
That's it, you're done! Now spread some blue cheese (February is Blue Cheese month) on it and enjoy. Also delicious with butter and fresh cheeses, like farmer's cheese or goat cheese (fresh chevre).
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To learn more about Tartine Bakery, visit their website. You can also purchase their book, Tartine Book No 3, from virtually any major bookseller.
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