Saturday, September 27, 2008

Lavash (Armenian Flatbread) - Daring Baker's Challenge

When I saw this month's Daring Baker's Challenge (my first!), I was thrilled. I had expected it would be some fancy dessert-type thing, and while I love dessert-type things, I make and eat a lot more bread-type things, so I figured this would be both easier and more practical (in the sense that it would be eaten sooner).

And in fact, the crackers went off without a hitch. They were crisp and crackly and very tasty too! My camera, unfortunately, did not fare quite so well. Since this was not just for a regular blog post, I made sure to take lots and lots of pictures - pictures of the dough, pictures right after it came out of the oven, pictures of the spreads, pictures of the crackers with the spreads - everything! And then, while I was setting up a particularly lovely little shot involving a lemon slice, disaster struck! Seemingly without provocation, my camera began beeping and flashing the words 'Memory Card Error' on the screen. Optimistically, I tried reinserting the memory card, but no luck. I tried to import the pictures onto my computer, but again, no luck. Now in a state of great distress, I drove off to the camera store, where I received the bad news. Apparently my card had a 'sector error' or some such thing, and all the pictures on it were now completely irretrievable.

Well, luckily I did have another memory card, and I had made plenty of crackers so I was able to take more pictures. However, they are all of the finished product, and all the fun 'procedure' pictures have been lost forever =(

On a brighter note, the crackers were very good, and I had a lot of fun making the dips/spreads (the instructions were to make whatever dips/spreads you wanted, as long as they were vegan and gluten-free). While I much prefer bread to crackers, if I had to pick my favorite types of crackers I would pick akmak, which is a supermarket variety of armenian seed cracker, and another flatbread my mom likes to get, which is covered in all sorts of delicious seeds. So here I basically combined those two, and the result was...

Seed & Paprika Lavash with Roasted Red Pepper and Tahini Sauce and Avocado Melon Salsa
(not all mixed together of course)
First, the Lavash, taken from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice and with my annotations after the asterisks:

Makes 1 sheet pan of crackers
*Either Peter Reinhart has very large baking sheets or I have very small ones, because these amounts got me not one, not two, but three sheet pans' worth of crackers! In fact, since I only have two pans, I had to wait til one batch was done before I could make the third.

- 1 1/2 cups (6.75 oz) unbleached bread flour *I used whole wheat bread flour
- 1/2 tsp (.13 oz) salt
- 1/2 tsp (.055 oz) instant yeast *I used active dry
- 1 Tb (.75 oz) agave syrup or sugar *I used sugar since I don't have agave syrup
- 1 Tb (.5 oz) vegetable oil *Extra-virgin olive oil, which is pretty much the only oil I ever use
- 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
*I ended up using these exact same toppings, except I split it up so some crackers had only salt and paprika and the rest had salt with the four seeds (since the seed crackers my mom likes so much don't include paprika and I was trying to replicate their taste).

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. For Non Gluten Free Cracker Dough: 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 … ong-Enough for a discription 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. For Non Gluten Free Cracker Dough: 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 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.

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).

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.

I followed this recipe pretty much exactly. Like I said, I ended up making three cracker sheets - two with the seed mixture and one with paprika. They all turned out very tasty, although a few bits were a little too salty, and one of the sheets could have baked a couple more minutes as it was a bit soft. In the end, I still prefer bread, as I find crackers are often simply an excuse to eat toppings, whereas I tend to use toppings as an excuse to eat bread. I do have to admit that it was fun to think of all the different possibilities for toppings though.

In the end, I went with a roasted red pepper and tahini dip on the first day, and an avocado melon salsa the second. Recipes below.

Roasted Red Pepper and Tahini Tip
This dip actually came about because I originally planned to make Htipiti, a Greek dip made with roasted red peppers and feta that had been on my mind since I had some at a Greek restaurant a few weeks ago. Well, as soon as I had sent the lavash dough off to rise, I started roasting the red peppers. While they were roasting, I went back to check the lavash recipe and only then did I see the restriction that all dips had to be vegan. Now, I don't know many vegans who would consider feta to be an acceptable vegan food, so a quick change of plans was in order. Though I did still use some of the roasted peppers to make htipiti (which was very good), with the rest I made this dip.

You will need:
2 medium red bell peppers or other good roasting peppers
A few spoonfuls of lemon juice
A spoonful of olive oil
About 30 g tahini

First, preheat the oven to about 355º F / 180º C. Wash and dry the peppers and set them on a baking sheet lined with foil. When the oven is hot, put the peppers in and let them cook about 40-45 minutes, turning them every so often so that they roast evenly. When their skin is thoroughly blackened, turn off the oven, take the peppers out and wrap them tightly in baking foil. Let them sit for 20-30 minutes.

After the time is up, unwrap the peppers, and peel and seed them. Place the peppers in a large bowl and mash them up, stirring in the salt, lemon juice, olive oil, and tahini. Cover the bowl and place in the refrigerator.

Let chill for at least an hour or two and serve with lavash (or anything else).

Avocado Melon Salsa
This is a slight variation on normal guacamole, which I mainly thought of because I had bought a beautiful charentais melon the other day, and needed something to do with it. If you don't have any charentais melon, you can substitute canteloupe, but the charentais really is more flavorful.

You will need:
2 ripe avocados
Half a lemon's worth of lemon juice
One smallish red onion
A few slices of melons of your choice - I used watermelon and charentais here
A few small tomatoes, if desired

Chop up avocado, place in a bowl, and mash up very well. Mix in the lemon juice. Chop up the tomatoes, melons, and onion, and stir them in, along with the salt, mashing a bit more if desired.

Serve immediately or after chilling!


MaryMary said...

Avocado melon salsa sounds intriguing--a bit sweet and a bit savory. Cheers on your first challenge!

Angela said...

Welcome to The Daring Bakers! Your lavash look great and I love the red pepper dip. Sorry to hear about your camera troubles :(

Gretchen Noelle said...

Too bad your camera had problems, but glad your crackers and dip were tasty. Great job on your first challenge!

Eat4Fun said...

Congrats on completing your first DB Challenge! Sorry to hear about your memory card, but the pictures you posted look very nice.

jen said...

My first camera died in the middle of a football game, and our newest one died in the month of July. I totally feel your pain. I'm glad you got a new one though! They turned out well. Great job on your first challenge. :)

Welcome to DB.

Lauren said...

Ooo, your lavash looks wonderful! Great first challenge!