amazing and cool shit, bread, horrific mistakes, lovely things, miscellaneous, drivel, potentially useful information, things I love, tom being tom

…cracker…

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I started my day at 3:30 this morning – finally digging my copy of MFK Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf off my bookshelf and began reading. It’s been sitting there waiting for years; I’m glad I finally found the time to explore it. I wish I could write as eloquently and thoughtfully. It’s amazing to find that some stranger put words to the vague thoughts swirling in my head, the ones I keep hoping will turn into some sort of lightning emitting storm of expression. It’s humbling to realize she did it over 70 years ago…

It has nothing to do with this post, but maybe in spirit, very much. The entire concept of How to Cook a Wolf was spurned about by the reality of dealing with wartime shortages, rationing, dealing with less, figuring out how to make more. It was written in 1942, knowing that even though you have less to make with, it can still become something well beyond subsistence. It’s a truly lovely notion. For every great cuisine was built around that very idea; elevating something beyond mere utility and edibility into something grander. That’s really what we’re all here for after all, isn’t it? To one-up fate and circumstance just a nudge? Make a better hand out of what you’ve actually been dealt? To find laughter and joy in the worst, or at least the mundane, that life dishes up is truly living, in my estimation. To make it a daily mission is a virtue. By no means is it a cookbook or a recipe book – maybe more of a philosophy, a call to believe that no matter what you’ve got, you can make it into something worthwhile. A reminder that the ability and desire to do so is the very thing that separates us from savages…

Being a bread-maker in the throes of a love/hate obsession with wild yeast, I’ve always ended up in this guilty quandry of feeding them. My routine usually consists of dumping out about 90% of the existing starter that’s been percolating and fermenting, as it generally becomes too acidic and funky for bread use, and adding in a new and approximately equal amount of flour and warm water. I’ve always hated the idea of just dumping it down the drain, but I’ve never found a resource out there telling you to imagine doing anything useful with it. It doesn’t seem like it’s unfit for use – just nobody has ever come up with a good one for it. I have tried making crumpets with it once and never came back, though the results weren’t completely discouraging. In fact they might be a real possibility. Lately, though, I’ve been experimenting with crackers…

The strange and compelling thing about crackers is that there’s little, if any, information about making them at home. The few recipes I’ve come across are horrible at best – some using chemical leavening agents (baking soda or powder) – some using yeast, some no leavening at all, just flour, fat and liquid like a pie crust. I like when things are relationships. Bread dough is that for me – the idea of texture, feel, consistency – there’s a sort of benchmark of what it feels like that corresponds with an actual ratio of about 10:6. Crackers don’t have that characteristic. I glommed onto a recipe by Shirley O. Corriher, in her book CookWise. I was intrigued by it simply because it was a batter with fat in it. My starters are a thick batter in terms of consistency – I was intrigued by the idea of adding some fat and baking it…

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Feeding time as usual…

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Reserving the used starter – almost exactly 3 cups to use for my crackers… For the fat (and flavor) I’m using some lime/jalapeño aioli I made… I’m going to use a cup of it… I’ll whisk this all together.

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And pour it onto a my baking vessel… It’s a sheet pan with aluminum foil and a Silpat silicon baking sheet. It keeps things from sticking and it’s heavier than parchment so it lays very flat on the sheet pan. It allows me to keep an even layer of 1/16 inch…

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I’m adding some course sea salt and sesame seeds to it…

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And then into a preheated (375 degree F) oven on my baking stone… After 20 minutes I’ll lift it off onto a rack and let it go for another 30 to 40 minutes depending on how it’s browning and crisping up…

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Voila! Some recipes call for cutting or scoring them midway through the baking so they’re all a uniform shape – I prefer just snapping them into planks and rectangles of sizes and shapes that they want to become…

It may not be the only, or even the best thing one can do with leftover bread starter, but it is something, and it’s pretty good.

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