Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Thin Bread and Wheat Thins

Every January I tell myself I'm going to dial back on the carbohydrates. After a December filled with cookies and toffee and caramel corn one doesn't need potatoes and bread and crackers. And then the cold weather comes and my body cries out for carbs. Demands, them really. Macaroni and cheese, scalloped potatoes...bread. And crackers. What's a girl to do? This girl gives in and heads to the kitchen.

Thin bread is a treat that David has enjoyed with his family for years. We've never tried to make it ourselves before, since his mom is such a reliable supplier. Despite not having the recommended knobbed rolling pin we decided to give it a go. Well, I decided. David joined in once it became clear I was serious in my quest to crack the thin bread code. It's pretty hard to mess up thin bread; it's a very simple recipe:

Thin Bread 

4 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup sugar
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups milk

Mix like pie crust. Roll very thin. Bake in electric frying pan. 

The above are the basic ingredients/directions we found tucked into our family recipe binder. To elaborate: we combined the flour through baking powder, then cut-in the shortening with a pastry knife. The resulting mixture will be the texture of  sand; next we added the milk (stirring with a wooden spoon) and the dough came together into a smooth but slightly sticky ball.

Next step is to roll out your dough on a lightly floured surface. It needs to be fairly thin - say a half inch thick. I pulled small pieces off the larger dough ball and rolled the dough into a rough rectangle. Normally thin bread is rolled with a knobbed rolling pin. Not having one on hand, after rolling out the dough with a regular ol' rolling pin, I pricked the dough all over with a fork.

Meanwhile, I heated up my Calphalon griddle pan on the stovetop. Getting the heat right was tricky. The recipe recommends cooking your thin bread in an electric frying pan at 450 degrees. By the second or third piece of dough we seemed to have achieved the right temperature. The dough cooked quickly and took about 5 minutes per side. Once off the heat I let the bread cool on a rack, then cut it up into pieces. Which were documented with a poor-quality iPhone shot:

In my opinion, thin bread is best consumed slathered in Cheese Whiz. (Cheez Whiz. Obviously another fine food choice to make after a Christmas of unbridled food excess.) The boys all love it with peanut butter. It freezes really well and keeps for quite a while too.

I made thin bread in the days after Christmas leading up to New Year's. Then last week I decided to keep the carbo-train moving through the station by making crackers. Luckily Smitten Kitchen had me covered with a recipe for homemade wheat thins, adapted from King Arthur Flour.

I've always thought crackers would be fussy to make. Turns out they are dead simple. Much easier than cookies, actually and nearly as satisfying. We eat a ton of crackers around our house. An obscene amount of crackers. Our pantry is always crowded with a half-dozen or so varieties. But home-made crackers are so much better than store-bought. A minimum of ingredients required. The biggest challenge you'll have is rolling them thin enough to get a satisfying crunch out of your crackers.

Homemade Wheat Thin Crackers from Smitten Kitchen
Adapted, just barely, from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking

Yield: About 3 dozen. I highly suggest doubling this recipe.

1 1/4 cups (155 grams) whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tablespoons (20 grams) sugar
1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) table salt, plus additional for topping
1/4 teaspoon paprika
4 tablespoons (55 grams) unsalted butter, cold is fine, cut into small bits

In a food processor: Combine the flour, sugar, salt, paprika and butter in a food processor, pulsing the mixture until the butter is evenly disbursed in the crumbs. Drizzle in 1/4 cup (60 ml) cold water with the machine running; run it until the mixture begins to form a ball.

By hand: Combine the flour, sugar, salt, paprika and butter in a medium bowl. Using a pastry blender or your fingertips, work the butter into the mixture until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Add 1/4 cup (60 ml) cold water, stir with spoon until combined. Knead once or twice on counter.
Heat your oven to 400 degrees. Either lightly grease baking sheets or line them with parchment paper.

Roll your dough out, half at a time, to a large, very, very thin rectangle-ish shape on a well-floured counter. Did I mention you should roll them thin? Thinner than you even think necessary is best. Frequently check to make sure your dough isn’t sticking; if it is, gently scrape a spatula underneath to lift it, then flour the counter again. Using a knife or pastry wheel, cut dough into about 1 1/2-inch squares. Dock crackers all over with a toothpick or pointy end of a thermometer. (Technically speaking, I noted a 9-dot docking pattern, like the 9 sides of a pair of dice, on my store-bought Wheat Thins. I highly recommend you do not drive yourself bonkers trying to emulate this.)

Transfer crackers to baking sheets, spacing them only a little as they really don’t spread. Sprinkle with additional table salt if you’d like to approximate the salty exteriors of the store-bought crackers. Bake crackers until crisp and bronzed, about 5 to 7 minutes but please keep a close watch on the first batch as thinner crackers (high-five!) will bake faster and thicker ones will take longer.

Cool in baking pans on racks. Crackers will keep in an airtight container officially for a week but ours are in fact two weeks old and still perfect. You can also freeze them in an airtight container between sheets of waxed paper for a couple months.

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