Friday, December 21, 2012

Salted Rosemary Croccantini: Why Buy the Best When You Can Make Better?

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Dear flat and crispy,

I love croccantini crackers.  Croccante is the Italian word for crispy or crunchy; -tini is a pluralized diminutive attached to the word, hence our cute little croccantini (if any Italian speakers know more on this, let me know, I have a very limited vocabulary!).

Last year, when I left for my Long Haul to Chicago, my cousin bequeathed upon me a large and full box of flat, salted, rosemary-infused-and-topped, fragrant crackers.  I wasn't too excited at first ("Oh good, a vehicle for my cheese") but then I ate one and ... well, then I ate the rest.

They were good.  Really good.

I semi-forgot about them for a while, wishing now and again I could find them but not recalling the name of the brand.  "I need to ask her where she got them," I resolved every time I thought of them.  I didn't know they were a Thing, popular in Italy with cheese for a snack, and produced by more than one manufacturer, until I stumbled my eyes across them in Trader Joe's.

Welcome to my cart, little box of crackers.

I took them home and quickly realized that in order to feasibly enjoy them in the quantity and frequency I desired, I would have to find a more fiscally responsible way to get them to my plate.  And following my rule of thumb for food - "If I can buy it, I can make it," - I headed straight to the kitchen.

I wanted the crackers to be whole wheat, or at least mostly so.  If not for the fact that unbleached flour is fairly pointless as far as nutrition goes, then for the fact that whole wheat has a more robust depth of flavor, somewhat nuttier and more hearty than white.

I strapped the baby to my back and got to work.  And let me tell you, it was worth the twenty to thirty minutes of experiential toil: these crackers are far and away better than the packaged version (why are we not shocked? Why?).  They taste better, have a meatier crunch, the salt and rosemary flavoring is controlled by me (more, more, more!!!), and they look a whole darn lot better, too.

My cracker - hearty, flavorful, well-seasoned

The store cracker - sparsely seasoned, pasty texture when chewing, snaps like a piece of brittle glass and explodes across the room, but still so good it inspired me to make my own.  Now, imagine how much deliciousness there must be in the homemade version!!

You can cut them into whatever size or shape you like.  Just don't re-roll the dough - cook the odd pointy scraps leftover from any fancy cutting you do, and enjoy them in their fun shapes.

It's simple: Mix the dry ingredients by hand, in the Vitamix cup with dry blade, or in a food processor ...

Add the wet ingredients. 

Pulse into a loose ball of dough. 

Dump said ball of dough onto a barely dusted work surface.

Mold gently by hand into a ball of firm, soft dough. 

Cut the dough into workable sizes.  Halved or quartered will be fine.  

Roll the first half or quarter out thin, thin, thin.  This is a quarter of the dough, rolled out.  Brush with olive oil.

Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and dried rosemary; I rolled over it with the rolling pin to ensure the seasonings stuck in, or you can use your hand.

Cut into the desired shape: use a pizza cutter, decorate with a dough roller docker if you wish, use cookie cutters, biscuit cutters, a knife, a glass, a bowl ... or bake whole, and break afterwards.

Just ten minutes at 450 F will do it.  Check at the halfway point to make sure you aren't burning it!

Enjoy with cheese, salami, spread, hummus, baba ghanoush, meats, pico de gallo ...

Salted Rosemary Croccantini
These are easy to make.  No particular skills needed, not even very much time - I made them between chores on a busy afternoon, on a whim, with a baby dangling from the carrier on my back.  Now, imagine how much easier it must be without the baby! I weighed my flour, as you will see following, because I wanted to have precise measurements.  Scooping, fluffing, or scraping flour out of the container is just not accurate enough, although it can get you a good approximation.  

1 cup (156 g) whole wheat or white whole wheat white whole wheat
3/4 cup (106.5 g) bread flour (I used King Arthur white bread flour)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 generous tablespoon chopped rosemary (see below), more or less depending on your preference
1/2 cup filtered water
1/3 cup olive oil
Extra olive oil for brushing
Sea salt, additional dried rosemary, and other optional herbs for topping

Heat oven to 450.  Adjust rack to the middle; if you have a pizza stone, put it in the oven.  If not, put a large cookie sheet in the oven.

Using a Vitamix or food processor: Add dry ingredients and pulse to mix; pour oil and water into the well and pulse from low to hi, repeatedly, until a scrappy, loose ball of dough forms.  It should only take a few revolutions.  

By hand: Using your hands, a pastry or dough cutter or two forks, blend the dough until a scrappy, loose ball of dough forms.  

Both methods:  Dump the dough onto a lightly dusted work surface.  Gather and gently work it into a ball of dough.  Using a knife, cut into halves or quarters (quarters are easy to work with).  

On unfloured, ungreased parchment paper, roll the dough out until it is thin, thin, as thin as you can make it.  Then, a little thinner.  Brush with olive oil; sprinkle with salt and rosemary.  If you like, add other herbs such as thyme, basil, or flavors such as granulated garlic.  

Pick up the parchment paper and place it in the heated oven on your stone or cookie sheet.  Bake for ten minutes in the heated oven, checking at the halfway point and near the end to ensure it isn't burning.  

Remove when it is browning at the edges and looks dry and croccante

Note: Do not use a Silpat/silicone baking mat.  The heat is too near the maximum temperatures for the silicone (480 is where they top out), especially if you are using a baking stone.  You will end up with a smoking kitchen and crackers that taste oddly like plastic.  How do I know?  I tried.  Thank me later!

Chopped or Powdered Rosemary
I used dried rosemary from our garden for this.  The Krups Electric Spice and Coffee Grinder is my preferred weapon of choice: it lasts notoriously long (years, years, decades), is loud but not deafening, is pretty cheaply priced and best of all does the job required of it with speed and efficiency.  

Strip leaves from the woody stems.

Using a coffee or spice grinder, pulse rosemary 4 times for 1 second to chop coarsely.

To grind into a powder, pulse for about four or five seconds several times, until the fineness you desire is achieved.

Our family of rosemary, left to right: Whole, coarsely chopped, powdered.

Crisping and crunching,

Mrs H

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