Nut & Seed Crackers

I’ve been seeing a nutritionist who specializes in folks like me with FODMAP sensitivities, and one of the things I’ve been excited to add back into my diet is cheese! And of course that means crackers. For a while I was trying to develop a sourdough wheat-based cracker (sourdough fermentation reduces the amount of fructans, the particular problematic fermentable saccharides in wheat), but I couldn’t get the texture right. It’s been a loooong time since I baked with gluten. To combat the tooth-breaking toughness of those crackers I started increasing the percentages of fat and nut/seed meal, and eventually just did away with the sourdough altogether. A bit of tweaking to get the hydration right, and this is the result: A gluten-free, vegan-able cracker that’s stiff enough to hold toppings but still crumbles nicely in the mouth.

You need a food processor for this recipe if you want to start from whole nuts or seeds.

Line two 16″x22″ sheet pans with parchment paper.

Preheat your oven to 400F and set up two racks at below-center and above-center. Prepare a small strainer with a few tablespoons of potato or corn starch in it for dusting, with more set aside for refills.

Dry ingredients:

  • 100 grams finely ground rolled oats
  • 300 grams finely ground nuts or seeds of choice. I typically use 100 grams each of almonds and walnuts, and then fill the last 100 grams with whatever is kicking around at the moment. Sunflower seeds, pepitas, macadamias, pecans, that sort of thing. If you’re using something really oily like macadamia nuts, put them in with the oats to grind so you don’t wind up with chunky paste. You really don’t want any chunks bigger than a couple millimeters.
  • 100 grams potato starch (!= flour; check the kosher section or substitute corn starch)
  • 30 grams flax meal
  • 7 grams salt
  • 5 grams baking powder (~1t)

Mix with a fork until thoroughly blended and the starch and oat flour has coated the oily nut/seed meal. Add:

  • 50 grams melted coconut oil
  • 30 grams olive oil (or your favorite liquid oil)

Alternate mixing and cutting until no dry areas or large clumps remain. Add:

  • 150 grams cold water

Mix. This is the weird step, since it will start out like watery sand and you’ll think it’s not going to work, then it will change to a batter, then to a soft, smooshy, sticky almost-dough. Once it holds an impression of the tines of the fork, it’s time to roll — work fast as it will continue to set up.

Put one of the lined sheet pans on your work surface and use the strainer to dust it thoroughly with starch. If your rolling pin is wider than your sheet pans, you’ll want to work on just the parchment, and slide the paper back onto the pan once the crackers are rolled out. Dump half the dough in the center of the paper, sprinkle with more starch, and roll to 1/8″ thick, dusting with more starch as needed. It will tear easily, so always roll towards edges, never along them. Use a pizza cutter, pastry cutter, or butter knife to score a grid of the size you like, and put any trimmings at the edges back into the dough bowl. Dock the crackers with a fork, bamboo skewer, or chopstick. Set this pan aside.

Make a glaze. In a small saucepan, bring to a simmer over medium-low heat:

  • 3 T honey, golden syrup, or brown rice syrup (NB: honey isn’t vegan, so if you’re baking for one, use something else)
  • 2 t water

This is also a good opportunity to add any surface flavorings you like. Dried thyme is good, and so is smoked paprika, but I actually like the plain honey best. Keep an eye & an ear on the simmering glaze while you roll and cut the second pan of crackers, and turn the heat off when the sound of the bubbles rises in pitch and they start to linger glossily on the surface before popping. You can also substitute maple syrup here, but as it has a different water content you’ll have to play around with the proportions to get a good glazing consistency.

The second ball of dough will be stiffer than the first. Be a bit more sparing with the starch, or it will tend to crack and split. Use the cutting scraps from the left side of the grid to patch up the partial crackers on the right side of the grid to conserve dough, or give the scraps to the chickens.

Brush the tops of both pans of crackers with the glaze. Try not to leave an unglazed margin at the edges, as that will be extremely visible once baked. Slopping over the edges a little is fine. If you find the glaze getting too thick before you’ve finished brushing, return it to the heat for a moment to loosen it up. Once the crackers are glazed, you can sprinkle on sesame or poppy seeds, and the glaze will make sure they stick. Coarse salt or pepper might also be nice.

Bake 8 minutes, then rotate and switch racks and bake another 8 minutes. Remove any crackers at the edges that have started to brown prematurely, and return the rest to the oven, checking on them every four minutes until they’ve gone just a shade or two darker. Cool on the pans or on racks, it doesn’t seem to make a difference except that they’re harder to break apart while they’re still hot.

These go from “starting to get brown” to “unpleasantly burnt” rather fast, so err on the side of underbaking — you can always dry them out in a low oven later if they’re still a bit soft once cool.

Store at room temperature in an airtight container. They’re probably best eaten within a month due to the nut/seed content, but mine are usually gone by the end of the week so it’s hard to say.

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The best gluten-free vegan vegetable muffin in all the land

I spent the summer growing zucchini and developing a zucchini bread recipe that satisfied my trifecta: gluten-free, vegan, and lofty. This is the result. It’s an all-day process, but worth it as a treat a couple of times a year. The muffins are a little more forgiving of moisture variations without going soggy, but the loaves rise better if you get everything right, so it’s up to you.

First, turn your oven to its lowest setting. Ours is 170F.

Makes 1 8″ loaf or 14-16 muffins. Line loaf pans with a sling of parchment; muffin tins with paper liners.

Flour mix:

  • 1/4 c + 2T potato starch (!= potato flour; check the kosher section)
  • 1/4 c + 2T oat flour (can make at home from rolled oats + food processor if needed)
  • 1/4 c white rice flour
  • 1/4 c brown rice flour
  • 1/4 c sorghum flour
  • 1/4 c tapioca flour/starch

Unfortunately, because the liquid:grain ratio is low for this recipe, you really, honestly, truly have to sift it or risk weird gritty results. You’ll lose 1-2T of chaff and grit but that’s already factored in.

More dry ingredients:

  • 1/2 t baking soda
  • 4 t baking powder (yes, four)
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1 t xanthan gum
  • 1-2 t spices of choice (cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg is good)
  • 1 c granulated sugar (yes, in with the dry ingredients)
  • handful of rolled oats

Blend flour + dry ingredients together thoroughly. GF bakes suffer if undermixed.

If you keep your GF flours in the freezer like I do, you’ll want to pop the dry ingredients bowl in the warm oven to come up to temp.

Zucchini. You can twist out the juices in a tea towel if you must, but it really works better to freeze it, then thaw, drain, and squeeze:

  • 1 c packed grated zucchini, drained
  • 1/2 c zucchini juices

Set the shreds aside. Warm the juice to 105F, and sprinkle over it:

  • 1 t active dry yeast
  • 1 t sugar

Let the yeast dissolve and get foamy while you grind the following to a coarse powder or meal:

  • 1 T tukmaria (indian grocery) or chia (health co-op)
  • 3 T flax

I use a big mortar & pestle for this, so by the time I have powder, the yeast is pretty happy.

Stir the powder into the yeast juice. You don’t want to dump it in and let it sit without stirring or the chia/tukmaria will clump up irreparably. Let rise for 15 minutes: first rise.

Put:

  • 1/2 c coconut oil

in the bowl of your stand mixer. If your kitchen is cold, put the bowl into the warm oven until the oil has melted.

Once that’s done and the first-rise timer has gone off, fit your mixer with the cookie blade attachment, install the bowl, and add:

  • 2 t vanilla

Scrape in the yeast-juice-meal mixture (it should be fluffy with CO2 and mucilaginous by now) and beat on low, increasing speed until emulsified and pale, about 5-10 minutes.

Add half the warm dry ingredients and beat 5 minutes.

Add the other half and stir to combine. Depending on ambient humidity it may be crumbly or cookie dough-like; that’s okay.

Add the zucchini shreds. If your batter was stiff before, this should loosen it up substantially.

Portion into pans, filling muffin cups full.

Load pans into the oven and turn it off. Let rise 2 hours (second rise) or until visibly inflated. Re-warm the oven as needed to keep the ambient temp above 75F, otherwise the coconut oil will set up and prevent the yeast from expanding.

Remove pans from oven and preheat to 375F.

Baking procedure:

  • Don’t use the bottom rack. If you have more than one pan and a small oven, bake in series, not in parallel
  • Bake loaves 1 hour, muffins 15 minutes at 375F
  • Reduce heat to 325F
  • Check loaves every 15 minutes, muffins every 5, until internal temp reaches 210F

You really, honestly, truly have to bake these to internal temp; the clean-skewer test is an utter lie. The creases and the outer crust will both be the same shade of rich brown when they’re done.

Cool in pans 5 minutes, then remove to a rack to cool completely. GF starches do not finish gelling while still warm.

Once cooled and set, they’re lovely at room temp, and even better if you can pop them in the microwave for 10 seconds first.

Keep at room temp or frozen. If you must refrigerate them, definitely reheat before serving.

 

Variations:

  • Pumpkin spice muffins/bread: Omit zuke shreds & juice; use pumpkin puree and water or nut milk instead. Warm pumpkin and stir into yeast-meal mixture before first rise. Use maximum spices; include at least 1/2t ground ginger and 1/4t ground cloves. Pumpkin is more yeast-friendly; keep an eye on the 2nd rise and stop once visibly inflated. Over-risen pumpkin bread will collapse after baking, much like a soufflé.
  • Dried fruit: Soak 1/4c chopped dried fruit in warm water, rum, or brandy. Drain and stir fruit in just before portioning batter into pans. Sub orange liqueur for vanilla.
  • Chopped nuts: Toast 1/4-1/2 c chopped nuts. Stir in just before portioning batter into pans.
  • Chocolate chips: Sprinkle on top just before second rise.

Chicken Tagine with Olives, Prunes, and Preserved Lemons

Last night’s chicken tagine was a big hit, so I’ve written it down. I synthesized this from two or three recipes online: a NYT one containing no fruit, one from TV3 in New Zealand that doesn’t include olives or a dry rub phase, and one from the noshery that uses fresh lemons. If you’re not familiar with moroccan preserved lemons, they’re a salt ferment of the whole fruit. They’re easy to make at home but take a week or two, so plan ahead… or, find a local middle eastern market and ask (they’ll be delighted); or try a substitution — difficult, but maybe equal parts lemon zest, salt, and white vinegar? or perhaps, marmalade and capers? Anyway, on with the recipe.

Obtain:

  • 4 chicken thighs, skin on bone in for maximum flavor, but boneless skinless is OK too

Mix, rub on the chicken, and refrigerate 1-3 hours:

  • 1/4 t saffron
  • 1 t ground dried or 1 T grated fresh ginger
  • 1 t ground cinnamon
  • 1 t ground coriander seed
  • 1 t sweet paprika
  • 1/2 t ground cumin seed
  • 1/2 t salt

Caramelize on medium low in a heavy lidded skillet:

  • 2 onions, sliced thin longitudinally
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1/2 t salt

Many recipes will tell you this takes 15 minutes, but really there’s no way to do that unless you use high heat, nearly burning the outsides of the pieces while the insides remain practically raw. For best flavor you want these to be caramel jam all the way through. For that, you need at least 45 minutes: stirring occasionally at first, then more frequently as they go a bit amber to prevent them sticking to the bottom of the pan. Last night ours took almost 90 minutes, but that’s partly because we were prepping 4 other dishes at the same time.

While the onions are going, you can prep stuff into bowls.

Bowl A:

  • 3-5 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped

Bowl B:

  • 1/2 c olives, kalamata, cracked green, or a mix, pitted and chopped
  • 3 small or 1 large preserved lemon, pulp & membranes removed, in strips
  • 1 c prunes, dried apricots, or a mix, roughly chopped

Bowl/Pitcher C:

  • 1 c chicken broth
  • 1 T honey

When the onions look pretty good, add a bit more oil if it looks dry and sweat the garlic with a pinch of salt. Then scrape all the alliums back into bowl A.

Add a bit more oil, turn up the heat and brown the chicken on both sides, then remove.

Deglaze briefly with a  bit of C, just to unstick the delightful bits.

Cover the bottom of the pan in the caramelized onions, add the chicken (darkest side up), then scatter B on top, and pour in C. If the liquid doesn’t come halfway up the chicken, add more.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer 1.5 hours, gently flipping chicken over and checking the liquid level every half hour or so. You could totally do this part in the oven (325-350F), if your skillets are ovenproof.

This can hold, simmering, almost indefinitely, and just gets more awesome. You can reduce the liquid to a syrupy sauce before serving if you like, or not.

Good over some sort of pilaf. Last night we did quinoa cooked with minced red bell pepper, cinnamon, and zante currants.