Daring Baker's Challenge: Lavash Crackers

I have a few confessions to make here: a) this challenge actually took place in September, 2) this is the inaugural gluten-free/vegan challenge for the Daring Baker's, and lastly) I am so not good at following the directions. Not only am I late, but I'm also not prepared to talk gluten-free or vegan. This time around I have to work with what I've got.

And what I've got is wheat flour, yeast, salt, honey, and oil. The makings of a cracker, I'd say (or at least according to Peter Reinhart in The Bread Baker's Apprentice). In fact, these crackers are just plain simple. Easy to make, no question. Something I'd make again, and intend to, especially the gluten-free version.

In a mixer with a dough hook, you'll hardly break a sweat. But, if I may, 10 minutes (or so) of kneading the old fashioned way, let me just say, Zen! Meditation with the reward of food; exercise and relaxation, wrapped into the same ball of dough. And truly, time isn't your guide here, it's in the windowpane test. After about 8 minutes, when I felt I just couldn't knead any more, the windowpane test failed (I couldn't stretch the bread without it breaking), and I knew I had to go on. That's when I relaxed, lost myself in the process, and continued to knead. Clears the mind, really.

I topped these lovely crackers with seeds of poppy, cumin, caraway, sesame, and nigella, even found some dukkah (not a bad word, doo-kah, but an Egyptian nut, seed and spice blend) hiding in my cupboard. All delicious, but the dukkah did win me over (there's a great recipe for this blend over at 101 Cookbooks).

So where's the vegan part of the challenge? In the accompaniments, of course. What would go better with a crisp flat bread than some hummus, baba ghanoush, or in this case, a little mock Boursin? Yes, in my non-vegan, casein-loving ways, I went cheese spread. Please forgive me, 'cause this stuff is damn good.

And so many thanks to this month's challenge makers Natalie of Gluten A Go Go (with the full gluten-free recipe) and Shelly of Musings from the Fishbowl (with the part gluten-free, part non-gluten-free recipe). Without them, I may never have discovered this simple and delicious recipe that helped me knead away my woes. And don't forget to check out all those other Daring Bakers...with their crackers and dips. Good stuff, I tell you.
And I soon as I can remember how I made it...I'll tell you all about the cheese.


When Life Gives You Sour Grapes

Welcome back. Or rather, sorry to keep you waiting. I won't mince words here: August was a tough month. And who am I kidding, where has September gone? In these past weeks, with many things to say, and no time to say it, came failed attempts at cooking up something worth talking about. There may have been a success (or two?), but we'll get into that another time.

As for the now, it's sour grapes. I have one rule when it comes to produce: if you've never before seen it, buy it. And that's how I came up with sour grapes. Clusters of firm, bright green jelly beans, they were. I snuck a taste; they snapped open between my teeth, quickly sending an acid-induced shock throughout my body. Good grief, what could I possibly do with these? Actually, I kinda liked it. Okay, I really liked it. They tasted like unsweetened sour candies in need of...sweetness.

After a brief investigation of these sour grapes, I found that they must have been none other than under ripe wine grapes, with which one could make verjus, a flavorful alternative to vinegar for use in savory sauces and the like. Still, sweeter is what I searched for, and I found not a shred of evidence that such a thing could be accomplished. And after these past months, I wasn't up for any more disappointments in my experimental efforts.

Jelly. I could do something with jelly. A cookie, a jelly-filled shortbread cookie, maybe a tart. Oh wait, I know, pâte de fruit. Sure, maybe it had taken a couple of days, and countless hours searching for the appropriate cookie recipe before it even dawned on me. But why not those jewel-like candies of firm fruit jelly dusted in sugar? Tart and sweet and not too firm by the end of it all (overly toothsome pâte de fruit I find unappealing, you should know). Perfect. Life's not so sour after all.

The sugar used for dusting is important. I used evaporated cane juice. Don't make the same mistake, it melts on the surface of the candies within minutes; use regular white cane sugar. And if you prefer, many pâte de fruit recipes out there call for pectin rather than gelatin (like this, and that).

Sour Grape Gelées
adapted from epicurious.com

½ pound sour grapes
4 (¼ ounce) envelopes unflavored gelatin
1 cup water
2 cups sugar plus additional for tossing

8-inch square nonstick baking pan, lightly oiled

Wash and stem grapes. Puree sour grapes in a food processor and transfer to a fine meshed strainer; press on solids to extract as much pulp as possible, leaving only skins behind. You should have ¾ cup of pulp in the end (add water or applesauce/apple puree to supplement if necessary).

Add the water to a 2-quart heavy saucepan; sprinkle the gleatin evenly over the surface of the water and let stand several minutes to soften. Heat gelatin over medium-low heat, stirring, until dissolved; add sugar and stir until dissolved.

Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat again to medium-low and boil, uncovered, without stirring, 13 minutes (watch carefully so that mixture does not boil over). Remove from heat and allow the mixture to stand for 5 minutes, skimming and foam that may remain on the surface. Stir in sour grape puree (do not scrape up any bits that may have settled on the bottom of the pan), and pour into the prepared baking pan. Let stand at room temperature until set, at least 12 hours.

Run a sharp knife around the edge of the gelatin and invert onto a cutting board. Cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips, then cut strips into 1-inch pieces. Just before serving, gently toss gelées in a bowl of sugar to coat, brushing off excess.

Gelées, without sugar coating, keep in an airtight container at cool room temperature 2 weeks.