twirled

At 10:54 or so on Wednesday night, I started thinking about crackers. The thought was so engrossing, the interest so strong, that it took no more than three seconds after the notion entered my mind for me to say to the friend with whom I was chatting "I would really like some crackers."

I am a riveting conversationalist.

There were no crackers in the pantry, so to satisfy my desire would mean productivity on my part. Good sense and laziness thankfully won the day, and I managed to leave the kitchen neat and tidy that night.

In a stunning display of restraint, I held off until the morning. And thus, at 7:15 a.m. on Thursday a bowl of dough, dusted in flour and proofing quietly, rising and puffing proudly, resided on our counter. By noon, there would be Garlic Herb Bread Twists.

Please don't look at me like a crazy person, I know full well that a stick of bread may not be a cracker, per se, but they met our requirements with ease. I wasn't aiming for a crackers-and-cheese cracker, not a shingle demoted to the role of vehicle for something else. I wanted salt, crunch, a snack on its own that required no further accessory.

These fit the bill.

All they take is pizza dough, bought or homemade, laminated with parmesan, rosemary and thyme, salt and pepper. Cut and twirled into curling lengths, they receive a brush of garlic oil before they're into the oven. A second anointing as they come out of the heat, in my version the oil is cut with honey, and then a toss through a mix of Parmesan and parsley. Thoroughly coated, utterly habit-forming, they're good to go.

I like the ones with some relative heft - their crust has a pleasing substance, and through the middle the crumb is spongy and dense for a satisfying chew. However, Sean prefers those stretched thin and allowed to crisp, so their crunch is not only at the edge but remains right on though. The one for him are the ones down below, gnarled and uneven, thoroughly golden and pleasurably snappy.

Eight hours is what it took from impulse to the making of these cracker-ish sticks, three hours from start to munching, and less than an afternoon for them to be gone. A pretty neat little timeline I'd say. In the name of efficiency, however, I think next time I won't bother waiting and set about making them right the very minute the craving strikes.

And strike it will, to be sure. Patience may be a virtue, but snacks are a necessity.

tips

GARLIC AND HERB BREAD STICKS

From Gourmet Magazine, July 2009. Since I have made changes to the ingredients and method, I've rewritten the recipe for ease. To bring further depth to the garlic oil, the garlic is steeped in warm oil to rid it of any harsh bite. I've also added a pour of honey, to round out and soften the piquancy of the cheese and garlic.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (2 ounces), divided
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 lb pizza dough, (or use store-bought)
  • A generous teaspoon honey
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

METHOD

Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C), with racks in the upper and lower thirds. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, and set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together rosemary, thyme, 1/4 cup cheese, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

In a small saucepan, stir together the olive oil and garlic. Place the pan over medium heat, and warm gently until the garlic starts to become fragrant. Do not cook the garlic or let it sizzle. Remove from the heat, stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and set aside to cool.

Divide the dough in half, covering one portion with a tea towel (not terry cloth). On a lightly-floured work surface and with a floured pin, roll out second portion to a rough rectangle measuring 15- by 10-inches.

Sprinkle half the herb mixture over the lower (crosswise) half of the dough. Fold the dough towards you, bringing the two top corners to the bottom, sealing in the herbs. Roll gently to bring the envelope of dough to a 10- by 8-inch rectangle. Using a knife or pizza wheel, cut the dough lengthways into 9 strips, each less than 1-inch in width. Twist each strip, turning from both ends, and place on one of the prepared baking sheets, each strip about 1 inch apart. Brush the strips with garlic oil, using 1 tablespoon divided amongst the 9. Set aside.

Repeat process, rolling out the reserved dough, sprinkling with the remaining herbs and cheese mixture, rolling again, cutting and shaping. Arrange these strips on the other baking sheet, and brush them with 1 tablespoon of oil divided between them. Set aside for 5 minutes.

Bake the twists in the preheated oven, rotating pans and switching positions halfway through, until golden brown and crisp. This should take between 20-25 minutes.

While the breadsticks bake, stir the honey into the remaining garlic oil. Sprinkle the remaining 3/4 cup cheese on a shallow baking pan along with the parsley.

When the breadsticks are done and still hot, brush lightly with the oil and honey. Immediately roll them in the cheese and parsley, until well coated. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 18.

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Authortara
Categoriessnack, baking
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If I close my eyes, I can conjure up the memory of my father sharing dried figs with my brother and me when we were little.

I cannot see Dad but I know he's there. We are rather young, as the image in my head is of our childhood home and not the house we moved to in later years. The edges of are a bit fuzzy, and the details are not all there. It is a moment tied to nothing specific, really. For all I know, it is not just one moment, but instead the layered culmination of the countless times we snacked on the honey-sweet fruit. But when I think of dried figs, I think of back then.

Those figs were plump hockey pucks, squat with fat, golden cheeks. Slightly flattened on top and bulging at the sides, speared through their centres and strung together like a wreath. You had to pry them apart from their neighbours, each bearing the impression of the next. Their skin was wrinkled and tough, resistant to be bitten, but giving way to the jammy pulp, gritty with seeds in the most delicious way. Sugary sand. They were toothsome, and as far as I was concerned, the only way one ate a fig.

It sounds silly to say, but I do not think of dried figs as often as I should. More often than not I am distracted by the lures of the fresh variety. Fresh figs are foxy little minxes. On the outside, they are mysterious and musky, with soft skin ranging from the palest green to the deepest black. On the inside, they reveal a flesh that can boast a strawberry blush or a claret stain. They are tempestuous, with only a brief window when they're are at their glorious, ripe peak. After that, it is a steep decline into decay, and the utmost despair.

To be frank, fresh figs are sexier; tearing one open feels like an act of abandon.

But dried figs are making a comeback around here. You see, dear reader, I am wholly besotted with figs that (for the sake of clarity) could be called semi-dried. They were labelled dried in the market, but are a whole other personality than those that I remember from years ago. These tawny darlings retain their flat-bottomed teardrop shape, but their taste is more concentrated than fresh; a deeply resiny, sticky sweetness is found beneath the only-slightly leathered skin. Truly figgy, through and through.

When I came across a recipe for Rosemary Raisin Pecan Crisps, my first thought was "yum!" as it is no secret that I am known to snack now and again. My second thought was "FIGS" all uppercase and grand, as I set about the task of integrating my new crush into the cobblestoned crackers. Swapping out walnuts for pecans as that was what was on hand, and thyme for the rosemary, the crisps were easily adapted to my fancy. The method is simple, requiring pretty much one bowl and a double-bake process similar to biscotti.

The result, a golden stack of crisps as beautiful as Moroccan tiles, each a mosaic of nuts, seeds and fruit. Unforgettably good.

FIG AND WALNUT CRISPS

Adapted from Julie, with thanks.

INGREDIENTS

  • softened butter for greasing pans, or nonstick spray
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup pepitas (green pumpkin seeds)
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 cup coarsely-chopped dried figs
  • 1/4 cup shelled sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup flax seed, bashed about in a mortar and pestle or pulsed in a spice grinder
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped

METHOD

Preheat oven to 350° F. Lightly grease two 8-by-4-inch loaf pans, or spray with a nonstick spray.

Spread the walnuts and pumpkin seeds on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven, stirring occasionally, for about 7-10 minutes until fragrant but without much colour. Remove from the baking sheet and into a bowl, then set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt. Add the buttermilk, brown sugar and honey and stir until combined. Add the reserved nuts and remaining ingredients and stir until just blended.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Bake until golden and puffed, about 45 minutes. When touched, the loaves should spring back immediately. Turn the loaves out of their pans to cool completely, right side up, on a wire rack.

The bread is easiest to slice when fully-cooled. Leave the loaves to rest at room temperate for a few hours or, following Julie's suggestion, once cooled wrap them well in clingfilm and pop them in the freezer. Once frozen, slice the loaves as thin as you can and place the slices in a single layer on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Reduce the oven heat to 300° F and bake them for about 15 minutes, then flip them over and bake for another 10 minutes, until crisp and deep golden. Cool completely on a wire rack, then store in an airtight container.

Makes about 8 dozen crackers.

Notes:

• I used a particularly robust dark honey, which caused the loaves to brown a bit quicker than expected. This was not a problem, but something to keep in mind. In the future, I think I will use a lighter honey, not only for the browning but also for a more subtle taste.

• Next time I make these (and there will most definitely be a next time), I am planning on using miniature loaf pans for a two-bite size.

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Authortara
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