When I wrote about our Christmas treats yesterday, I promised to come back with the recipe for lavash crackers, the Armenian flatbread that my husband loves to bake (and we all love to eat!). These are a really delightful crunchy cracker covered in seeds and spices that is essentially free form and pairs well with everything from cheeses and dips to nothing at all. They would be great with any meal requiring something bready for mopping up sauces too.
The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart is a much-loved tome in our kitchen, having been given to my husband by my oldest, dearest friend some years ago. It’s his bible for breadmaking and where he sources everything from ciabatta to cinnamon buns to these crackers. Actually, he occasionally makes things not beginning with the letter ‘c’ as well!
In his book, Peter Reinhart writes “Lavash, though usually called Armenian flatbread, also has Iranian roots and is now eaten throughout the Middle East and around the world. It is similar to the many other Middle Eastern and North African flatbreads known by different names, such as mankoush or mannaeesh (Lebanese), barbari (Iranian), khoubiz or khobz (Arabian), aiysh (Egyptian), kesret and mella (Tunisian), pide or pita (Turkish), and pideh (Armenian). The main difference between these breads is either how thick or thin the dough is rolled out, or the type of oven in which they are baked (or on which they are baked, as many of these breads are cooked on stones or red-hot pans with a convex surface).” He goes on to note that the key to crisp lavash is paper-thin dough, and we’ve discovered that for us the easiest way to achieve this is our pasta bike.
These crackers are always a hit with our youngest, as coming along at the key moment to help sprinkle on seeds and spices is just plain fun. We tend to favour the suggested sesame, poppy and caraway seeds, paprika, cumin and sea salt, but there is a whole world of seeds and spices out there that would be fantastic on lavash. Today, my husband rolled out his third batch of lavash in about ten days; we were out of parchment paper so he made do with some tinfoil.
Lavash Crackers from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart
Makes 1 sheet pan of crackers
1 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp instant yeast
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp vegetable oil (we use sunflower)
1/3 to 1/2 cup water (at room temperature)
Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, kosher salt
Method (with a few notes on how we tend to do things)
1. In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt, yeast, honey, oil and just enough water to bring everything together in a ball. You may not need the full 1/2 cup of water, but be prepared to use it all if it’s needed.
2. Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead for about 10 minutes or until the ingredients are evenly distributed. The dough should pass the windowpane test and register 77 to 88 degrees F (we never test for temperature!). The dough should be firmer than French bread dough but not quite as firm as bagel dough, satiny to the touch, not tacky, and supple enough to stretch when pulled. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap (we tend to use a dinner plate).
3. Ferment at room temperature for 90 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size. (You can also retard the dough overnight in the refrigerator immediately after kneading.)
4. Mist the counter lightly with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter. Press the dough into a square with your hand and dust the top of the dough lightly with flour. Roll it out with a rolling pin into a paper-thin sheet about 15 by 12 inches. (Note: this is where we prefer to use our pasta bike, in order to achieve those ultra thin pieces, and we aim to produce strips that are very similar in width). You may have to stop from time to time so the gluten can relax. At these times, lift the dough from the counter and wave it a little, and then lay it back down. Cover it with a towel or plastic wrap while it relaxes. Once you’ve created your squares or strips, allow the dough to relax for five minutes. Line a sheet with parchment paper (though foil will do in a pinch). Carefully lift the sheet of dough and lay it on the parchment. If it overlaps the edge of the pan, snip off the excess with scissors (again, with our pasta bike method, this generally isn’t an issue).
5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F with the rack in the middle. Mist the top of the dough with water and sprinkle with a covering of seeds and/or spices. Be careful with the spices; a little goes a long way. If you want precut crackers, use a pizza cutter or other curving blade and cut diamonds or rectangles. You do not need to separate the pieces as they will easily break apart after baking. If you want to make shards, bake the sheet of dough without cutting it first (we love this method best).
6. Bake for 12 to 17 minutes (Reinhart suggests 15 to 20; we find that 12 is often enough, but the important thing is to watch for browning, which is the key to doneness with this recipe, and it will depend on how evenly rolled and thin your dough is).
7. When the crackers are baked, remove the pan from the oven and let them cool in the pan for about ten minutes. You can then snap them apart or break into shards and serve.