These are an excellent accompaniment to hors d’oeuvres or cheese boards for your casual entertaining.
Yields 1 sheet pan of crackers
1 ½ cups unbleached bread flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon instant yeast
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/3 to ½ cup water, at room temperature
Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, or kosher salt for topping
In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt, yeast, honey, oil and just enough water to bring everything together into a ball. You may not need the full ½ cup water, but be prepared to use it all if needed.
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. When a small piece of the dough is cut off and gently stretched and pulled, it should hold a paper-thin translucent membrane (commonly known as the windowpane test). The dough should be medium-firm, 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.
Ferment at room temperature for 90 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size. (You can retard the dough overnight in the refrigerator immediately after kneading.)
Mist a work surface lightly with oil and transfer the dough to the work surface. 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 inches by 12 inches. You may have to stop from time to time for the gluten to relax. If this becomes necessary, 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.
When the dough is at the desired thinness, let it sit on the work surface to relax for 5 minutes. Line a sheet pan with baking parchment. Carefully lift the sheet of dough and lay it on the parchment, trimming any excess dough that overlaps the edge of the pan.
Preheat the oven to 350° F with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Mist the top of the dough with water and sprinkle a covering of seeds or spices on the dough. You can use all of one seed or spice or alternate rows of seeds and spices.
[Chef’s Note: with spices, a little goes a long way, so use a deft hand and a gentle touch.]
If you want precut crackers, use a pizza cutter and cut diamonds or rectangles in the dough. You do not need to separate the pieces, they will snap apart after baking. If you want to make shards, bake the sheet of dough without cutting it first.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crackers begin to brown evenly across the top (the time will depend on how thinly and evenly you rolled the dough).
When the crackers are baked, remove the pan from the oven and let them cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. You can then snap them apart or snap off shards and serve.
You can make a softer variation, used for making roll-up pinwheel sandwiches, by rolling the dough a little thicker than described and slightly underbaking the uncut sheet, so that the cracker is stiff but not crackly crisp. When ready to make the roll-up, mist the cracker with water and it will magically soften within 3 to 5 minutes and be as workable as a flour tortilla.
The dough also makes a nice pita bread. Simply roll out 6 ounce pieces of the finished dough into 8-inch diameter circles, slightly less than ¼ inch thick, and bake them in a 500° F oven on a baking stone or on a sheet pan. Bake just until they inflate and form a pocket. Count to 10, then remove the breads from the oven with a peel or a spatula before they brown and crisp. When they cool (and slowly deflate), they can be cut in half and used for pocket sandwiches.
Adapted from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. Copyright © 2001 Peter Reinhart. Tested for The Gilded Fork™ by Donna Marie Zotter.