Monday, 11 September 2017

Pesto crackers

I haven't blogged much recently. Sorry. Does it need an apology? If you have to ask...

I think one of the reasons is I'm less and less engaged with recipes. It's now a case of making stuff up and then constantly modifying. This means I'm less inclined to save the details. After five years of cooking, if not commercially, then fairly seriously, I'm at the point where I have enough experience to bring together ingredients to achieve my desired result. Well... sometimes.

I'm also sure now that what people need to learn is not recipes but techniques. You know the stuff about not giving some bloke a fish, but teaching him to (presumably, if you're an agri-multinational you then charge him for river access, rod licence and a bait permit)? Yeah, that. Know how to cook and you don't really need a recipe. Much better than following instructions without instinct.

So is this a recipe? Yes. Of course it is. I'll just get on with it while you chant 'hypocrite'.

As it was summer (kinda) I was serving lots of salad based starters: marinated courgettes, heritage tomatoes, crab and shaved fennel. All good but all lacking some textural contrast; some crunch. This cracker was the outcome of that lack. I often serve it in shards, stuck into cheese mousse (as below) but increasingly it was fun just to put a whole, uncut cracker in the middle of the table and let guests snap off what they wanted. Goes well with a smooth, light cheese such as a mild goat or especially ricotta; as a more cultured crouton. Obviously it's great with tomatoes. It works as a snack with drinks too; baked thicker and cut into small pieces.

I'm trying to find some British dairy based product to serve with it as so far it's all French or Italian. Phillip and Keith, the Tottenham whey wizards of Wildes Cheese (our local producers) have promised me a taste of something they call Young Brian. I'll let you know. (Loved the Roux film, chaps. "Don't you light those fires with me!")

Big Pesto Cracker/Biscuit.
Makes a big thin one about 45x25cm or a smaller fatter one

Mix in a bowl, 200g plain flour with a big grind of black pepper, pinch of cayenne, 40g finely grated parmesan, a big bunch of basil, very finely cut (at least one supermarket packet). Perhaps some parsley too. Better if you can find the pots of Greek Basil which seems more punchy and less wet when cut.

To this mix add 50ml of olive oil and slowly, slowly, just enough cold water to bring the mix together to make a dough. The amount will vary, depending on how much basil you used. You don't need to knead anything. Just ball it up to resemble something that will tolerate rolling later.

Wrap in clingfilm and rest in the fridge for at least an hour.

Roll between two sheets of kitchen silicone or baking paper. Flour the top of the dough first to make it easier to remove the top sheet. Roll out to around 45x25cm, about big enough to fill a full size oven baking tray. It should be less than the thickness of a pound coin. Or not. Look, thicker works too but will take longer, slower baking.

Before you bake, prick holes all over with a fork or, better still, a pastry pricker (looks like something you buy in a BDSM shop). This stops random bubbles forming. Finally, add a high handed but sparse sprinkle of sea salt, not table salt. This looks attractive and adds another punch and crunch.
Sub or dom?

If you want to make shaped crackers I tend to bake the dough halfway then remove and cut shapes or just slice into squares with a long knife. Doing it this way avoids any drag with knives or cutters than can shame the shape. Place back into the oven to finish.

For thin crackers you need about 15 minutes at 200°C. For thick maybe 25 at 180°C. The important thing is to take them out when they SMELL cooked. They should be golden brown with darkening edges. You might want to turn the tray at the mid point to even out the bake. All ovens have weird air flows, with some sides hotter than others. The higher the bake, the more crunch and flavour but leave them too long and you'll have bitter biscuits.

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