Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Ratio Rally! Gluten-Free, Vegan, Grain-Free Crackers


Mmmm...crackers.  Back in the day, it would be dangerous to leave me alone with a box of Triscuits, Wheat Thins, or Ritz crackers. Savory, salty, and quite satisfying to the carb monster that I was.  Nowadays, while I realize and appreciate that there are many gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan options out there, crackers are no longer my snack of choice, mostly because I'm no longer a carb monster, but also because most brands have a tendency towards being either too seedy or too starchy and carrying a hefty price tag.

Enter the Gluten-Free Ratio Rally "Cracker" Challenge. [cue reverb]


Now for those of you new to the Ratio Rally, allow me to explain.  The "ratio" bit refers to cooking/baking according to weight (ounces, grams) instead of volume (cups), a concept written about in detail by Michael Ruhlman, particularly in his book, Ratio.  This means of developing and communicating recipes by ratio and proportions helps to maximize not only consistency in duplicating and multiplying, but also provides a more reliable means of adapting recipes given different ingredients.  So back in February of 2011, Shauna James Ahern (aka gluten free girl) had the grand idea of assembling a legion of food bloggers from across the globe (the "rally" bit) to see if the baking ratios set forth by Michael Ruhlman would hold steady or need modification given the use of gluten-free flours.   

So every month, hosted by one of the "Ralliers," a different ratio is highlighted and on the first Wednesday of the month, we reveal our results of the past month's trials.  So for June, led by Rachel from The Crispy Cook, we tackled Crackers/Breadsticks.  

Now, technically, there is no ratio for crackers nor breadsticks set forth by Ruhlman.  We've been at it for over a year, so now that we've done nearly all the baking ratios covered in Ratio, we're venturing into "uncharted territory," which can either spell chaos or freedom.  I tend to see it as a little of both, and I like that: yin-yang.  For me, it's an opportunity to draw on my past, and the gluten-full foods I used to enjoy, and recreate them in ways that will satisfy my tastebuds while still honoring my body and its dietary boundaries.  

So my goal was to create a gluten-free, vegan, and grain-free cracker to regain my snacking affection.  

My 1st attempt: chipotle cinnamon on one side, fennel cumin on the other.

2nd trial: using peanut butter as the fat - easily the tastiest batch of all.




Most of the month was spent brainstorming and researching recipes.  I looked mainly at gluten-based recipes (because there tends to less variation among them) and found a trend of using up to twice as much flour/dry ingredients as wet ingredients, with some using fat and others not.  So I started there and started playing.  Since I wasn't looking for rise, my main concerns in choosing ingredients were flavor, structure, and binding.  Garbanzo, almond meal, psyllium husk, and agave were constant across the board as they contributed to one or all three aspects.  The ingredients I tinkered with across the trials were quinoa flour, coconut flour, extra virgin olive oil, and peanut butter.

Trial 3A: Without added fat.  More like flatbread squares.

Extra crispy rustic edges: the best part.

Fortunately, every batch was successful, so it came down to a matter of personal taste/preference more than anything.  Overall, I liked the third trial of crackers the most, for their heartiness and the way the coconut flour played up the garlic, cumin, & chipotle.  My roommates, who almost never like what I like, stayed true to form and liked the last trial best, subbing quinoa flour for the coconut flour and rolled extra thin.  So, since this blog is not just for me, I am going to present both recipes - almost the same but quite different.

My final ratio:  4 parts flour : 3 parts liquid : 1 part fat


Savory Spiced Crackers
Gluten-Free, Vegan, & Grain-Free

Version A (the one I liked):
Active Prep Time:  less than 5 minutes
Inactive Prep Time:  at least 1 hour
Baking Time:  25-35 minutes
Yield:  30-40 1" square crackers

2 oz or a generous 1/2 c almond flour
1 oz or 1/4 c garbanzo flour
1 oz or 1/4 c coconut flour
1 teaspoon whole psyllium husks 
1/3 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground chipotle

3 oz or 6 tablespoons warm water
1/4 oz or 2 teaspoons agave

1 oz or scant 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
(plus extra 1-2 teaspoons for greasing)
1-2 teaspoons sesame seeds to garnish


1.  Combine dry ingredients and spices in a medium sized mixing bowl and sift or whisk thoroughly.  Create a well in the center.
2.  Combine water and agave.  Gradually add wet ingredients to dry ingredients until it comes together in a  slightly moist, shaggy dough.  Initially it may seem too dry, but as you begin to work the dough with your hands, the flours will start absorbing the water and you'll soon be able to form it into a ball.  
3.  Cover and allow to rest at room temperature for one hour.  If it's hot or your intention is not to bake the crackers until much later, you can chill the dough; just make sure to allot sufficient time to let the dough temper before baking.
4.  When ready to bake the crackers, preheat oven to 325 degrees.
5.  Uncover dough ball and place on a clean, flat surface.  Flatten and begin to drizzle olive oil, a little at a time, as you flatten and then fold the dough, continuing to drizzle the oil and working it into the dough through multiple turns.  When the oil has been incorporated into dough, cut into two halves and set one half aside.  It is best to bake in two separate batches.  
6.  On a lined, insulated baking sheet (either parchment paper or silicone mat will do), roll the dough until it is about 1/8" thick.  Oil your rolling pin for best results and make sure you lightly oil both the bottom and top of the dough as well.  You can also place a piece of greased parchment paper on top of the dough and roll it through that if your dough is not behaving.
7.  Using either a pastry cutter or a lettuce knife, gently score the rolled dough into the shapes you would like.  Perforate each cracker with a fork to prevent them from puffing up.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds and lightly tap them into the surface to garnish.
8.  Bake for 20-25 minutes.  The edges will brown faster, try not to let that alarm you.  For a less crisp, light blonde cracker, you can finish with this step.  But for a crispier, dark golden cracker, I recommend removing them from the oven to let them cool for a few minutes, and then carefully breaking them apart before returning them to the oven for another 5-10 minutes.  Keep an eye on them; as individual crackers, they will brown much quicker.
9.  They will continue to crisp and firm up after they cool.  Best served on the same day, but if you dont' consume them all at once, store in a dry, airtight container for up to 2 days.

Adding water & agave to dry ingredients.

Shaggy & unruly at first, trust that it will come together.

Rolled out, garnished, and ready to go.

Delicious from any angle.



Version B (roommates' choice):
Active Prep Time: less than 5 minutes
Inactive Prep Time: at least 1 hour
Baking Time: 25-35 minutes
Yield: 30-40 1" square crackers

2 oz or 1/2 c garbanzo flour
1 oz or 1/4 c almond flour
1 oz or 1/4 c quinoa flour
1/3 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground chipotle

3 oz or 6 tablespoons warm water
1/4 oz or 2 teaspoons agave
1 oz or scant 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon whole psyllium husks

1-2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil for greasing
1-2 teaspoons sesame seeds to garnish

1.  Combine dry ingredients and spices in a medium sized mixing bowl and sift or whisk thoroughly.  Create a well in the center.
2.  Combine water, agave, and oil and stir to roughly combine.  Add psyllium husks and allow to hydrate for about about 5 minutes.  The mixture will become noticeably thicker. 
3.  When ready, give the wet ingredients a good stir and then gradually incorporate them into the dry ingredients.  The resulting dough will be soft and sticky.
4.  Cover and allow to rest at room temperature for one hour.  If it's hot or your intention is not to bake the crackers until much later, you can chill the dough; just make sure to allot sufficient time to let the dough temper before baking.
5.  When ready to bake the crackers, preheat oven to 325 degrees.
6.  Uncover dough ball and divide in half; it is best to bake in two separate batches.  Lightly oil the dough and place it in the center of a lined baking sheet (either parchment or silicone).  Roll the dough until it is about 1/8" thick.  Oil your rolling pin for best results.  You can also place a piece of greased parchment paper on top of the dough and roll it through that if your dough is not behaving.
7.  Using either a pastry cutter or a lettuce knife, gently score the rolled dough into the shapes you would like.  Perforate each cracker with a fork to prevent them from puffing up.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds and lightly tap them into the surface to garnish.
8.  Bake for 20-25 minutes.  The edges will brown faster, try not to let that alarm you.  For a less crisp, light blonde cracker, you can finish with this step.  But for a crispier, dark golden cracker, I recommend removing them from the oven to let them cool for a few minutes, and then carefully breaking them apart before returning them to the oven for another 5-10 minutes.  Keep an eye on them; as individual crackers, they will brown much quicker.
9.  They will continue to crisp and firm up after they cool.  Best served on the same day, but if you dont' consume them all at once, store in a dry, airtight container for up to 2 days.


Olive oil mixed in and psyllium husks hydrating.

Sticky at first, it's easier to work with after resting.

Easy way to keep your dough in check while rolling.

My roommates liked the crispness.  More like a 'cracker' they said.

There were so many things I loved about this month's Ratio Rally challenge.  First of all, learning how easy it is to make crackers.  So easy, unfussy, and relatively quick, which made doing multiple trials a breeze.  And just like the "Brownie" challenge from a couple months ago, I also enjoyed venturing off the 'beaten path' to discover new ratios on our own, not feeling like we had to prove or disprove a precedent.  It calls on me to put my "gluten-free baking thinking cap" on and use all my previous experience to choose ingredients and baking techniques to achieve my desired result.  And when I looked at the nutrition information, ingredient list, and price tag for a few of the more popular cracker brands, I was proud of how healthy, simple, and affordable both these recipes are in comparison.  When broken down by ingredient, making each batch of crackers cost just over two dollars.

Things I took away from this Rally challenge:
  • Low and slow is best regarding baking temperature.  At 350 degrees and up, you run the risk of overcooking and/or burning the outer crackers and undercooking all the crackers on the inside.
  • Resting the dough is not altogether necessary, but I found it produced noticeable differences in marrying the flavors of the different ingredients and promoting a much less grainy texture.
  • Some recipes for crackers call for just flour, water, and salt.   But fat definitely made a big difference using gluten-free flours, not only in making the dough more manageable before baking, but also with the flavor, the all-important 'crisp-factor,' and shelf-life after baking.
So, did these crackers win back my snacking affection?  Well, I'll say this much:  Over the four trials and the one hundred sixty or so crackers I baked, I easily ate about a third of them.  [smirk and a shrug]
 
Don't judge: You would, too.  :)

*******
Thanks again to Rachel from The Crispy Cook for hosting this month's challenge.  For more great gluten-free cracker offerings, please visit the links below.  Happy Snacking!

Angela / Angela's Kitchen / Crisp Breadsticks & Breadstick "Sparklers"
Claire / My Gluten Free Home / Seafaring Crackers
Heather / Discovering the Extraordinary / Grain-Free Zippy Garlic Crackers
Mary Fran / FrannyCakes / Cracked Pepper Crackers
Rachel / The Crispy Cook / Cilantro Crackers
T.R. / No One Likes Crumbley Cookies / Graham Crackers

12 comments:

  1. You are so thorough in your GF Ratio Rally posts, Jonathan. I can't wait to have you host a challenge because I know you will do so much imaginative experimenting.

    These crackers look really delicious. And crispy!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Rachel! I've never really thought about hosting, but with all the wonderful hosts as of late, I definitely have something to look forward to!

      Delete
  2. Glad you had success with your crackers! I'll definitely be using your cooking tips as I continue to experiment with gf crackers (they're still new to me!).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They're still new to me, too, Heather! And with all the possibilities and variables, I don't think they'll ever be not "new" - which is good, right? Hope the tips help. :)

      Delete
  3. 2 cracker recipes? You are one busy guy!

    Also, my link is wrong, I was copying and pasting links for too many things at once...the right link is http://frannycakes.com/recipes/ratio-rally-gluten-free-crackers/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yup - busy in the pursuit of delicious. ;)

      And re: the link, consider it fixed.

      Delete
  4. Hi Jonathan, I'm loving the peanut butter idea! I never thought about completely changing out the fat. The only two on my radar was oil and butter. You've opened up a new path for me to explore. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think you're going to love it - I know I did. The only thing that kept me from publishing it was the fact that it kind of muddied up the ratio. But trust that I will be making crackers again, subbing out the fat for peanut butter, almond butter, coconut butter...you get the picture. ;) So good.

      Delete
  5. I love how in-depth and informative your ratio rally results always are!! These look awesome, and I love that you posted both versions!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Jenn! It was really interesting/cool that slight changes in ingredients and technique made such pronounced differences - just had to share. Knowledge is power, and sharing that is what the Rally is all about. :)

      Delete
  6. I too miss the cracker snacking! I am anxious to try your recipes out!!

    ReplyDelete

Thank you so much for visiting The Canary Files. I hope you have enjoyed what you have read and seen. Your feedback is valuable to me and I read and reply to every single comment. So sincere thanks in advance for sharing not only your thoughts, but your time as well.

All the Best,
Jonathan

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