A few years ago, in the midst of a long cold winter, I was feeling particularly gloomy. For some reason, nothing in life seemed to be going my way. I had relocated from France, I couldn’t settle. The French agent had given the new buyer my keys and he was already moving himself in before he paid me a penny ( or a euro or even a dime). The phone calls and emails in French were stretching my nerves to the limit – I tried the TV and remembered that Saturday night TV had been a great motivation for taking a job abroad in the first place.
I decided to do the wise thing and stop feeling sorry for myself and invite a few neighbours in for a drink in the spirit of hospitality. Having gone this far, I decided to bake some cheese biscuits to go with the red wine. Funny thing is, that as soon as I started I could feel my spirits lift. It was as though endorphins were rushing through my veins (or wherever they rush!)I took the delicious crumbly circles, topped with a nutty golden glaze and arranged them carefully in a shallow terracotta bowl. As I remember, the evening went OK the wine was drunk, the new neighbors didn’t fall out and all the biscuits disappeared. However, my new enthusiasm did not. I searched out more recipes and ideas either from memory of from my stack of old magazine clippings. I became what I can only describe as a fevered baker – no evening was complete without a batch of gingers or a harvest of florentines. My depression lifted in direct proportion to the number of new plastic boxes and glass jars I was compelled to buy.
During this fevered going nowhere but ‘having a better time’ phase in my life, I came across an article on crackers, digestives and oat biscuits in the Guardian. After all, these were multifunctional gems that could be eaten on their own, with cheese, smoked salmon, pate or alongside soup. Plus they would keep for days and days ( well a few days anyway!)
My first thrill was in the digestives – what splendid cheering items they were. You can eat them as they are – adorn them with cheese, even add to the decadence with a knob of butter. When the grandchildren come ( or any children ) they can help you coat them with chocolate! I was in bicky heaven. I made bucket-loads !f them. I made the oatcakes too – but somehow never ended up with what Bill Cowie was reputed to have created.
However after a slight setback in the oatcake department I was not to be deterred and went forward relentlessly to pursue the notion of Seedy Crackers. I’ve spent a lot of time in Italy and eaten an indecent number of their rustic crackers. I have always wanted to recreate the mix. I made several versions of the original recipe – but wanted to add more seeds and more olive oil. Finally I ended up with my own version – wonderfully enjoyable to make as the olive oil gives the dough plenty of stretch and you can roll them out until they are nearly membrane thin. (Unless of course you like your crackers chunkier- the choice is yours as ever ) The recipe is below
Bakesy’s Italian Style Seedy Crackers
250g plain flour (bread flour if you wish)
1/2tsp baking powder
2 large tbsp omega seed-mix (or make your own)
1 heaped tsp caraway seeds (or fennel )
1/2 tsp salt
60 ml olive oil
100 ml warm water
Preheat oven to 160 C/ 325 F/Gas mark 3 and brush three baking sheets lightly with olive oil. Mix the four, baking powder and salt. Add the seeds to the mix and stir round. Add the olive oil and mix, either with fingers (the truly wholesome earthy method) or with a machine ( the easy option for those not feeling so wholesome!) Once the oil has been absorbed, tip in the water and keep mixing until the dough becomes a whole. As the liquid impacts with the flour and baking powder, it will expand and become stretchy. At this point, stop and let it rest.
Roll out the dough until 5mm thick and stamp it into rounds (5 cm. works for me, but you can experiment) As the rounds sit on the counter, they will begin to puff out a little. Take a hefty rolling pin, a lightly floured board, and pressing hard begin to roll the circles until they become oval shapes. (the characteristic shape of Italian rustic crackers). The dough will be very compliant because of the olive oil. Enjoy the sensation as they expand and become more cracker-like. They will stretch much further than you imagine, so don’t worry about conformity or a regular size.
Pop them onto prepared trays ( you can use a spatula but hands are fine. )Bake for around 20 minutes. You might like to turn them over at 15 mins as sometimes they curl a little. They are essentially drying out in the oven and the result should be crisp but not much changed in colour. If you leave them too long, they will be golden – not the aim, but certainly edible!
Once cooked, leave on a rack to cool and then pack in airtight boxes. Eat with pate, cheese or whatever you fancy. They last as long as you can resist!
Wow – well I’ve finally made a start !