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Vegan Pizza and Crackers: A Two for One Daring Bakers

Posted May 14 2009 5:01pm
Sadly, I missed last month's Daring Bakers challenge, a big first for DB that featured a completely vegan challenge (no 12 egg and 8 pints of cream recipe to veganize!) in the form of lavash crackers from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. Luckily, this month's challenge combines nicely with last's as it also features a Reinhart recipe, this one for a pizza dough. So here they are brought together in a two for one post special.

I love thin crust pizza dough and Peter Reinhart, whose book Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavors is going to be a major help in keeping my house warm and full of fresh baked bread this winter, so this was a good challenge for me to work with. The recipe for this dough, a very reliable crust that bakes up beautifully crisp with a chewy interior, can be found on this month's challenge host, Rosa's, Yummy Yums blog and it's well worth making, especially with these toppings.

I made two pizzas as per the challenge demands, both favorites that are extremely different. The first pizza, pictured in the shots above, is brushed well with strongly flavored Spanish olive oil and then layered with thin slices of local pear and spiced fennel sauage from the Artful Vegan, chopped rosemary from my garden and a sprinkling of balsamic vinegar and fresh grated black pepper. It's sweet and savory, rich and light, subtle and spicy all at once. This is a captivatingly different pizza that works really well as an appetizer done mini or as small wedges that are easily picked up.

For the second pizza, I did a much more traditional take and started with a homemade tomato sauce made simply with some red and gold heirloom tomatoes, roasted garlic, olive oil, salt and a tiny bit of agave. Then, a thin layer of tangy cashew ricotta, broiled eggplant, the last red pepper from the garden, wine-braised vidalia onions, fresh basil and semi-dried roma tomatoes completed the package.

For this dough I used a very fine milled Italian tipo 00 pizza flour which has a medium-high (11.5%-12.5%) gluten content. This flour is specially produced to make thin pizza crusts that stretch out nicely. Tipo 00 flour can also be specifically made for pastries and has a significantly lower gluten content, so it is important to make sure you are working with the right flour for the job. Sure, it's fussy, but this flour for this kind of pizza is worth trying as it creates the perfect base for a thin spread of great toppings.

Last month's challenge, hosted by Natalie from Gluten A Go Go and Shel of Musings From the Fishbow l, also gave me a chance to work with a new to me flour, King Arthur's European-Style Artisan Bread Flour. The major selling point of this flour is that it naturally encourages yeast production, so it will probably shine most when actually baking loaves with it, but it was a great flour for these tasty, rustic crackers too.

I've enjoyed making crackers before, but have always rolled the dough out and cut it into neat little cracker shapes. For this challenge, I wanted a more free form experience. Whenever I have a chance to get to a Armenian bakery in nearby Watertown, MA, I often get fresh lavash and soon after can be found with a vat of hummus or muhammara, ripping off bits of the bread and digging into the dips with it. So that is what I wanted from these crackers, large non-uniform pieces of crisp bread to scoop with.

The recipe made a sizeable batch of crackers, so I divided up the dough to experiment with lots of different topping combinations: za'tar and sesame oil, poppy seeds, black cumin and black Hawaiian sea salt, olive oil, urfa biber and black cumin, niora chili and celtic sea salt, Murray river sea salt, olive oil, aleppo chili and sesame seeds.

These crackers made great snacks eaten plain with salted slices of heirloom tomato covered in olive oil as well as with the simple caramelized vidalia dip I made to go with them. Made with a caramelized vidalia, 12 oz of fresh silken tofu, 1/4 cup raw cashews, 2 tablespoons of mellow white miso, 1 tablespoon of tahini and salt and pepper to taste, the dip was extremely rich and strong, a great thing to set out at a party with crackers like these and slices of fruit.

With a fridge drawer full of eggplant from the farmer's market, a quick eggplant dip also seemed in order. I scrubbed white, lavander and the classic dark purple eggplant and put them under the broiler until their skin was blackened and the flesh very soft.

Waiting just until the eggplant were cool enough to handle, I removed the seeds and skin, mixed the remaining flesh with toasted cumin, roasted garlic, lemon juice, unsweetened soy yogurt and some diced tomato. It wasn't the classic baba ganosh I usually make, but this mellower version seemed just right for eating warm with Middle Eastern spiced crackers.

Just because these Daring Baker's challenges were savory on the face of it didn't mean that a little sweet couldn't come to the table. I used two cracker toppings that lent themselves to a more dessertish application. The first was an olive oil cracker with lemon and orange zest which I topped with a sweet pistachio cheese (something that is still better in concept than execution at this point), a fresh fig half and dark raw agave. Though the cheese could still be better, this was a sophisticated little treat that anyone who likes figs would definitely enjoy.

My second dessert offering was this napoleon made with olive oil, anise seed and espresso powder crackers. The crackers were elevated by alternating layers of thin sliced sweet pistachio cheese, figs and chocolate sauce. Once I can get the pistachio cheese working out the way I envision it, this is going to be the dessert of my dreams. Until then, we'll see what sweet delight Daring Bakers pushes me toward in the next challenge.
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