Crisp Alternatives

As anyone who posesses a sourdough starter knows, they need feeding with regular applications of flour and water. After all, they are live yeast cultures. And, I have three. That’s a lot of feeding.

Plus, sourdough wisdom has it that only so much should be kept. If not used, the repeated feeding will eventually be insufficient to keep the bulk alive. In other words, if the starter becomes too large, there is not enough food to go around. Hence, the injunction to either use it or lose it. One can only make so much bread, so it does not come as a surprise that I always have an over abundance of starter. And, it seems to me a waste to simply discard the excess. Hence, my avid clipping and bookmarking of alternatives that can be made with sourdough – pizza bases, pancakes, crumpets, muffins, bagels, biscotti, crackers….you name it, I’ve filed it away for future reference.

So, naturally, when I was reading through a recent acquisition to my cookbook library, Scandinavian Baking by Trine Hahnemann, my antenae were attuned to look for recipes that either use sourdough starter or could be modified to use it. A good section of the book is taken up with breads, mostly those made with rye and many of these adaptable. But, what caught my attention was a subset of those bread recipes for that Scandinavian staple – thin, dry crispbreads. In many ways these crispbreads resemble that classic brand, Ryvita – rye based crispbread – that is now marketed worldwide. I’ve always (erroneously, it seems) associated Ryvita with Scandinavia when, in fact, the brand actually began life in Birmingham, England in the early 20th century.

In concept, Ryvita followed in the footsteps of two early 19th-century “health food” biscuits. In the US, the graham cracker was created as part of a diet designed by Reverend Sylvester Graham to promote healthy eating and suppress “carnal urges”. The similar British digestive biscuit was developed around the same time by Scottish doctors to aid digestion (hence the name). Ryvita, according to early advertisements, was particularly associated with fitness and slimming. These rye crispbreads projected an image of a healthy lifestyle like their early prototypes (the graham craker and digestive biscuit) as well as like their traditional Scandinavian counterparts.

rye_crispbread_feature

After reading through several of the recipes in Hahnemann’s book, I decided to make a crispbread using Sven, my 100% rye sourdough starter. Attempt one (which you see in the image above) went well and resulting crispbreads tasted much like Ryvita. So, sucess on that score. However, I felt that the texture was a bit too hard and reminded me why those detractors of Ryvita liken it to cardboard. So, attempt two, but only after doing a bit more investigation. The book Crackers & Dips by Ivy Manning provided me with some practical information. There is a reason why those Scandinavian crispbreads (and Ryvita) are thought to be healthy – there are no fats or sweeteners in the list of ingredients which typically include (apart from a levening agent) various wholegrain flours, grain flakes, seeds, and nuts.

It turns out that those fats and sweeteners improve not only the taste, but also the texture. Technically, the fats inhibit the gluten content to provide that crispness. This is also one of the reasons why my rye starter – which is far from glutenous as rye flour has a low protien content – oats (zero gluten content), and plain flour rather than bread flour are used in the recipe. Who knew there was this much complex food chemistry involved in producing a nice crisp cracker?

rye_crispbread_feature

Rye Seeded Crispbreads
Whatever you call them – crispbreads or crackers – these are delicious.

  • 200g freshly fed rye sourdough starter
  • 100g rolled oats
  • 50g water
  • 25g poppy seeds
  • 25g sunflower seeds
  • 25g pumpkin seeds
  • 60ml mild extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon honey
  • 50g plain (all-purpose) white flour
  • 50g stoneground rye flour
  • 5g salt

First measure out the sourdough starter, the oats and water. Mix these together in a bowl to form what looks like an oaty sludge.

rye-oat_sludge

Cover the bowl with clingfilm and let it rest for at least an hour. It will not hurt to let it sit longer. I left mine for 2 and a half hours. Meanwhile, measure out the seeds and set these aside.

seeds

When the “sludge” has rested, add the seeds and mix. Then measure the flours and add these as well as the salt, oil, and honey to the mixture. Mix until the flours have been incorporated. It will be a slightly sticky mass. Recover the bowl with clingfilm and let it rest for at least half an hour to increase pliability when rolled.

Preheat your oven to 190 degrees C. (non-fan assisted).

Liberally dust a board with more of the rye flour and decant the dough. Cut the dough in half and set one half aside while you roll out the other.

rye_crispbread_prep1

The dough should be rolled as thin as possible (2mm). Make sure that the dough, your rolling pin and the board are well dusted with rye flour. In order to prevent the dough from sticking, shift it in between rolls of the pin. You do not need to turn it over. Once thin enough, cut into shapes. Note that simple geometric shapes such as circles, squares, triangles and diamonds are best for even cooking. Scrapes can be reformed into a ball and rolled once more.

rye_crispbread_shaped

Place the shapes on a baking tray that has been lined with baking parchment. Prick them with the tines of a fork. This will aid them to lie flat.

rye_crispbread_ontray

Bake these in batches in the preheated oven for 12 – 15 minutes, flipping them onto their other side half way through. Cool on rack.

rye_crispbread_baked

Once cool, store in a air tight container. They will keep for about 2 weeks. Great as gifts.

P.S. Have a look at Dan Lepard’s rye crispbread recipe in his fabulous book, Short and Sweet. He does not use sourdough starter, but instead uses baking powder as a leavening agent. However, he does include fats (i.e. butter) and sugar. Thank you, Selma for mentioning Dan’s rye crispreads!

14 March 2015
 
Update on Crisp Alternatives
 
Further experiments produced an even crispier cracker by substituting the following in the recipe above:
1 Tablespoon of sugar for 1 Tablespoon honey
60g butter for the 60ml olive oil
 
The butter should be rubbed into the flours before adding to the other ingredients. Of course, the butter also adds to the flavour of the cracker and – in my opinion – brings out the taste of the rye.
 
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29 comments

  1. No more Ryvita for me! These look so healthy but in a yummy way. I must also deal with the excess sourdough- just managed to save it last week as I haven’t been eating so much bread, given the weather. I wish I could just yell out over the back fence for a taste of these.

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    • They were very good. Gone now – the boys nibbled on them constantly over the weekend, and then there was the batch I sent over to my taste testing friends. If I lived next to you, you definitely would have received some. I’m not sure how these would turn out with standard white flour starter – possibly too much gluten. I used my 100% rye starter (Sven) who is more gloppy than stringy. However, intend to make sourdough English muffins with my high-gluten Aussie white starter (Muriel) – I think she will adapt really well to these.

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  2. Thank you so much for this post – I have a HUGE starter growing in my kitchen right now, plus others in my fridge and I cannot bear to throw any of them away once I’ve grown them! I’ve made several different types of pancakes with them but I need other ideas too so this is great, thank you 😀 xx

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    • I, too, have been making a lot of pancakes! I must attempt some Derbyshire oatcakes (kind of soft oaty crumpets). And then there are regular crumpets and English muffins…. Have to go back to my Elizabeth David book on English breads since she includes a lot of historical recipes that might use sourdough.

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    • I don’t know of any one book, but like I mentioned in the previous comment, Elizabeth David might be worth looking through. Then there is Richard Bertinet’s book, Crust – one of my favourite cookbook authors. Dan Lepard’s Short & Sweet has a few interesting sourdough recipes. But, recommended to me by Anne @ Mud Splattered Boots was James Morton, Brilliant Breads – which contains a number of sourdough recipes including one for sourdough English muffins. For crispbreads / crackers, I think you have to take into consideration the gluten content of your starter. This is why I used Sven, my 100% rye starter.

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    • Family and friends are often lumbered with the task of eating various versions – ad nauseum sometimes. Love, love, love Polish pottery. I snap them up whenever I see them. But, then I am partial to blue!

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  3. This is a great idea for using excess starters. Thanks for all the work you put into it. I will be sure to take advantage of your findings.

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    • Glad to hear that someone else has a rye starter. It’s different from the normal starters. But, boy does it make good brown and rye breads! Although difficult to find other uses for it – unless you like rye pancakes.

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  4. Great idea! …i’d love these crackers! I got your mail and will send you mine soon, so you can update me in case you manage to dry your starter!
    Sometimes i don’t have time to bake and I feed my starter without using it, so I end up with a good amount of starter too and i found out also some recipes to use also the excess of starter, not freshly fed… Most of the recipes are for breadsticks or crackers, in case I try some i’ll let you know! …any good idea that can help us not waste pur sourdough is great 😉

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    • I made my own rye starter (“Sven”) about a year ago, just after the success I had with my first (a traditional levain) which I called “Vaso”. I followed the instructions in Dan Leader’s book, Bread Alone. Sven is 100% organic stoneground rye. It was a 4 day process – beginning with 85g rye flour mixed with 113g of spring water and a small pinch of yeast (to kick start the process). It was covered and placed in a warm spot for 24 hours. for the next three days, it was fed each day the same amount of rye flour and spring water, then covered and let to mature in a warm place. Over that time you will begin to see gas bubbles forming and there will be some expansion as a result. Some glutenous stands will form, but not as much as with white bread flour. Before using, feed it again – this time with 113g rye flour and 142g water (the maintenance regime done each time you use the starter). When making bread with Sven, I always add a good portion of white (high gluten) bread flour to compensate for rye’s low gluten content. At the moment I am testing some of Sven that I dried to see if it can be rejuvenated. If it works, would you like me to send you some? Email me at debi.harlan@googlemail.com

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  5. These look so amazing debi! I’ve always shyed away from creating a sourdough starter because I’m worried that I wouldn’t bake with it enough. How often do you use it? what do you do with it if you go away?

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    • Well, I bake at least twice a week – once certainly for a few loaves of bread. Then there is the weekly pizza. Because I’ve got a routine down, I no longer buy bread. If the starters are kept in the refrigerator (which slows down the yeast growth), they need to be fed once a week. Although I have left them for 2 weeks with no harm done. I think that after one or possibly two feeds, some of it has to be used. So, I’d estimate that you would need to bake one loaf or pizza bases once a week, or once every two weeks – or it can possibly be stretched out a bit longer. When going away, if you are concerned, the starters can be dried (spread out thinly on a silicon mat and then crumbled). I’m not sure how long they would last in their dry state, but quite a long time, I would think. It can then be revived by feeding the dried starter with water and flour. I’ve also know people to freeze their starters for months – with no ill effects. So, if you want to try making a starter, go ahead. There are ways of preserving it if not used regularly.

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  6. […] Of course, going back a stage in bread making, is the sourdough starter which also needs to be used on a regular basis. So, earlier in the month I was exploring uses for sourdough starter – that is, other than bread. Sven, my 100% rye starter was a bit of a problem, particularly if one does not care for rye pancakes, biscotti, crumpets or muffins. Rye would not be my choice of flour for these sorts of baked goods, although some of you might not feel the same – so, please go ahead and experiment with those rye pancakes. I was inspired by reading about rye crispbreads in Scandinavian Baking by Trine Hahnemann. Working with the low gluten properties of the rye starter, I came up with rye seeded crackers for a crisp alternative. […]

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