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