Sunday, April 02, 2006

Stir it up

I prefer to post about our culinary successes, but there is a dark side to being adventurous in the kitchen. In our household, this category of dish is usually called "Mistake a la Joe." So I'm posting this in the hopes that sooner or later, a more experienced baker will find this post and tell me where I went wrong.

I wanted to make some munchies to take to our weekly happy hour. There's a recipe for "Seedy Crisps" in I'm Just Here for More Food which I'd been looking forward to trying, so I figured I'd give it a go. The recipe says it either makes thin "crispy crackers for snacking" or thicker "hearty crackers for dipping." Unfortunately, what I ended up with was something more like quarter-inch thick pita bread, and I'm stumped as to why.

Now, the major error I know is my own fault. I thought some Osaka Salt from World Merchants would be good. It's a mix of salt, sesame seeds, seaweed, and red pepper flake. Sounds like a nice cracker, right?

Unfortunately, Osaka Salt, as a good cook might guess from the name, is mostly salt, not mostly sesame seeds. So when I added 3 tablespoons of it to a recipe which called for 1.5 teaspoons of salt, things went wrong. Did you know that salt enhances the bitterness of pepper flake? Well, it seems to. So I've got an aggressively salty bitter-hot bread on my hands.

(In fairness, this would be very effective free bar food, in the vein of roasted peanuts or salty popcorn. That is to say, immediately after putting one in your mouth, you want to drink about a quarter-pint of beer.)

On further research, Alton and Shirley agree that salt aids gluten formation, which maybe helps explain the texture. Also, I notice that the cracker recipe in Cookwise specifies that it's a liquid-heavy dough. The Seedy Crisps recipe says to add water "just until the dough comes together," and that you might not use a full cup. I'm thinking I was a little stingy with the water... so does that instruction not mean what I think, or is it poorly phrased?

The recipe also says that the crackers should be "toasty brown", and I like my toast darker than a lot of people. The crackers didn't seem to be browning enough, so I gave them more time. That's probably where the unpleasant burnt sesame taste comes from.

Of course, the most likely reason I've got thick crackers is probably that I just didn't roll the dough out thin enough. I still wonder if I should've docked the dough or something, but it didn't really rise much.

I guess most of this can be chalked up to operator error, but I am curious whether anybody else is having trouble with More Food. The recipes we've tried out of Alton's other two books have all been fine, but this sure went badly, and Alton's "Phase III Biscuit" turns out this weird thing which is very tasty but definitely not a biscuit.

So if you have advice, questions, answers, sympathy, a joke... let me know.


Blogger tommyspoon said...

I think you answered your own question, but here's a tip from a former chef: When cooking anything for the first time, follow the recipe exactly as written. No substitutions, no derivations, no exceptions. In your case, I think the likely culprit may be the dried seaweed in that Osaka salt. It sounds like a great table condiment, not a great ingredient.

8:36 AM, April 03, 2006  
Anonymous swankette said...

I'd also be curious if you used the flour called for in the recipie. That can make a big difference in something like a cracker.

1:25 PM, April 03, 2006  
Blogger Joe said...

Tom: I hadn't considered that the seaweed might have rehydrated and stolen water or messed up the texture. I don't know what made me think this was a good time to improvise...

Swankette: yes, it called for whole wheat, and that's what I used. It's also what I floured the board with, and I'm wondering if that was wrong.

8:48 AM, April 04, 2006  
Anonymous Michael said...

<fierstein>Yeah, kid, you're gonna sell some Sparks.</fierstein>

8:45 PM, April 04, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

After a cooking disaster today, I googled "phase III biscuits" to see if it was just us who were having trouble with this recipe... it turned out this soggy mass which was so wet it tore through the wax paper. Just thought I'd let you know you're not the only person who's had trouble with it. We've got a first printing of More Food, and even before cooking with it, we noticed it was riddled with errors, which is a big disapointment--guess the book was hurried to the presses.

3:00 AM, December 26, 2006  
Blogger Sean said...

I'm just posting from the future to agree that the "Phase III Biscuit" is a bad recipe even in 2009.

8:52 AM, August 10, 2009  

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