This is a guest post from Susan Tenney of Wild Yeast & Just Baking.
Leader’s Rye-Fennel Crackerbread from far northern Italy was absolutely painless to make, a real treat to eat, and a welcome break from boules and batards. It wasn’t quite 100% crisp, but I’m more than willing to attribute that to baker error (like maybe underbaking a little, and forgetting to pierce them before baking.) And in under two hours from start to finish, there’s just no excuse not to try it again soon.
I confess I have not read Local Breads from cover to cover yet, but that appears well worth doing. Each chapter, and each recipe, is loaded with information about traditional regional European breads, their bakers, and baking techniques that are thoughtfully explained and illustrated.
- 450 g tepid water (70° – 78° F)
- 8 g instant yeast (Leader says this equals 1.5 t., but I calculate it at about 2.5 t. I weighed out and used the 8 g, but it seemed like a lot, so maybe the 1.5 t. is more correct.)
- 250 g rye flour, preferably finely ground (I used Giusto’s organic)
- 250 g unbleached bread flour (I used Giusto’s Golden Haven organic)
- 3 g (2 t.) ground fennel
- 1.5 g (1 t.) ground anise
- 10 g (1.5 t.) sea salt
- Prepare the oven. About 15 minutes before baking, place one rack in the upper third of the oven and a second rack in the middle position. Heat the oven to 400° F. [My regular bake setting is on the fritz – it’s always something! – so I used convection at 375° F.]
- Mix the dough. By hand: Pour the water into a large mixing bowl. With a rubber spatula, stir in the yeast, rye flour, bread flour, fennel, anise, and salt to make a stiff batter. Stir vigorously until you can see strands of gluten pulling away from the spoon, 7 to 8 minutes. By machine: Pour the water into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the yeast, rye flour, bread flour, fennel, anise, and salt. With the paddle attachment, stir the batter on low speed (2 on a KitchenAid mixer) until you can see strands of gluten pulling away from the paddle, 4 to 5 minutes. [I mixed a total of about 5 minutes in a KitchenAid, not including several stops to scrape the batter away from the paddle and the sides of the bowl.]
- Ferment the dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it stand at room temperature (70° to 75° F) until it puffs up slightly, 30 to 45 minutes.
- Shape the flatbreads. Dust 2 baking sheets with rye flour. Uncover the dough and scrape it onto a counter generously dusted with rye flour. With a bench scraper or chef’s knife, cut the dough into 8 equal pieces. Use a heavily floured rolling pin to roll each piece into a 6-inch round about ⅛-inch thick. [In keeping with the book’s photo of the bread, I also used my fingers to poke and stretch a hole in the round, although the written instructions did not call for this.] Place the flatbreads on the floured baking sheets, at least 2 inches apart. Poke them all over with a cake tester or skewer to keep them from rising too much. [I forgot to do this, and the breads puffed a little, like pitas. Also, again to match the book photo, I sprinkled the tops of the breads with fennel seeds, but I didn’t press them in firmly enough, and most of them fell off after baking.]
- Bake the flatbreads. Slide the baking sheets onto the oven racks. Bake until the breads have risen slightly and are nearly crisp, 20 to 25 minutes (switching the position of the baking sheets halfway through). They will not color significantly but will look barely toasted. [Because of the convection, I think, mine got to the barely-toasted stage, without swapping the sheets, in 19 minutes. In hindsight, this was probably a little short.] Turn off the oven and leave the baking sheets inside for 10 – 15 more minutes to crisp the bread. [Because the oven seemed very moist, I left the door cracked open for the first 10 minutes or so. And because they seemed to need a little more crisping, I left them in the off oven for a total of 30 minutes.]
- Cool and store the flatbreads. Remove the baking sheets to wire racks. The flatbreads will cool quickly. Store completely cooled flatbreads in airtight containers at room temperature for up to 1 month.