You already know the secret (because you've read the title of this post), but as I sat in one of Atlanta's most delicious restaurants recently, I was mystified. I took the first bite of a rather simple looking cracker from the bread basket and my eyes grew extremely wide ..........
............ "What IS this?" I asked my husband. He took a bite, "WOW!" he said. There was a unique burst of flavor .............. that we just couldn't identify. When Layne, our sweet waitress came by, we asked her about the fabulous crackers. Her face lit up "Aren't they wonderful? Everyone seems to LOVE them!" ............. "Yes, but what is that delicious flavor?" She bent closer to share the big secret; "They're our Chili-Rubbed Flatbread, we make flatbread and brush it with chili oil before baking". My "tape recorder" mind was running .................
................ that was two weeks ago and I haven't been able to forget the delightful crackers since. This week, I couldn't stand it any longer and I decided to try my own rendition. I checked my pantry and saw that I had all the ingredients I'd need .............. except for the chili oil. I knew that Whole Foods would most likely have it in stock, so I stopped there on my way home from work. I had my hand on the $6 bottle of oil when suddenly, there came an "Ah ha!" moment; a practical little voice in my head said "Why would you pay $6 for a bottle of oil that you could probably make for almost nothing?". Good question, why would I?
I set the bottle right back on the shelf, scurried home and checked out my friend, Mr Google. Sure enough there were a zillion recipes for chili oil. I checked out a few of them and realized there was nothing to it; heat up a neutral flavored oil, throw in some crushed red pepper or dried peppers, turn off the heat and let it sit. The longer it sits, the more of the delicious flavor gets infused into the oil. I quickly made a batch; it took less than five minutes and cost less than 50 cents.
Okay, so once the chili oil mystery was solved, I was on to the crackers themselves. I played around with some basic ingredients and came up with a simple, easy to prepare dough. It helps to have a heavy duty stand mixer, but they can certainly be made without one. After an hour rise, the dough is divided into peanut-sized pieces and rolled paper thin. A light brush of the chili oil and a scatter of sea salt is the final touch before a stint in a hot oven.
The result? Your family, friends and guests will take their first bite and say "What IS this?" and "WOW!" and they'll be begging YOU to share the secret ............... If you're tempted to smile and keep it to yourself, just remember, I told you, so it's only right that you pass on the delicious news.
P. S. These crackers make a wonderful appetizer with dips, spreads, hummus etc., but they're also perfect with soups and salads. I served them recently (in miniature size) with my Roasted Carrot & Coriander Soup w/ Toasted Pine Nut & Fresh Herb Gremolata ................. the only problem was that once we started eating them, we couldn't stop. I had to make another batch for this post .............. which wasn't such a bad thing ...........
Chili Oil Rubbed Flat Bread Crackers
¾ cup hot water, 110-115˚F** - I reccomend using a thermometer if you're not used to working with yeast
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
2 teaspoon sugar
2 cups all purpose flour plus more for rolling out the dough
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil***
½ teaspoon salt
chili oil, purchased or see recipe below
1. Combine water, yeast and sugar in a measuring cup and stir to dissolve. Let sit for about 5 minutes to activate yeast.
2. While yeast is activating, combine flour, salt and oil in the bowl of a stand mixer.
3. When yeast mixture is foamy add to flour in mixing bowl. Attach a kneading hook and knead for about 5 minutes. Dough should come together and form a ball. If too loose add a bit more flour, if too stiff add more water, a few drops at a time until a ball forms. (If you're making these without a mixer, combine flour and salt in a medium size mixing bowl. Add oil and activated yeast mixture and stir until well combined with a sturdy wooden spoon. Turn mixture out onto a floured work surface and knead until a ball forms. Continue to knead for another 6-8 minutes until dough is smooth and no longer sticky.
4. Drizzle a teaspoon of olive oil over dough ball and turn to coat. Cover mixing bowl with a clean kitchen towel and set in a warm place to rise. When dough has risen double in volume, punch down and turn out onto a well-floured work surface. Knead dough for about 30 seconds.
5. Preheat oven to 325˚F. Line 2-3 sheet pans with parchment paper.
5. Pinch or cut off peanut size pieces of dough, about 30-40, depending on size*.
6. With a flour coated rolling pin, on a well-floured surface, roll each piece of dough till paper thin*, turning several times to coat wit flour. When you think it's paper thin, roll one or two more times. The secret to rolling this thin is to keep your rolling pin and work surface well-floured, otherwise the dough will be sticky. Transfer rolled dough to prepared sheet pans and brush lightly with chili oil. Scatter lightly with sea salt or kosher salt.
7. Bake crackers for 8-10 minutes, rotating pans half way through or until pale golden brown and crisp. Remove from oven and transfer to cooking racks. Repeat if needed with the rest of the dough, allowing pans to cool between baking. Cool completely and store in a airtight container.
* ~ Shape can be elongated or rounded, but they do not have to be perfect. These should be somewhat rustic, irregular shaped crackers. Also crackers can be made larger or smaller. It just depends on how much dough you pinch off.
** ~ Recipes with yeast will often use the term "dissolve yeast in lukewarm water. 110-115˚F is NOT lukewarm to me. It's quite hot! You definitely don't want the water too hot, but if it's not hot enough, the yeast won't activate resulting in minimal rise. That's why I suggest using a thermometer if you're not used to working with yeast.
*** ~ If you like things really spicy, substitute chili oil for some of the olive oil.
This recipe is my own rendition, but was inspired by the crackers at Canoe Restaurant, Atlanta GA, with Chef Carvel Gould at the helm.
1 cup neutral-flavored oil, such as sunflower, safflower, canola or peanut oil
1½ tablespoons crushed red chili flakes
1. Place oil in a medium size sauce pan and heat over medium heat till oil is very hot, but not smoking. Test to see if oil is hot enough by adding one or two flakes of crushed red pepper. They should sizzle just a bit.
2. When oil is hot, add the crushed red pepper (it will sizzle a bit) and remove pot from the heat. Set aside to cool. When cool, transfer to a glass jar, cover and allow to sit at room temperature for 12-24 hours then refrigerate until ready to use.