Thursday, May 11, 2006

Try, Try Again

The initial title for this post was "More Than One Way To Skin a Cat," but it will not surprise regular readers to learn that when I thought about that title, I began to wonder whether it was really true. My experience with cat skinning is extremely limited (full disclosure: I am more of a dog person than a cat person, but I like them both, and why do I feel like I've typed these very words before on this very blog of all places?), but it seemed likely to me that the cat-skinning industry had come up with the most efficient method, so that there might really be only way. Or, I said to myself, there might really not be any good way at all, and if I put "How to skin a cat" into Google, I might not get any hits at all.

This, reader, is an exercise you do not want to do for yourself. While you might be favorably impressed by the sheer magnitude of thought that has been put into the question of how to skin a cat and the trouble that has been taken to post some of that thought on the Internet, the actual information you will find is generally not edifying. (I will admit to being mildly intrigued at stumbling across the Husker Du song with that name, but only because I had a college roommate who was very fond of Husker Du, and he would have liked it a lot. We must hope that his tastes have since matured.)

Anyway, despite the number of eyes that have been rolling in the anapestic household, I have not been able to set aside the notion of recreating the flatbread that I spoke of in my most recent post. It has been on my mind to one degree or another for much of the past week. I had decided that there was something fundamentally flawed with the approach that I had been taking, but an alternative did not occur to me until this morning when it occurred to me that the texture of the Pazo flatbread was similar (though not identical) to the texture of my thin biscotti. I reasoned that perhaps if I adjusted my basic biscotti recipe, I could either come up with a base for the flatbread or come up with a suitable substitute for the whole flatbread.

Because the Pazo flatbread comes in rectangles about the size of half a graham cracker, I had originally tried to make it in a big sheet and then cut it up. And when I first thought about making biscotti, I wondered whether I could form the biscotti dough into rectangular solids for the first baking and then slice the solids horizontally to make relatively large sheets from which to cut the individual crackers. I eventually abandoned this idea as impracticable, reasoning that while the traditional biscotti shape is not exactly the same as the piece that I was inspired by, the shape is somewhat malleable, and a cracker that was basically an oval would still taste as good.

Because of the difficulty of coating individual thin biscotti with caramel and adding the sunflower seeds, I decided to work the sunflower seeds directly into the dough and hope that the result was close enough. The Pazo flatbread, after all, is only mildly sweet, and I have been working at keeping my sugar consumption down lately.

I wanted something darker this time around, and while I knew that using the darker whole wheat flour would get me part of the way there, I would need something else to intensify the darkness. I thought of using dark corn syrup or molasses, but the biscotti dough tends to be sufficiently sticky without any additional help, so I decided to add some prunes.

I have found, reader, that there are moments when it is wise not to inquire too closely into the way my fevered brain works. This seemed to be one of those moments, and I decided to trust my instincts.

The resulting baked goods (I still have no title) are certainly not the same as the Pazo flatbread/cracker, but I am nonetheless uncommonly pleased with them. They are crunchy, substantial, flavorful, and mildly sweet. They are also loaded with sunflowery goodness. They would, I believe, make an excellent accompaniment to coffee or tea, into which they could be dunked, or not, depending on how you're feeling at the moment. They will probably not stop me from trying to figure out exactly what it is that they serve at Pazo, but they will keep me, for the moment, from trying other approaches.

Baked Goods

1/2 cup sugar
6 prunes
2 cups whole wheat flour
pinch salt
3/4 t. baking soda
3 eggs
1.5 cups roasted, unsalted sunflower seeds

Preheat oven to 340 degrees. Either line a baking sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper, or grease and flour it.

Combine the sugar and prunes in the food processor and process until the prunes are finely ground. Put the sugar and prunes into the bowl of your Kitchenaid and add flour, salt, and baking soda. Turn the mixer on low and add the eggs, one at a time. When they are well integrated, and with the mixer still running, add the sunflower seeds. If the mixture does not gather itself into a dough, add water, a tablespoon or less at a time, until it does.

Divide the dough into halves and shape each half into a log about fourteen inches long by two inches wide. Put the logs on the prepared baking pan, leaving at least three inches between them.

Bake for about forty minutes. Remove the logs from the oven and let cool for twenty minutes (or longer). Make a slice through each log, at about a forty-five degree angle. Then slice each log thinly, on the same angle. Lay the slices flat on two cookie sheets and return to the oven for about another twenty minutes, or until they are as crisp as you like them. Let cool completely before storing.

Because of the whole wheat flour, this dough requires significantly more moisture than my standard biscotti recipe requires. In that recipe, three large eggs usually provide plenty of moisture to make a slightly sticky dough. In this case, I used three extra large eggs, and the resulting mixture was nowhere near wet enough to be called dough. When you start adding the water, however, proceed with caution. It will seem much too dry and then very suddenly it will seem too wet. It takes a little while for the water to work itself throughout the dough, so wait between additions, or you will end up with a mess. You want the dough to be at least a little bit sticky, however. You can't really roll this dough into logs the same way you can with ordinary biscotti. You just have to do the best you can with your hands and then form it the rest of the way directly on the Silpat/parchment/prepared baking sheet. It is a good thing for you to get your hands messy in the kitchen, from time to time. Before the dough goes into the oven for the first time, it is rather unattractive. Do not be deceived by appearances.

I use my V-slicer to slice the biscotti. It does a pretty good job of making slices that are between 1/3-inch and 1/4-inch thick. There will always be some crumbling, but you can just eat the bits that don't make it into nice slices. They will be yummy.

Determining exactly how long to keep the logs in the oven for the first baking is always the hardest part. If they are too underbaked, the slicer will not work well on them, and if they're overbaked, they will just crumble entirely when you go to slice them. When they're ready to leave the oven after the first baking, the logs should keep their structural integrity when you pick them up from the baking pan, but they should not be too tough. This will be easier if you make your logs relatively high and narrow.

You can, of course, cut these by hand (or with an electric knife or an electric slicer). If you're going to cut them much thicker, then I think you may want to consider them more of a cookie and add a little more sweetener. I was very pleased with the way mine turned out, but I might swap out a bit of the sugar for a tablespoon of honey or molasses next time.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I used Whey Low instead of table sugar when I made these. I have never been able to tell the difference between Whey Low and white sugar in baked goods, so I went with the Whey Low because of its claims to be easier on your blood sugar and waistline than ordinary table sugar. I am slightly skeptical about these claims, but people I know who have looked into the matter more thoroughly than I have and who have a healthy respect for the scientific method believe that there is something to them. You can go here and see for yourself. (I receive no benefit if you follow that link and decide to order something.) You can use ordinary white sugar in the recipe, and I'm sure you'll get the same results. I think brown sugar would also work just fine.


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