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The name is spoken in hushed, reverent tones, like a prayer.
It rolls off the tongue, the third syllable stressed and elongated, like a Gregorian chant.
Foodies who were lucky enough to receive a copy of Ottolenghi or Jerusalem or Plenty for Christmas felt blessed from on high. As if God himself had penned the words, tested the recipes and taken the photographs.
What is it about the name? What is it about a take-away shop that quietly opened in Notting Hill in London and gave birth to three more?
Perhaps it’s the magic of a Jew (Yotam Ottolenghi) and an Arab (Sami Tamimi) growing up in the same city and then meeting by chance in London, forging a relationship and starting a quiet food revolution. Maybe God really did write this story.
Here’s what I think.
When cooks are skilled enough to get out of the way and let the ingredients speak for themselves, magic happens. When the cook’s highest goal is to elevate an ingredient rather than feed his ego, diners benefit and people take notice.
In my estimation, there should be no celebrity chefs. The food itself should be the celebrity. The secret to creating magical food is in knowing food already is magical and then getting out of the way.
Whatever the main ingredient–peaches, eggplant, figs or flour–Ottolenghi coaxes the best from it all for us to enjoy.
Nadine’s church celebrates the sacrament of Communion four times a year, and I make the bread. For my friend, I make sure that aside from the spiritual anticipation congregants might enjoy, there is also a physical anticipation. A wonder. What kind of bread will serve as our communion bread this time? What ingredients will it contain that have special significance and tie into the lesson for the day? Nadine and I enjoy putting our heads together to provide breads that are tasty and significant in some way. Hopefully they bring an added dimension of joy and meaning to the sacrament.
In October I made whole wheat crackers for communion. The crackers were such a hit that the congregation spoke up and told Nadine that they would like More of That. I was happy to make more, but since we don’t like to present the same bread twice, I turned to Ottolenghi and his Olive Oil Crackers.
Communion was on January 6th, or King’s Day, Epiphany. Kingly spices were called for, so I steeped saffron in the water for the dough and sprinkled the crackers with Citrus Fennel Sea Salt from Pollen Ranch.I made small 2 gram crackers for communion and made several large 20 gram crackers for The Beloved and me and Nadine and her husband to snack upon. They were enjoyed by all. I hope you enjoy them as well.
- ⅔ cup hot water
- large pinch of saffron threads
- 1½ cups all purpose flour
- ½ cup whole wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2½ Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing
- Citrus Fennel Pollen Sea Salt, for sprinkling (or herbs/spices of your choice)
- Steep the saffron threads in the hot water until the water is at room temperature.
- Whisk together the all purpose flour, whole wheat flour, baking powder and fine sea salt.
- In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the saffron water, the flour mixture and the olive oil.
- Mix on low until all the water is absorbed and the dough holds together in a fairly firm but smooth dough. If the dough is crumbly, add water, just a little at a time and mixing well in between, until the dough comes together.
- Knead for about 6-7 minutes on medium.
- Form the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour.
- Set two oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of your oven, and preheat to 425F.
- Line two baking sheets with parchment or Silpat and set aside.
- You can either roll large sheets of dough out as thinly as you can and then cut them into your desired shapes with a pizza cutter or scale the dough into whatever size you want and roll it into individual crackers, either bite-sized (2-3 grams or so) or large enough to break, (20-25 grams or so). Again, make sure to roll these as thinly as you can to get crisp rather than crunchy crackers.
- Keep your extra dough covered.
- Place the crackers on the baking sheets–they don’t need much room between them at all.
- Lightly brush the crackers with olive oil and sprinkle with the citrus fennel pollen sea salt (or whatever herbs or spices you prefer).
- Bake for 2-3 minutes and then switch the pans and bake for another 1-3 minutes, depending on the size. Smaller crackers will only take about 4 minutes to bake while larger ones can take up to 6-7 minutes. Finished crackers will appear almost blistered and have deep golden brown edges. Watch them carefully and remove to a cooling rack as soon as they are done. Even crackers of the same size on the same sheet might not all get done at the same time, so watch them carefully.
- Once completely cool, store in an air-tight container for up to 3 days. If it is humid and/or the crackers get at all soft, re-crisp them in a 250F oven for about 5 minutes.
Have a lovely day.