Today’s post is another food-related plastic dodge.
Don’t you just love crunchy food? I always eat cereals and granola dry so they retain their texture. The same goes for savoury crackers. The crunchier, the better.
But how hard it is to find eco-friendly crackers! Have you noticed that all mainstream cracker brands come wrapped in nasty inner plastic film that can’t be recycled?
The outside packaging gives false hope. It’s usually cardboard. And although not perfect, there’s often a recyclable tray inside too. Still a bit of false hope. But then your hopes are dashed.
Being a cracker fiend, that dastardly inner film had been bugging me for ages. There just had to be a way of getting plastic-free crackers.
But seemingly, there aren’t any in the shops. So, if you want eco-friendly crackers, there’s only one reliable option. On your marks. Get set. Baaaaaaake!
A double-whammy of waste dodging
Now, I’ve been making mediocre sourdough bread for a few years. Since mid-2018 when fermented foods were starting to become a thing. But I only bake it every month or so.
If you’ve ever dabbled in sourdough baking, you’ll know that starters require love and care. If you’ve no idea what I’m on about, a starter is a pale-coloured, bubbly mix of flour and water that you use as a raising agent in place of yeast when making sourdough bread.
Starters are cultured. Not because they like going to museums. No, it’s all about the good bacteria they harbour. Studies have shown that a typical starter can contain round 50 species of lactic acid (mostly good old Lactobacillus) and more than 20 species of yeast. Most of this comes from the flour you use, not your kitchen.
Although they’re reasonably robust, starters have a bad rep for being high maintenance. You’re supposed to remove some of the mixture every few days (every day if you’re super keen) and replace it with more flour and water. All to feed the microbes and keep them alive.
But what to do with the spoonfuls you scoop away each time? AKA, the “discard”. Despite its official name, chucking this mixture away each time would be such a waste.
Thankfully there are some delicious ways to use it, none of which are as tricky or time-consuming as making sourdough bread. I’ll share more of these in future posts.
The beauty of baking with the discard itself is you’ll be avoiding plastic as well as preventing food waste. So it’s a double win.
Crackers about plastic-free crackers
The recipe I turn to for sourdough discard crackers is from the Baked blog.
I’ve found it to be very flexible and forgiving. You can play around with the add-ins. As an example, I love to put za’atar in the actual dough, rather than on top.
I also like to press in sea salt or black or white sesame seeds on top of the raw dough before baking. Dried crumbled rosemary is good too or even just dried mixed herbs. Whatever you fancy, really.
You just need to mix everything up in a bowl by hand until you get a smooth dough. Then divide into two and roll each batch out onto some greaseproof paper. As thin as you can get it.
The best way to slice the dough before baking is to use a pizza cutter if you have one.
I like to make two sizes of cracker each time. One’s really small around the edges – about 2cm x 1cm. I then create the larger crackers in the centre of the dough – about 5cm x 3cm each.
You can play around with whatever works best for you. Of course, the larger the crackers, the more oven time they’ll need.
How to get the perfect bake
One thing that’s key to getting really crunchy sourdough crackers that store well is to ensure they’re properly baked through. This means taking them out of the oven every five minutes or so after the first ten minutes of baking and tapping or pressing them with a spatula.
The smaller crackers around the edges bake more quickly so tap each one of these first. Even if it looks golden, if the cracker still has any “give” when you press down on it, it’s not ready yet.
Crackers you can tap without movement in the dough are ready so you can remove those crackers from the baking tray and leave on a plate to cool. You can then place the others back in the oven.
Be sure to keep a close eye as the remaining crackers can burn really quickly. Trust me, acrid sourdough crackers are pretty horrible.
Once they’ve all baked and cooled, the crackers will last for ages in a glass jar in the cupboard. Glass is better as it means they’ll retain their crunch.
The longest I’ve kept the crackers for has been about two months. I find they don’t stick around for much more than a week anyway because they’re so addictive.
Worth going the extra mile for
You might think, why bother with all that starter faff? Why not just bake standard crackers without using discard?
Well, the sourdough tang really works well in the crackers. And being a fermented food, the good bacteria means crackers made with discard are great for your gut and overall health too.
Even if you don’t routinely make sourdough bread, you could get a small jar of starter going just to make these crackers every month or so.
Aside from having to feed the starter every week or so, it wouldn’t require a massive amount of care. And it shouldn’t go mouldy. If it did, you’d know pretty quickly because it would smell and look very bad.
As long as you wash and sterilise the jar before use (ideally leave it to dry in an oven at around 150 degrees), you shouldn’t have any issues.
If you’re new to the concept of sourdough baking and want to find out more, including how to make a starter, Hobbs House Bakery has some great advice and tips online.
Why not give the crackers a go and let me know what you think in the comments below? And if you have any other sourdough discard recipes that you like, please do share.