Sunday, August 07, 2011


Today I fixed the self-cleaning function of my oven. It was a quite simple fix, actually. Pop two screws off, and the entire front falls off the oven. When that happened I saw the problem immediately -- a shield that covers the front window when the oven is cleaning had jumped its track. I loosened up the track, put the shield back on track, tightened the tracks slightly closer together this time (because of normal wear and tear of a 20 year old oven), lifted the shield again, and it pushed the lever that had prevented the cleaning knob from operating. Put everything back together, figure out how to activate the self-cleaning function of the oven (no manual for a 20 year old oven!), and... success! A couple hours later I wiped ashes off the bottom of the oven. Nice and clean, no noxious chemicals involved (other than the natural gas my utility burned to generate the electricity that powered the self-cleaning cycle, heh!).

Next thing on my list was to attempt to bake hardtack. Getting the consistency of the dough correct is the most important part here, it has to be damp enough to stick together into a ball, but not so damp that it turns into a sticky mess. Yes, I put too much water my first attempt :). So next thing is, you're supposed to roll the ball of dough that you just got nicely damp into a flat square and cut it into squares. Uhm... you do know that if you roll a ball flat, it rolls into a *circle*, right? How are you supposed to cut *that* into squares?! So I plopped it down and tried to sort of shape it into a squareish thing before attacking it with the rolling pin. It ended up looking more like one of those ink blots that the stereotypical psychiatrists use in the jokes. I finally said Fuggit and cut it into squares and, uhm, "other" shapes (heh!) with a pizza cutter.

Anybody got advice for me on how to roll a ball of dough into a square? Oh yeah, the crackers. They're baking in the oven right now. It'll be interesting to see how they turn out.

* UPDATE * They're out of the oven now. The thin pieces overcooked. The thicker pieces taste like very dense saltine crackers, with a nice bready taste to them that the fluffy store-bought crackers don't have. They'll get harder after they finish cooling, at which point the only way to really eat them will be to dunk them in soup. If I can just figure out how to get that #$%@# dough the right consistency and thickness and rolled out consistently so I can slice it well into squares... hmm. Let's see, and if I want a slightly fluffier version, there's this other variant of the recipe that adds baking powder....

-- Badtux the Cooking Penguin


  1. My wife has made it her project to roll out the perfect pizza crust at home. Her rolling technique might help you. She puts the crust ball on a large section of wax paper and places a sheet of Saran wrap on top it. This provides a low-friction, non-stick rolling environment. She has to adjust the plastic wrap on the top occasionally as the dimensions expand. But if it can be done with something as sticky as pizza dough made with 00 flour, hardtack should be a breeze.

    As for the roundness of the shape, you can periodically fold back the edges to square it up. When it's rolled to the right thickness, cut the most squared-off section you can from the dough island. The excess bits that you've cut off can be combined and recompressed into another small piece of hardtack.

    I'm not sure why anyone would want to make hardtack. For soup? What's wrong with those cute, tiny, tasty octagonal crackers that are put in clam chowder? They were a big thing on the East Coast/New England, so might be foreign to you.

    But hardtack? Even my paranoid implosion-preparing self does not envision a hardtack future. A hard future, yes. There will be many tacky aspects to it. But if I was reduced to eating hardtack, I think I would jump off the nearest high bridge whose span had not been blown in the anarchy/civil wars. Life with food that shitty would not be worth living. "The Road" is not the kind of world I'd stick around for.

    And also, if I was reduced to eating hardtack, just about everyone else would already be dead of starvation. If I have seen the people I detest (i.e. Repiglicans, Christopaths, Gibberingtarians) die before me, I can commit suicide a happy man.

  2. Making a square or rectangle is not too hard. Pat your ball of dough out flat like you are going to make a don't have to go to the pizza flatness degree just far enough so that you can fold it in thirds. Fold one side over to the two thirds mark and the other side back over the first fold. Rotate 90 degrees and repeat and you should be close to a square. Let the dough rest a bit as you have excited all the gluten by the folding and then begin the rolling process. As you roll watch the edges and if they start to round fold them in to make a square edge and flatten these folds back into the dough. Flour and water is cheap so practice some. In addition, if you want to really develop the flavor, mix the dough one day and let it rest in the fridge for a day or two before you try and roll it. You'll be amazed at the difference the resting will make.

  3. The squares you speak of were likely cut by an industrial machine.
    At home you could look for a baking tray that fits the length of your rolling pin. That might also help to standardise the thickness of the product.
    Good Luck

  4. Why does it have to be square? Wasn't hardtack traditionally round with a big hole in the middle so it could be strung on poles suspended from a ceiling?

  5. I sometimes make "pilot crackers" which are a form of hardtack.
    Mix 2 cups all-purpose flour, 2 cups whole wheat flour, and 1 tsp salt. Form it into a dough using 1.5 cups of water.

    Let the dough rest for at least a half hour or even better overnight in the fridge. Spread it into a pan, prick it all over on top with a fork, and bake it for 50 minutes at 325 degrees F. If you don't think it is dry enough then lower the over to 250F and bake a while longer. If you want crackers then score the bread in the pan with a pizza cutter after the pricking part but I just break the finished loaf up into chunks.

  6. Bukko, this is for camping. Regular crackers turn into crumbles for camping, so I'm looking for something a bit denser and more durable but still tasty. BTW, I sampled some last night. Quite tasty, if also quite... irregularly shaped.

    Monk, I figured out my problem when I was looking at the directions again. I was trying to roll it too thin. I was supposed to stop at around 1" thick, but I went on and made it about 1/4" thick, thinking I was trying to make crackers, rather than small dense biscuits.

    w3ski, no, I was looking at a recipe that was intended for hand. They said use a cookie cutter to cut the dough into squares. But if the dough is basically in a big circle, you end up with lots of non-square pieces on the edges. Oops! But I think I have it figured out now.

    Nan, I don't know what you're talking about. I'm talking about hardtack biscuit or crackers as was carried by early explorers and issued by the U.S. Army all the way up until canned foods were introduced shortly before WW1. It was typically stored in kegs, not on a peg. Prior to industrial manufacturing making circles would not have been easy.

    Fallenmonk, yes, what you describe is pretty much what I did, except I tried to roll it too thin and I don't have any whole wheat flour so I used 100% all-purpose flour. Still turned out reasonably tasty. I bet if I do it your way (plus quit stressing the gluten so bloody much by trying to roll it thin!) it'll be really tasty.

    All -- thanks for the advice. I'll try to make another batch tonight -- the "right" way, hopefully. Luckily this seems to be a rather forgiving recipe.

    - Badtux the Cooking Penguin

  7. Dr. Badtux and Senoir Bukko:
    My thoughts exactly.
    While 'hardtack' may be authentic it is hardly nourishing.
    If you want an all purpose food try "pemecian" (?spelling?)
    Basically dried venison, huckle berries and pine nuts.
    Infinetely more edible than hardtack. And has more necessary vitamins and minerals. No scurvy!
    Not necessary to square it up and keeps if processed properly, nearly forever.
    No venison ?,dehydrate some beef, no Huckle Berrys ? use Dehdrated blue berrys or anything rich like that.
    I love 'pine nuts' but you could substitute say pecans, or maybe cashews.
    F those old cowboys, the Indians knew how to survive a hundered years or more before they got there.

  8. I first heard of hardtack as a lad while reading a book series called "The Great Brain"

    Haven't thought about those books for a while, and with just that one thought all of those tales came rushing back. Thanks for taking me back to those memories.

  9. w3ski, hardtack is just baked wheat flour and as such is 14% protein. Furthermore, it's a complementary protein -- i.e., it's amino acids not found in most other natural non-meat sources of protein such as beans. Finally, while the remainder of hardtack is empty calories, when you're hiking miles empty calories are not an issue. All in all, having tasted my fresh-baked crackers, I'm not at all worried about taste. It'll complement my bean soups that I like to eat on the trail quite well, thank you.

    Regarding Native Americans and what they ate, perhaps Eastern U.S. Native Americans ate what you describe, but here in the West, the staples of Native Americans were beans and corn, augmented with nuts and berries(in season) and meat when they could find it (but it was relatively rarer in the more desiccated areas of the west). Travelers would carry a pouch of beans and corn and prepare it as their meal. When the French Acadians arrived they adapted the basic concept of corn as a main dish from the Native Americans they met as Maque Choux, because wheat didn't grow in the damp areas of Louisiana they settled in. If the Native Americans had possessed wheat, however, I have no doubt at all that they would have been as happy hauling hardtack along as they were to haul parched corn along... wheat packs more punch than corn, and of course when you're slogging long distances on foot, calories are something you want, not something to avoid.

    - Badtux the Nutrition Penguin

  10. yeah, now you know why I buy the tortillas already made, lol. I can simmer just about anything, but baking? I get too creative with the ingredients. I made a cake with a cookie recipie one time :)

    Hmm, I didn't know what Maque choux was, but I've eaten it. Cornmeal was a staple for many of the new Americans, especially in the southern part of the US.

    I've read about gardening technique that the Native Americans used for thousands of years --

    You might like it?

    Celebrate the Three Sisters: Corn, Beans and Squash

  11. I'm thinking of traditional Scandinavian hardtack like Vasa used to sell. Now all their hardtack apparently comes in rectangular packages but it used to be round with a hole in the middle.

  12. PS, the people who inhabited the area where you live now had quite a varied diet -
    Ohlone people

  13. Pemmican is definitely from native americans but more north then east - Dakotas, Minnesota, Manitoba and beyond toward the Great lakes region. It is an anglicized Cree word for fat.



Ground rules: Comments that consist solely of insults, fact-free talking points, are off-topic, or simply spam the same argument over and over will be deleted. The penguin is the only one allowed to be an ass here. All viewpoints, however, are welcomed, even if I disagree vehemently with you.

WARNING: You are entitled to create your own arguments, but you are NOT entitled to create your own facts. If you spew scientific denialism, or insist that the sky is purple, or otherwise insist that your made-up universe of pink unicorns and cotton candy trees is "real", well -- expect the banhammer.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.