Ivy Manning

Crackers & Dips: Ivy Manning's Latest Book (And Giveaway!)

Ivy's Skinny Mints

When I think about Ivy Manning's new book, I can't believe that I've been looking forward to seeing the final result since October of 2011.  Time seems both to linger and fly in waves, and looking back over the amount of time that has passed since I first became acquainted with Ivy and was welcomed into cookbook testing with vigor seems oddly surreal.  

Ivy and I have never met; we were introduced online by another online friend who I have actually met in person, Deena Prichep.  Last Thanksgiving, I looked forward to an evening dinner with Ivy as she visited her homeland of Wisconsin, but an unfortunate flu plagued her (and I was iffy about eating, being newly pregnant) and the opportunity slipped by, drowned under the weight of even more passing time.  The good thing about this passing time is that I know Ivy and I will one day finally sit down to supper together, and when dark days hit, I think about this with great anticipation.

I read a lot of cookbooks.  Some year, I should actually keep track and write them all down.  I've talked about this before, how my library was my greatest resource when I was somewhat economically challeged this past year. Kind souls have somehow graced me with copies of books found in thrift shops or book sales, even the occasional author sent me a review copy of a new work I really wanted, when even those $13 meager dollars sent to Amazon were going to be a stretch.  Good things have a way of making themselves available to those who really appreciate it I think...
Amaranth Crackers with Cheddar and Pepitas served with Roasted Tomatillo and Avocado Dip
 (Photo courtesy of Chronicle books.)
While things on the personal finance front are finally looking up, my bookshelves could quickly grow heavy with new titles that are worth owning, and Ivy's newest book is definitely among them.  Crackers & Dips:  More than 50 Handmade Snacks is a DIY foodist's dream: and I should know, because I got to make and taste firsthand quite a lot of the contents.  The books that usually find permanent residence in my house are the ones that I grab not only for inspiration, but because I know that the recipe will work on the first go - if I'm making it for the 20th time, or just last minute for company.  The other necessary criteria for cookbook ownership is beautiful design, and this book is also beautifully photographed and illustrated, a unique combination of photography (by Jenifer Altman) and chalk drawings (by Kristina Urquhart).  There might not be a better book suited for both gift-giving and practical use!  Every recipe in this book is going to work for you, for snacking, appeasing the kiddos, gift giving, or party-going.

A School of Fish Crackers (Gluten-Free!)
(Photo courtesy of Chronicle Books)

I decided that to celebrate the release of this book, I'd make one of the crackers that I didn't get a chance to test: the Skinny Mint Chocolate Grahams.  Billed as a dessert cracker, these would remind you of a much tastier version of the classic Girl Scout classic.  And after reading this article on the suspect ingredients in them, I feel all that much better to have a really good DIY version!

I love baking by weight, since it is much faster than measuring all the ingredients traditionally, and is more consistent.  This book has metric weights for all of the ingredients listed. I know that when doing my portion of the testing, I double checked the volume to metric ratio, so even if you bake by volume, you can be assured of a good result.
Skinny Mint Chocolate Grahams (Ivy Manning, Crackers & Dips: More Than 50 Handmade Snacks)
  • 14 T. (200 g.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 c. (100 g.) sugar
  • 2 T. honey
  • 1 1/2 t. peppermint extract
  • 1 1/2 c. (185 g.) all purpose flour
  • 1 c. (130 g.) whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 c. (30 g.) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. fine sea salt
  • 1 c. (170 g.) bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 1 t. canola oil
Preheat oven to 350 f. (180 c.).

Line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.  In the bowl of an electric mixer or in a large bowl using a handheld mixer, beat the butter, sugar, honey, and peppermint extract together until fluffy, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Sift both flours, the cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl.  Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix on low speed until the mixture forms moist crumbs; do not overmix.  Gather up the dough with your hands (it will come together when squeezed), and divide the dough into two equal-size pieces.  Form each piece of dough into a rectangle measuring 4x6 inches, cover in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 days.

Place a piece of parchment paper on a work surface and lightly dust it with all-purpose flour.  Place a portion of dough on the paper, dust it with flour and place a piece of plastic wrap over the dough.  Roll the dough out until it is 1/8" thick, picking up the plastic once or twice to make sure there are no creases in the dough.

Cut the dough into the desired shapes using cookie cutters, and use a lightly floured spatula or bench scraper to transfer the crackers to one of the prepared baking sheets; reserve and chill the scraps.  Prick each cracker a few times with a fork or comb and bake until they are crisp and smell chocolaty, 10-12 minutes, rotating the sheet once from front to back while baking.  Transfer the crackers to a cooling rack.

While the first batch of crackers is baking, repeat the rolling and cutting process with another ball of dough; the chilled scraps can be re-rolled once.

In a small microwave-safe bowl or a double boiler, melt the chocolate chips until smooth.  Remove from the heat and whisk in the canola oil.  Using an offset spatula, spread about 1/2 t. of the melted chocolate mixture over each cracker and place them on a baking sheet.  Refrigerate the graham crackers until the glaze is set, about 30 minutes.  Once the glaze has set, store the crackers in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Ivy's Skinny Mints
Ivy's Skinny Mints

In my whole foods kitchen, I successfully substituted sucanat for the sugar, and olive oil for the canola.  I also like to roll out the crackers directly on a silicone mat with a piece of plastic wrap over the top.  I found that I didn't need to use any additional flour that way.  I also cut the crackers into squares in part because I was a bit lazy, but also because there is less waste that way.  And besides, that way I get to nibble every ragged edge of chocolate mint graham cracker myself.

Ivy's Skinny Mints

So now for the fun part:  I was given a copy of this book to giveaway!  This is the first giveaway that I've had that didn't contain something that I made myself (Pomegranate Jelly or Candied Jalapenos), or something that I bought to giveaway (WMSE Rockabilly Chili Cookbook).  Historically, I am a small blog with a dedicated readership, so your chances to win this beautiful book are very good.  I wouldn't mind if you share the post and the word about Crackers & Dips with your friends however, because I know they would appreciate a homemade batch of crackers too.  To enter, just leave a comment below before midnight next Friday, May 17th.  I'll choose a winner using a Random Number Generator on Saturday the 18th, and post it here and on the CakeWalk facebook page.

I'll leave you with the image of my favorite recipe from the book:  another dessert cracker made with rich olive oil, orange blossom water and aniseed.

Spanish Olive Oil Tortas
(Photo courtesy of Chronicle Books)

This recipe is alone is worth the cover price, especially when you consider that a gourmet, wax papered bag of pretty Ines Rosales crisps costs quite a bit in specialty food markets... and isn't it so much better to make it yourself anyway?

Congratulations to Ivy Manning on a gorgeous accomplishment!

Disclaimer:  I did receive a copy of this book for review, and another to giveaway.  My opinions of this book are my own, well deserved, and are not embellished!

Daring Baker Challenge February 2013: Crispy Rye Crackers

Sarah from All Our Fingers in the Pie was our February 2013 Daring Bakers’ host and she challenges us to use our creativity in making our own Crisp Flatbreads and Crackers!

 Reinhart crackers.

Crackers are kind of near and dear to my heart.  Over the recent years, I've made more of them than ever before, in part because I was honored to be a part of recipe testing for a cookbook all about them!  The book Ivy Manning wrote called Crackers & Dips, is available now for preorder (the release is scheduled for early May), and you should definitely drop it into your cart right away, because I can tell you that the recipes are all solid additions to your kitchen DIY repertoire. 

More than a year ago I wrote about testing for Ivy, and my post included a recipe for crisp rye crackers that didn't make the cookbook cut.  I also mentioned that of all the things made at home, crackers are some of the things that impress people most.  For not a lot of effort, you have truly extraordinary (indeed nearly professional) results - results that don't include ridiculous amounts of fake ingredients or preservatives, and that keep a surprisingly long time if baked crisp and stored airtight.

Already a seasoned cracker producer, I decided to make a recipe straightforward that I'd never made before for the challenge this month, one that belongs to Peter Reinhart and also includes rye flour.  They are wholesome and slightly sweet, with good amounts of pumpkin and sunflower seeds.  I meant to get around to making a version with a bit of sourdough starter, but that will have to be on the future docket as time got away from me.

Reinhart crackers.

Reinhart gave both weight and conventional measurements, I haphazardly threw these together a couple of days before I baked using a combination of the two methods.  Resting in the fridge makes the dough easier to handle, and deepens the flavor slightly.  I'd wager it is better treatment of the grains as well, akin to soaking them.

Crispy Rye Crackers (very slightly adapted from Peter Reinhart, Artisan Breads Every Day)
  •   1/4 c. (42.5 g.) sunflower seeds
  •   1/4 c. (42.5 g.) pumpkin seeds
  •   3 T. (28.5 g.) flaxseeds  (or use 28 g. flax meal)
  •   6 T. (56.5 g.) sesame seeds
  •   1 1/4 c. (227 g.) rye flour
  •   1/4 t. kosher salt
  •   2 T. olive oil
  •   1 T. honey (or agave nectar)
  •   3/4 c. (170 g.) water, room temperature
  •   egg white wash (1 egg white beaten with 2 t. water) (optional sweet wash, noted below)
  •   mixed seeds for garnish  (I used poppy seed)
  •   kosher salt for garnish
In a spice or coffee grinder, grind sunflower and pumpkin seeds in pulses to make a powder or "meal" of them.  Separately, grind the flaxseeds - unless using flax meal.

In a large bowl, combine the seed, powders with the sesame seeds, rye flour, salt, oil, honey, and water.  Stir with a sturdy spoon until a dough comes together, then turn out onto a lightly floured (rye floured) surface a knead a few times to incorporate everything well.  The dough should be a bit tacky but not sticky.  You can roll and bake them right away or put the dough into an airtight container and let it rest in the fridge for up to a week.  It can also be wrapped well and stored in the freezer for a few months.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  Divide the dough into 3 or 4 parts.  Between sheets of parchment paper (or better, on a silicone baking mat), roll one part of dough as thin as you are able, about 1/16 inch thick.  (I like using a silicone mat with a pastry roller.  If using parchment or rolling conventionally, you may need to use a bit of flour to keep the dough from sticking.)

Using a pizza cutter, cut the crackers into your desired shape, I like diamonds that I don't bother to separate to eliminate any trace of waste.  Brush well with egg white wash (or sweet wash of 1 T. honey or agave beaten with 3 T. water), and sprinkle with a seed garnish and kosher salt.

Bake for 25-35 minutes, until the crackers are mostly crisp.  Remove the pan from the oven and let them cool for several minutes.  If you see some of the edge crackers done more thoroughly, remove them from the oven first and continue baking the rest until they are crisp.  (The crackers will firm up even more as they cool.)  If you bake the crackers, cool them, and then discover they are not quite crisp, return them to the oven for several minutes until they firm up.

Cool the crackers completely, then store airtight in glass jars where they will keep for at least a week, but probably longer.

Reinhart crackers.

I was surprised that both of my boys loved these and happily ate them with cheese.  I liked their nutty flavor, handsome appearance, wholesome snacking quality, and keeping power.  They are a great thing to reach for when packing a lunch or needing a snack.

Be sure to check out the Daring Baker website for more cracker recipes, and the Daring Baker Blogroll for more participating bakers and inspirational cracker ideas!

A New Direction and Ivy's Swedish Rye Crackers

I think it's curious that you can make almost anything from scratch, but nothing impresses people more than to tell them you made the crackers. It may be a preconceived notion that cracker origins are inexplicable: mystical, crisp things that elves or independent hippies in Vermont are lovingly packing into cardboard boxes. Maybe people consider that such things are not able to be made by human hands, but making preservative free, healthy snacks can become a rhythm backbone of the kitchen. Nothing is better than to open the pantry door and see a few jars of homemade crackers, fully deserving of your homemade dips, spreads, jams or jellies - things you can just pop out onto a plate when unexpected company arrives.

I really do enjoy making crackers, in fact I forgot how many different types I have tried and even posted about here until I searched 'crackers' in my blog search box on the right side of the page. I have some serious favorites, like the Gluten Free Multigrain Crackers or Alton Brown's Seedy Crisps - both of which are in regular rotation. Just as the school year began and I felt a lonely hole in my first few days of new solitary independence, my friend Deena emailed me and asked if I'd be interested in testing recipes, and if so if she might give my name to a friend of hers who was writing a cookbook all about crackers. I excitedly told her yes! Shortly after, I was acquainted with Ivy Manning, a cookbook author, recipe developer, and former Wisconsinite living now in Portland, Oregon.

Our first exchanges made me even more excited to be able to help. Ivy seemed oddly like me, living with a husband who is a "picky eater", fully passionate about food, and very busy. She began emailing me her recipes a few at a time, which I double checked for weights and volumes as I baked, and I tried to give her honest feedback about them. One of the first recipes I tested was for these slightly time consuming Swedish Rye Crackers - some that at the time I thought were good, but now they have grown on me so much I think I'll likely keep a batch around for emergencies on most occasions. They are very crisp, hard in fact, and they store like a dream. I've had the same batch in a half gallon canning jar for about a month and they only seem to improve. This week I ate them with a little of this incredible Walnut Lentil Pate, which I know I have mentioned before. As I ate them, I realized this cracker was the perfect pre-dinner munch, and they cemented my already warm feelings of rye flour.

Ivy decided not to use this version of Swedish Rye Crackers in her book, and granted me permission to post about them here, since I feel they deserve to have a special place in a cracker-maker's repertoire.

These are hard, crunchy crackers. If you are a fan of Rykrisp crackers or anything super crunchy, you will love them. Even though they have a good amount of rye flour, I feel like they are also distinctly wheaty in flavor. They are great for mopping up soup or mashed potatoes if you've forgotten the bread, and are good with jelly and peanut butter too - though personally I'd probably nix the caraway seeds if you plan on serving with something sweet.

Swedish Rye Crackers (Ivy Manning)
about 3 1/2 dozen crackers
  • 2 1/2 t. active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 c. warm water
  • 1 1/3 c. bread flour, plus additional for rolling
  • 1 t. fine sea salt
  • 2 1/3 c. rye flour
  • 2 t. caraway seeds (I only put seeds on about half the batch, they are good with or without as you prefer)
  • Kosher salt, for topping crackers
In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water. Add the bread flour, and beat with the paddle attachment on medium speed for 2 minutes, or 50 strokes with a wooden spoon if mixing by hand.

Stir in salt, and gradually add the rye flour. Beat on medium low speed for 4 minutes. If kneading by hand, transfer the dough to a large ziptop bag, squeeze out the air, seal bag, and knead for 6 minutes. Do not add additional flour. Turn the bag inside out to free the dough from the bag, it will be sticky.

Coat a large bowl with oil and add the dough. Cover with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise for 90 minutes in a warm place.

Preheat the oven to 375. Turn the dough out onto a lightly flour dusted surface and divide into three pieces. Gently pat the pieces into rectangles about 1/2 inch thick. Roll one piece of dough out until it's about 1/8 inch thick, picking up the dough and rotating it frequently to make sure it isn't sticking. using a pastry or pizza wheel, trim the irregular edges and cut the dough into 4x2 inch rectangles. Place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Repeat with remaining dough to fill a second baking sheet. Prick the crackers all over with a chopstick, then spray them lightly with water, sprinkle with caraway seeds (if using) and press them in lightly so they will adhere. Cover loosely with plastic wrap, and set aside for 30 minutes. (You can re-roll the scraps once.)

Uncover the crackers and bake, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back once during baking. Baking will take 25-35 minutes depending on the thinness of your cracker. (You can always take them out, and then re-bake them if you think they need to go longer.) The crackers should be browned around the edges, smell toasty, and be dry to the touch. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely, about 1 hour. Store in an airtight container for 2 weeks or longer...

(I baked a couple of 1/2 inch by 4 inch pieces of re-rolled dough scrap, and they puffed up hollow. Next time I make them, I may try cutting a whole tray full this way...)

So many times I wonder what I should be doing with myself. I really am content to be a homemaker, chronicling my adventures every so often so I can share some of my excitement with others. But sometimes I do get frustrated, I think I should be "gainfully employed", and then wonder what it is that I should be really be doing so that I can continue to enjoy myself as much as I have since I became a mother 5 years ago.

I know I'm not going to be the next Martha Stewart, but maybe I've found a niche in the behind the scenes of cookbook writing. This may be my first foray into this field, but it's one I hope I can figure out how to grow into more. It feels so good to see the the other side of the cookbook writing process, the amazing work that goes into it by an author, and the trials, successes and failures, and evolution of recipes. I have been reveling in cracker testing in part because it is a subject matter that is really appealing to me, but more because I feel good to be a bit unseen, a stealth baker who may just show up at your door with a little overflow of delicious kitchen bounty.

Now that Winter is on his way I feel I'll have so much more time to read, and I'm looking forward to reading more of Ivy's cookbooks: The Farm to Table Cookbook and The Adaptable Feast. Her book on crackers is scheduled for Spring 2013, but meanwhile you can find Ivy at her website. It's going to be a great book, just judging from my sneak peak testing... One recipe in particular I've made 3 times already, just because it was so delicious.

I look forward to the emails with little attachments, and like an archeologist who patiently brushes the sand away from stone bones, I have remember to discipline myself to follow instructions and be methodical. It's all a great lesson and learning experience, and I feel so thankful to have had it drop in my lap.