I have a rolling pin in my kitchen that I suspect is older than I am. It belonged to my Mom, and when she passed, I wordlessly picked it up, a flood of childhood memories racing through me; winter afternoons in our kitchen, the laminate tabletop covered in flour and pie tins at the ready. My sisters and I, our eyes eager, would watch our Mom as she pressed, turned, rolled and spun that rolling pin over a disc of fragrant pie dough. The pin whizzed as she pushed, a thwack on the counter as it dropped back on the dough, amidst the crackle of wax paper and the gentle song of a heating oven.
At the time, I was fairly certain that I wasn’t going to ever make pie dough from scratch again. That time of my life, long before the deeper understanding of food came along, wasn’t exactly all scratch pie dough material. It was more about sheer survival, especially now that my Mom had passed on, leaving me without that anchor in life just as I had become a mother myself. But that rolling pin was a treasure, and among the remaining siblings, the only one of us who would have been even close to using it was me. I took it home and tucked it away, forgetting about it as I buffered through my grief.
Whenever I moved, that rolling pin always went along, regardless of whether I was considering using it or not. I couldn’t even imagine giving it away. One spin sent the bearings whizzing, bringing back those memories, her face as she rolled out the dough and that easy sense of belonging that came on those afternoons as we all gathered to make pie. As old as the pin is, it spins effortlessly on those bearings, which I imagine are slick with time, endless applications of butter or shortening, and the amazing craftsmanship of many decades past. Nothing I have ever found since then can even compare. When I married Mike, he had a rolling pin too. I picked it up upon finding it and gave it a spin. It half-heartedly rotated a few times, then ground to a halt. Turning to him, I said ‘We don’t need this.’
The wood on the rolling pin is worn smooth. The handles, too. Like a well-seasoned pan, it’s beauty is in the ease of it’s use, as it just works without thought. And it makes a task like these seeded cracker breads almost effortless.
My time spent with this dough was meditative and sweet, amidst an empty house and a music track of 70′s tunes that kept my hips swaying, rolling in time to the effortless whizzing of that rolling pin. The countertop was covered with flour and behind me, my oven crackled with 450° heat and as fast as each slim yellow disc went in, they were pulled out, blistered and burnished. The rolling pin and I have become far better acquainted in recent years, as scratch pie dough finally made a return to my own kitchen, and my own child has stood at my elbow, watching in fascination as a thick mass of fragrant dough has magically grown under guidance and a whizzing pin to a perfect round. I’ve taught him how to press and lift the pin at the edges to keep them from getting too thin; to turn the dough as he works and rolls, to make sure to use just enough flour but not too much.
And in making these thin, crispy crackers, studded with poppy and sesame seeds, the rolling pin and I meshed as we worked, pushing balls of semolina dough to their limits, whisper thin and transparent. Wrapping the dough around the pin, I transferred it to the piping hot stone in the oven, and watched the bubbles appear on it’s surface before even closing the door. A bit more flour, a few more whizzes, the sprinkle of seeds and another disc was ready, just as the first brown edges appeared on the one baking.
These cracker breads keep well in an air tight container, and are perfect for eating alone, or with spreads, dips and cheeses. They welcome a wide variety of seeds or herbs for topping them, too.
Flatbread Seeded Crackers
1 cup semolina flour
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more as needed (I used whole wheat)
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 cup warm water
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, or as needed
3 tablespoons mixed seeds, such as black and white sesame seed, fennel seed and poppy seed
1 teaspoon kosher or Maldon sea salt
Combine the semolina and all-purpose flours and the 3/4 teaspoon of salt in a medium bowl; stir until well mixed. Slowly add the water, stirring continuously until thoroughly incorporated. Use your hands to gather the dough and form it into a ball. Dust a work surface lightly with all-purpose flour. Transfer the dough to the work surface and knead until it is firm and smooth but not sticky, 2 to 3 minutes. Wrap it in plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Place an inverted baking sheet or a pizza stone on the middle rack of the oven; preheat to 450 degrees. Divide the dough into 8 equal portions, shape them into balls and cover with plastic wrap. Working with 1 piece of dough at a time, use the palm of your hand to flatten the ball into a disk. Re-apply all-purpose flour to the work surface and use it to liberally dust a rolling pin. Roll the dough into as thin a round as possible; it should be a round that is 9 or 10 inches wide. Keep moving and turning the dough as you roll to prevent it from sticking, dusting the rolling pin and work surface with flour as needed. Brush sparingly with a little of the oil. Sprinkle some of the seeds and salt over the top, using more than you think you’ll need because some will fall off.
Place a piece of plastic wrap on the cracker and roll over it lightly with the rolling pin to help the toppings adhere. Remove the plastic wrap and use the tines of a fork to prick the dough every couple of inches. Carefully lift the dough round and drape it over the rolling pin. Place it onto the preheated baking sheet or pizza stone in the oven, unrolling to even it out. Use a fork to smooth out any folds. Bake for 4 to 6 minutes, rotating about halfway through baking as needed for even browning around the edges. Keep a close eye on the cracker, as it can burn quickly. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Repeat to use the rest of the dough, seed mixture and oil.
Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 day. (they will taste fine for several days; the texture is crispiest within the first few days, though)