Lauren Chattman

Lauren Chattman is a cookbook author, freelance writer and former professional pastry chef. Her recipes have appeared in Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, Cook’s Illustrated and The New York Times. She is the author of 14 books, most recently "Cake Keeper Cakes" (Taunton 2009) and "Cookie Swap!" (Workman, 2010). She has also co-authored several books with former White House pastry chef Roland Mesnier, including Dessert University (Simon & Schuster, 2004). With artisan baking expert Daniel Leader, she is the co-author of the IACP award-winning "Local Breads" (Norton, 2007). With Susan Matheson, she is co-author of "The Gingerbread Architect" (Clarkson Potter, Fall 2008) Lauren lives in Sag Harbor with her husband and two daughters. She blogs about local food and small-town life at sagharbordays.blogspot.com. Show More

I recently embarked on a low-carbohydrate diet, for health and weight loss. I was indulging in eggs, red meat and whole milk yogurt with no guilt for the first time in years. It was great. Then, about two days in, I started wondering how to cheat the system. What good is permission to eat all of the full-fat cheese you want, I realized, if you can’t spread it on bread or crackers?

I occasionally buy some very expensive nut-and-seed crackers at the supermarket, but they contain carb-rich wheat flour and are too costly to become a staple of my new diet anyway. So I thought I’d try making my own nut-and-seed crackers, since nuts and seeds are full of protein and taste great, too. I had some sunflower seeds on hand, some almonds and some almond meal to use instead of wheat flour, so I started there, mixing these ingredients with some almond milk and baking the mixture in a loaf pan.

I planned to bake the loaf, let it cool, slice it, and then bake the crackers again to dry them out and crisp them up, but I never got this far with the first batch. When I tried to slice my nut-and-seed loaf, it crumbled into a million pieces. I realized, too late, that without gluten (provided by wheat flour), which functions as a binder and structural scaffolding for baked goods, my mixture never had a chance of becoming solid.

I found the solution to this problem in a bag of flaxseeds. The outer layer of flax, when soaked in water, becomes gelatinous. This gel, when distributed throughout cracker batter, works to glue together the almond meal, nuts and other seeds in the batter. My new loaf held together nicely. Taking no chances, I popped it in the freezer for 20 minutes to firm it up before slicing it neatly (an old trick I learned from a favorite brownie recipe). After a second baking, they were crisp and crunchy, and packed with rich, nutty flavor.

These crackers are not just a tasty delivery system for cheese. They’re a certifiable superfood. The flaxseeds contain plentiful omega-3 fatty acids. Almonds and almond meal contribute protein and vitamin E. Apricots add some Vitamin A. Sunflower seeds are brimming with half a dozen essential minerals. Slathering triple-crème Camembert on one cracker after another, I felt virtuous indeed.

You can customize these crackers to your taste, substituting pine nuts, pumpkin seeds or sesame seeds for the sunflower seeds, swapping dried figs, cherries or cranberries for the apricots. You can also add a sprinkling of fennel seeds, chopped rosemary, thyme or herbes de Provence for beautiful aroma.

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TWICE-BAKED NUT AND SEED CRACKERS

1⁄3 cup flaxseeds

1⁄2 cup warm water

1⁄3 cup dried apricots, chopped

1⁄3 cup whole almonds, chopped

1 cup almond flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1⁄3 cup sunflower seeds

1⁄3 cup almond milk

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2 tablespoons honey

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Spray an 8-inch-by-4-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray.

2. Combine the flaxseeds and water in a medium bowl and let stand until the seeds have absorbed all the water, about 30 minutes.

3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the fruit, almonds, flour, baking soda, salt and sunflower seeds.

4. Add the soaked flaxseeds, almond milk and honey to the bowl and stir to moisten.

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5. Spread the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until golden brown and firm, 80 to 90 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, invert onto the rack, and then cool completely. Place in the freezer for 20 minutes.

6. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Use a sharp serrated knife to cut the loaf into 1⁄8-inch-thick crackers. Arrange the crackers in a single layer on the baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Turn the crackers and bake until crisp and dry all the way through, another 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week. Makes 20 to 25 crackers.