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From the Pastry Dungeon: Duck Fat Crackers

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[Photograph: Anna Markow]

Many people have questions for those of us who make their living in professional kitchens. One that I've never really understood the point of is, "Have you ever thought about cooking on the other side of the kitchen?" The answer to that, truthfully, is very briefly. When I first decided to go to school, I did consider taking the culinary route instead of pastry, for about 2 minutes. And once I did spend a week working lunch service on the hot line. I hated it. I don't know what it is, I just don't have any fun making savory dishes. I don't mind helping out with some basic prep or spending a little extra time working on a recipe for crossover items like waffles, but no one has ever successfully been able to teach me to, say, butcher. Trust me. Many have tried.

So, recently, upon acclimating myself to my latest place of employment, I was only slightly surprised to find I was very much drawn towards using more savory ingredients in my desserts.

I think some of this may be kind of a big sigh of relief after my last job. I had a blast at first, but eventually realized that things were mismanaged and accomplishing anything I could be proud of was a Sisyphean task. I found myself dumbing things down, having my work undervalued, unappreciated and discredited, and making things much more mainstream and sweet than I prefer. To top it off, I was commanded to look to Max Brenner, of all people, for inspiration. I'm pretty sure you can tell how that went. It only takes a brief glance at one of my menus to figure out that "dessert pizza" slathered in chocolate and dotted with barely singed commercial mini marshmallows is not my style. (Unsurprisingly, I left within the same week I received that "suggestion.")

Now I find myself in a small kitchen with a tight crew of enthusiastic savory cooks who care about pastry and are excited to see what magic I can work with my tiny little pastry hands. We were all bothered by the drab, nice-but-so-four-years-ago cranberry walnut bread that was purchased for the cheese plate, so when I proposed housemade crackers to replace it, everyone cheered me on.

My first couple attempts were ok, but overall flops, and after a few trials, the chef suggested perhaps I should add some duck fat. Duck fat?! I love duck fat!

The next day I proudly presented a plate of crispy, duck fatty little herbed crackers, rich and crunchy and perfect with all manner of cheeses, spiced meats, and accompanying fruit compotes. And the sous chef happily canceled the next morning's bread delivery.

This recipe is based on a lavash cracker recipe I learned at a popular restaurant for which I briefly worked, and when the dough is handled minimally with almost no flour added in the rolling process (which, by the way, can be done with a pasta roller if you're not confident in your abilities to roll dough paper-thin) it results in a perfectly light, crispy cracker which is still sturdy enough to stand up to a slice of cheese perched atop it. The original recipe called for buttermilk as the liquid, but we didn't have any at work when I was testing the recipe. Since I already knew I wanted to add some lemon zest to the dough, I figured I'd sour the milk myself with some lemon juice, which is a nice touch and the fresh acidity helps cut through the rich duck fat.

About the Author: Anna Markow is a pastry chef obsessed with doing things that no one else does and giving unusual ingredients their time to shine. You can follow her sometimes-pastry-related thoughts on Twitter @VerySmallAnna.

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