Whether they’re vehicles for lifting dips or piercing through cheese balls, or simply floating atop tomato soup, crackers are one of those quintessential foods.
They are versatile, portable and go with just about everything. The hardest decision, when it comes to these snackies, is deciding which ones? For me the decision is simple — homemade!
Really! You can make crackers at home. I know what you are thinking. I mean, it’s not like you can’t find those in the store — decent ones, at that. Making them at home can’t be worth the time. When I am time pressed, the boxed variety is a great alternative. But when time is on my side, I can easily ditch those boxes!
The thing about making crackers in your own kitchen is that they are so easy. It’s like bread — why make bread at home? It’s about the smell of baked things in the oven and it’s all about controlling the flavour and texture of things that is so rewarding.
They are also a real crowd pleaser at parties — your guests will be in awe that you made them yourself and you’ll chuckle at how easy they were to throw together. What I love about making crackers from home is that you know exactly what is in them with no preservatives or fillers and they’re infinitely customizable.
Buying variety of good quality of boxed crackers can also become expensive. When you think about it, crackers are basically glorified bits of baked flour and are quite cheap to make. The best part is you can dress them any way you like them. Rustic, classy, sweet, or all-dressed.
A variety of textures and flavours can be created by switching out the basic ingredients. For instance, you can use a mix of grains, including gluten-free varieties like millet, buckwheat and rice flours instead of all-purpose flour, or olive oil instead of butter. Crackers can be simply seasoned by topping with sea salt or you can knead herbs and spices like rosemary, dill, oregano, garlic, black pepper or cumin right into the dough before rolling it out.
Cracker dough is very forgiving. Unlike piecrust, which must be handled with kid gloves to keep it tender, crackers are meant to be snappy and crisp. So roll, reroll and roll again. The crackers don’t care.
The trickiest part is rolling them very, very thin. How thin? About one-eighth-inch thick. If you have a pasta maker, you can also roll the dough through the rollers. If not, a regular old rolling pin will do the trick. Once rolled, you can use a pizza or wedged cutter to cut into uniform squares — or use your Christmas cookie cutters to create different shapes and sizes to make them your own.
Once rolled and cut, it is also important to dock the dough: with a fork, or better yet, a rolling docker, prick the dough evenly. This keeps the dough from completely ballooning up like pitas as it bakes and it also allows for even baking. Little pockets between the layers are desirable to give crackers a bit more layered crunchy texture when you bite into it. Since no leavening ingredients are added, this usually comes from the water, which expands while heating. More of a puff can be achieved by keeping dough chilled and chilling a second time in the freezer for about 15 minutes just before baking.
Crackers are also a great addition to the Christmas cookie platter to balance out the sweets. Most people enjoy sampling from trays filled with raspberry bars, brittles or ginger snaps, but after a while something savoury is welcomed.
So next time, when time is on your side, consider skipping the cracker isle and take a crack at making them at home!
Basic cracker recipe
1 1/4 cups flour; white, whole wheat, rye
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter, canola oil or olive oil; more as needed
4 tablespoons water; add more as needed
1 teaspoon seasoning such as chili powder, dried herbs etc (optional)
Preheat oven to 400F.
Mix together well, preferably in a food processor, 1 cup of the flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt and oil or butter ( use smaller amount for crisper crackers, or a larger amount for a richer flavor). Add 3 tablespoons water and mix well. Gradually add more water, mixing after each addition, until mixture forms a compact ball. If it seems too sticky to handle, add more flour.
Sprinkle a work surface (or a baking sheet-sized piece of parchment paper) with some of the remaining flour then press and roll the dough to about 1/8th-inch thick. Try to get it fairly uniform. If the dough is too dry to roll out, return it to the food processor and add a little more water. If necessary to prevent sticking, dust your hands and the rolling pin with a little more flour.
Put the rolled-out dough on a baking sheet dusted with a little flour (if you’ve used parchment paper, transfer dough and paper to baking sheet). Cut into desired shape and bake 10 to 15 minutes, until somewhat brown.
1 cup flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon crushed red chilies
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, chilled, diced
8 ounces aged cheddar cheese, grated
3 to 4 tablespoons water
Whisk the flour, salt and chilies together in a bowl. Place in a food processor along with the butter; pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the cheese; pulse to combine. Add 3 tablespoons water, a tablespoon at a time, pulsing until the mixture comes together in a ball. Pulse in an additional tablespoon water if needed to get the dough to hold together. Wrap dough in plastic wrap; chill, 1 hour. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Roll the dough out to 1/8-inch thick directly onto a baking sheet. Cut the dough into 1/2-inch diamonds (or other shape) using a cookie cutter, sharp knife or fluted pastry cutter. Place in freezer, 15 minutes. Spread out the cut pieces onto parchment-lined baking sheets, leaving just enough room so that they are not touching. Bake until deep golden brown and crunchy, 12 minutes. Cool completely before serving.
Madhu Badoni is a Red Deer-based freelance food writer. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @madhubadoni. Watch for Madhu’s Masala-Mix blog on bprda.wpengine.com.