Monday, April 4, 2011

Homemade Crackers

I really like crackers. I’ll eat ALMOST anything on a cracker. I don’t eat a huge amount of crackers, but sometimes one or two is all I need to satisfy my salt craving, or sugar as the case may be. I decided a long time ago that if I couldn’t go to the store and buy crackers occasionally, I’d be a sad girl. It was at this point, years ago, that I started searching for recipes for homemade crackers.

Many years ago I made wheat thins. They were pretty good but I lost the recipe. I’ve made graham crackers and they were good; especially when I used the crumbs to make a couple of our favorite desserts. But since the days of my first homemade wheat thins, the art of making crackers has risen to a whole new level. There are some pretty fun and unusual recipes out there.

I had read a lot about Rainforest Crackers. There are several different recipes I love the diversity in this recipe. These delicious crackers are chock full of seeds, nuts and craisins. They are made in a 2 step process so they take a little longer but they are definitely worth the extra effort. The recipe did not call for the hazelnuts to be chopped but I thought they would be better that way. Do what you want.

The Peppery Cheddar Crackers were very easy and fun to make. I believe that the secret to good crackers, regardless of whatever kind you make, is to make them quite thin and then not over bake. I do remember as I made the wheat thins that some of the crackers around the perimeter of the baking sheet browned more quickly and had to be removed before the inside crackers were done. I also love the addition of kosher salt, which is something we didn’t use years ago, we just used regular salt. I also love the Real Salt added to any cracker; I really like that salt in anything.

I’m including 2 different recipes for wheat thins. They are different and I thought they both sounded good. I’ve had the one recipe tucked away for a long time but the second is from “King Arthur Flour” and it includes lots of baking notes and suggestions. I think here again, the possibilities are endless for different seasonings and spices. I loved the idea of adding vanilla and/or honey to crackers. I want to make some crackers and mix in finely ground almonds for a different taste. I think that would be a good addition also.

Here are several cracker variations for you to try:

Cranberry Hazelnut Rainforest Crackers
2 c. whole wheat flour
2 T. flax seeds
2 T. sesame seeds
1 c. pumpkin seeds
1/2 c. sunflower seeds
1 c. dried cranberries ("Craisins")
1 t. salt
½ c. hazelnuts
¼ c. brown sugar
2 t. baking soda
2 c. soured milk or buttermilk
¼ c. molasses
Mix dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Stir the milk and molasses together. Pour the liquids over the dry ingredients. Turn into 4 small greased loaf pans...or 6 mini-loaf pans. Bake at 350º 45-60 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool slightly, remove from pans; cool to room temperature on baking rack. Wrap loaves in foil, or put in sealed container overnight. Preheat oven to 250º. Slice the loaves as thinly as possible- 1/8” – ¼” thick. Lay slices on a cookie sheet lined with parchment need several pans. Bake at 250º until crisp (about 45 minutes, depending on how thick your slices are). Cool; store in sealed containers for up to 3 weeks.

Peppery Cheddar Crackers
Perfect little cracker for a soup or salad lunch.
8 oz. cheese - finely shredded (white cheddar, Swiss or Colby Jack)
½ c. butter
1½ c. flour
¼ t. freshly cracked black pepper
¼ t. sugar
Sea or Kosher salt for sprinkling
In a large bowl place the finely shredded cheese, butter, flour, salt, pepper, and sugar. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 40 minutes. Beat with an electric mixer until well blended. Should be coarse textured and not sticking together. Use your hands to form it into a log. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350º. Slice the roll into ¼” slices (or roll into balls and flatten, or roll the whole thing into a square and score before baking). Place on ungreased baking sheet. Sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly golden and set. Y: 20 crackers.

Wheat Thins - good with dips, cheeses, spreads, etc.
1½ c. flour (all-purpose)
½ c. whole wheat flour
½ c. sugar
¼ t. salt
2 T. butter (at room temperature)
2/3 c. milk
salt (or other dried herbs and seasoning) for sprinkling
In a large bowl, combine the flours, sugar and salt. Cut in the butter and mix until you have a coarse meal. Slowly blend in the milk just until you have a dough that will hold together. Divide the dough into 2 pieces for rolling. Roll the dough out on a floured surface to about 1/8” thick. Sprinkle with salt and roll over lightly with the rolling pin again. Cut the dough into 2×2” squares. Poke each square several times with a fork. Transfer squares to an ungreased baking sheet and bake at 325º 20-25 minutes, until crackers are golden brown.

Homemade “Wheat Thins”
Adapted from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking Cookbook
1¼ c. whole wheat flour (can use spelt flour, whole wheat or white whole wheat)
1½ T. sugar (or honey)
½ t. salt
¼ t. paprika
4 T. butter
¼ c. water
¼ t. vanilla
Salt for topping
Preheat oven to 400º. Combine the whole wheat flour, sugar, salt and paprika in a medium bowl. Cut the butter into small pieces and mix it in thoroughly, using your fingers, a pastry blender, a mixer or a food processor. Combine water and vanilla; add to the flour mixture, mixing until smooth. (Note: If you use honey, just mix it in with the water.) Lightly grease baking sheets or line with parchment paper. For crackers, I would HIGHLY recommend using a baking stone, or at least parchment paper or a Nonstick Silicone Baking Mat. I roll the dough right out on the stone or mat and bake them. That way I don’t have to worry about rumpled crackers as I move the fragile dough. People say, “Those are homemade?” because my crackers have perfect shape and are so delectably thin. Divide dough into 4 pieces; keep the other pieces covered while you work with one at a time. Lightly flour your work surface and your rolling pin and roll the piece of dough into a large rectangle, which should be at least 12” square when trimmed. Keep your pin and the surface of your dough evenly floured. Flip the dough frequently to keep it from sticking, but too much flour will make it difficult to roll. Keep rolling until the dough is as thin as you can get it without tearing, at least 1/16” thick. Trim the dough to even the edges and use a pizza cutter or a sharp knife to cut the piece into about 1½” squares. Transfer squares to a prepared baking sheet; you can crowd them together, as they don’t expand while baking. If you roll them on a stone or silpat, you can skip this step, which seriously cuts down the time and failure stress of making homemade crackers! Sprinkle the squares lightly with kosher salt, if desired. Poke the crackers with a fork to make them look even more like the “real” thing. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough. Save the scraps under plastic wrap and reroll them all at once just one time. Bake crackers, one sheet at a time, until crisp and browned, 5 to 10 minutes. If some of the thinner crackers on the edges brown too quickly, remove them and return the remaining crackers to the oven to finish baking. These crackers bake quickly, so watch them closely – even 30 seconds can turn them from golden brown to toast! Are they done? You want them to be almost crispy, but not totally breakable to deem them “done”, because they will crisp up a bit as they cool. You’ll learn after a tray or two the difference between “too soft” “done” and “oops”. They’re still tasty when they’re soft, just not so cracker-y. Remove the crackers from the oven and cool on the pan or on a plate; they cool quickly. These crackers will stay crisp for many days, but are best stored in airtight containers. UPDATE: For extra crispy crackers, If you have space and baking stones to suffice, simply turn the oven off with the crackers still inside. They’ll crisp up as they cool down.

Flax Seed Crackers
¼ c. flax seed
¼ c. ground flax seed
1½ c. all-purpose flour
½ t. baking powder
½ t. salt
4 t. margarine or butter, softened
½ c. skim milk
In a bowl of a stand-up mixer, add flax seed, ground flax, flour, baking powder, salt and margarine or butter. With the paddle attachment, mix on low speed until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Stir in milk and mix until mixture forms a soft dough. (You can also mix the dough by hand.) Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill 10 minutes. Preheat oven to 325º. Divide the dough into quarters. Turn out onto a lightly floured board. Roll out very thin to a rectangle (1/16”) thick. Cut into 2½” squares. Transfer to an ungreased baking sheet. Repeat with the remainder of the dough. Bake 20 minutes until crisp and golden. *Try one of the following different variations:
Onion: add 1 T. powdered onion soup mix.
Cheese: Add 1 c. grated cheddar cheese.
Italian: 1 T. oregano and 1 c. grated mozzarella cheese.
Yield: 24 crackers

Cheese Rounds
2 c. all-purpose flour
2 sticks unsalted butter
4 oz. grated extra-sharp Cheddar
1 t. sugar
1/8 t. cayenne pepper
Mix all ingredients well (with your hands, a mixer, or a wooden spoon; it doesn't matter); form the dough into rolls 1” in diameter; wrap the rolls in plastic, smoothing them out by rolling them again once they're wrapped; and freeze until needed. At that point, preheat the oven to 350º; slice the (still-frozen) dough into rounds about 1/8” thick. Bake them on ungreased baking sheets for 10-12 minutes, or until they begin to brown.

Lavash Crackers
Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice
1½ c. unbleached bread flour
½ t. salt
½ t. instant yeast
1 T. honey
1 T. vegetable oil
1/3 to ½ cup (3-4 ounces) water, at room temperature
Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, or kosher salt for topping
In mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt, yeast, honey, oil, and just enough water to bring everything together into a ball. You may not need the full ½ cup water, but use it all if needed. Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead for about 10 minutes, or until the ingredients are evenly distributed. The dough should be 77° to 81, and be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough, satiny to the touch, not tacky, and supple enough to stretch when pulled. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature 90 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size. (You can also refrigerate the dough overnight immediately after kneading.) Mist the counter lightly with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter. Press the dough into a square with your hand and dust the top of the dough lightly with flour. Roll it out with a rolling pin into a paper-thin sheet about 15 x 12”. You may have to stop from time to time so that the gluten can relax; lift the dough from the counter and wave it a little, and then lay it back down. Cover it with a towel or plastic wrap while it relaxes. When it is the desired thinness, let the dough relax 5 minutes. Line a sheet pan with baking parchment. Carefully lift the sheet of dough and lay it on the parchment. If it overlaps the edge of the pan, snip off the excess with scissors. Preheat the oven to 350°F with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Mist the top of the dough with water and sprinkle a covering of seeds or spices on the dough (such as alternating rows of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, kosher or pretzel salt, etc.). Be careful with spices; a little goes a long way. If you want precut crackers, use a pizza cutter (rolling blade) and cut diamonds or rectangles in the dough. You do not need to separate the pieces, as they will snap apart after baking. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until the crackers being to brown evenly across the top (the time will depend on how thinly and evenly you rolled the dough). When the crackers are baked, remove the pan from the oven and let them cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. Makes 1 sheet pan of crackers.

Here’s a quick and easy homemade cracker recipe that tastes just like saltines. Often it ends up being cheaper to buy them at the store, but its fun to make them every once in a while. The taste is great and you can control the amount of salt (if any) you put on them.
Basic Saltines Crackers
2 c. flour
1 t. salt
½ t. baking powder
¼ c. butter
½ c. milk
1 large egg
You will also need a large mixing bowl and and a fine sieve to make your crackers. Sift flour, salt and baking powder and place into a large mixing bowl. Cut cold butter into small chunks and “cut” into the flour until it reaches a grainy consistency. Add milk and egg and knead until it becomes a stiff dough. Roll the dough out really thin. Cut the dough into squares. Prick little holes in crackers with a fork; bake in a 400º preheated oven for about 10 minutes.*Tip: If you would like to make round crackers and don’t have any cookie cutters, just use the rim of a small glass or cup. Dip the rim into a little flour first and then you can cut your crackers.If you like salted crackers, sprinkle the uncooked crackers with a little bit of coarse salt.

Parmesan Herb Crackers
1 stick unsalted butter
3 ozs. grated Parmesan cheese
¼ c. all-purpose flour
¼ t. kosher salt
1 t. chopped fresh thyme
Place butter into the bowl of your electric mixer and mix it until it becomes creamy. Grate fresh Parmesan cheese (or use already grated Parmesan). Add cheese, flour, salt and thyme to the butter and mix until it form a ball of dough. Place a long piece of plastic wrap on your work surface and place the dough ball in the center of one end. Form the dough into a log and roll it up in the plastic. Place the log into the freezer for 30 min.(this makes it easier to slice.) Remove from the freezer after 30 minutes and cut the log into ¼” thick slices. Place the slices on a cookie sheet and bake in a 350º preheated oven for about 20 minutes.

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