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I don't know if any of you remember one of my favorite magazines, Country Journal, which stopped publication about 10 years ago. The person who wrote and edited the cooking section was Ken Haedrich. And it was in an old issue of the magazine, oh I'm going to say in the 1980s, that I first saw recipes for making homemade crackers.
In 1990, Haedrich published his Ken Haedrich's Country Baking, and it includes many of the recipes from that original cracker article, such as the one I'm sharing today.
Why make your own crackers? Here are some of my reasons:
- It's easy and fun.
- You can control exactly what's in them--no chemicals, nothing you might be allergic to.
- People are always impressed.
- They're yummy.
Mixing: I usually mix my dough in the food processor, but there is no reason not to mix it by hand.
Chilling: I always chill my dough before rolling it out, even if the recipe doesn't tell you to. The dough is much easier to roll when it's not sticky.
Rolling: This is the hardest part. You want your crackers to be 1/8 to 1/16 inch thick and as even as you can make it. Yikes! you say. Not to worry. I have two tricks. The first one I've read about in a number of books, blogs, and recipes. If your dough is on the soft side and doesn't contain seeds, you can put it through a pasta roller. The photo of the dough (below) shows what one batch looked like after it came out of the roller. I usually roll it on the widest setting, then on #2, and then sometimes on #3. Nothing is easier.
Before I got my pasta roller, though, I had to roll all my crackers by hand. Now I roll just the ones that use seeds or stone-ground cornmeal. Most recipes tell you to divide the dough in half and then roll it out on a lightly floured surface. Here's a trick I haven't read anywhere; it's something I discovered on my own: I have much better luck if I divide my dough into 6 or 8 parts. Yes, it takes more time, but you'd be surprised by how much easier it is to get a fairly even thickness if you have less dough to push around.
Preparing the pan: You definitely want to line your baking sheets with parchment or a silicone mat. Not all recipes call for this, but I always line my pans. If you plan on baking crackers often, I suggest investing in silicone; you'll be going through a lot of parchment otherwise.
Cutting the dough: You can use a biscuit cutter, cookie cutters, or a pizza cutter. I use a pizza cutter and I don't worry about the ragged edges of the dough or getting each piece the same size. If you transfer the dough to the baking sheet before cutting you won't have to move each little cracker. But be careful not to cut your mat.
Docking: Be sure you poke each cracker with a fork to prevent it from puffing too much when baking.
Baking: Watch the first batch like a hawk. You may want to rotate your pan(s) halfway through the baking if your oven doesn't bake evenly. You want the bottoms to be brown and the edges to just start to get brown. If you wait too long, the crackers will burn on the bottom. Remember that they'll crisp up a little bit on the cooling rack.
Cooling: Transfer the crackers to cooling racks. If you're like me, you'll have racks with parallel bars instead of a grid. This means the crackers will fall through the spaces onto the counter. One of these days I'll buy new cooling racks, but for years I've dealt with that little annoyance.
Storage: Make sure the crackers are completely cool, and store in an airtight tin or plastic bag.
Warning: The crackers won't last long (because you'll eat them all in a heartbeat). They make great snacks and you won't believe how much better they taste than store bought.
So where can you find other recipes to try yourself? If you do a search for "cracker recipes" you'll be surprised by how many you'll find. Our favorites are these Parmesan crackers, sesame seed crackers, and wheat crackers (like Wheat Thins). The New York Times had a cracker article last year with some good recipes and King Arthur Flour has some too.
I'm sharing the recipe for the first crackers I ever made, which can be found in Haedrich's cookbook. The recipe calls for Cheddar cheese, but I usually make them with Parmesan. Either way, they're yummy.
Cornmeal Cheddar Crackers
Makes 20-30 crackers
- 1 cup unbleached flour
- 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
- 3/4 cup yellow cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 cup (about 3 ounces) grated sharp Cheddar cheese
- 1 large egg
- 1/4 cup flavorless vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup water
Preheat the oven to 375F while the dough chills.
On a lightly floured surface or long sheet of wax paper, roll the dough a little less than 1/8-inch thick; closer to 1/16 inch is actually better. Dust the top of the dough, if necessary, to keep your pin from sticking. Cut the crackers any way you like, then transfer to ungreased cookie sheets. Bake, one sheet at a time, for 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the thickness (longer for thicker crackers); when done, they'll be nicely browned around the edges. Transfer the crackers to a rack and cool thoroughly before storing in a sealed container.