Homemade Cheese Crackers

I believe I have achieved my own version of Cracker Nirvana. It all started with a Cheddar Crackers recipe mentioned by The Kitchn. The original recipe is exquisite, but the crackers are a tad greasy, especially after 24 hours. My version of this recipe keeps longer and I’m not as likely to eat them all immediately after they come out of the oven.

This is a huge post for me because crackers used to constitute a large part of our snacking diet. Over the past year and a half I’ve been buying crackers less and less. At this point, they are a genuine treat for us. Even though my preschooler still pines for Goldfish occasionally, it feels terrific to have reformed our snack diet so thoroughly. With this recipe, I know exactly what’s in there and we recognize them for the treat that they are.

The picture below is my latest batch without the paprika. While I love the color and taste the paprika imparts. I was getting the sense that my kids were not so crazy for it. It took me a while to figure this out because I was more than happy to eat them all myself!

Here’s what they look like with the paprika:

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour or all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon fine salt, plus more for sprinkling on top
1/2 teaspoon paprika (optional)
Dash pepper
1 1/2 cups grated white sharp cheddar cheese (3 ounces)
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (1 ounce)
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
3- 4 tablespoons cold water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place the flours, cornmeal, salt, paprika (if desired), and pepper in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse for a few seconds. Add the cheeses and pulse for 10-15 seconds.

Cut the butter into tablespoon-sized chunks and distribute over the top of the flour mixture. Run the processor for 10 seconds or until the butter is mostly incorporated and the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

With the processor running, add the water one tablespoon at a time through the feed tube. Continue to run the processor until the dough starts to lightly clump up or form into a ball (about 30 – 60 seconds).

When I first started making this recipe, it always formed into a ball without much hesitation. But lately, it’s more likely to look like the picture above. Maybe it’s the weather. Or the cumulative changes I’ve made to the recipe are having an effect. Regardless, if when you take a bit of the dough out of the processor and give it a squeeze it looks like this, you’re all set:

Give it a squeeze

If it doesn’t add a little more water and pulse until it does.

Remove the dough from the processor. Divide it in two and knead a few times. Form into flattened rectangles and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Place the rectangles in the freezer for 10 minutes (or thereabouts) or in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. If you leave them in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight, let the dough sit out on the counter for 10 minutes or so to soften.

Remove plastic wrap and place rectangle in the middle of a non-stick baking mat or sheet of parchment paper. The baking mat is much easier, but it can be done with parchment paper. Roll the dough out evenly until it is less than 1/8″ but more than 1/16″ thick – not paper thin but close. Miraculously, the dough doesn’t require any flour to keep it from sticking.

Cut the dough into 1″ squares. I use a lattice cutter, but any ol’ dull edged knife or pizza cutter will do. Carefully move the baking mat or parchment paper onto a baking sheet. Sprinkle the dough lightly with salt. (The squares do not need to be spread apart as they shrink and puff up during baking and are easily broken apart afterwards if they do not separate on their own.)

Bake for 17-25 minutes, depending on the thickness of the dough, or until bottoms of crackers are puffy and golden. Start checking on them often after 15 minutes. The crackers on the outer edge may brown more quickly if you rolled your dough unevenly like I always seem to do. Don’t stop baking until the outer crackers are shy of burning in order to be sure that the crackers in the center have a chance to crisp up properly. Check the bottom of the crackers to gauge how close they are to being done. They should be golden. I’ve been known to remove some of the crackers from the baking sheet in order to save them from burning and put the rest back in the oven for a few more minutes.

Allow crackers to cool on the baking sheet or on a cooling rack. Store in a airtight container at room temperature. They keep fine for at least 3 or 4 days.

Yield: approximately 100 crackers
Prep-time: 30 minutes
Bake-time: 20 minutes

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Homemade Handy Snacks

Occasionally, I am saddened by the fact that my children do not know the joy of Handi Snacks. If I weren’t completely off my rocker, I would go to the store and buy some, give them to my kids, and move on. But awhile ago, I decided that I wanted to start making crackers. Again, not a normal thing. But I was curious nonetheless.

It turns out that crackers are extremely easy and quick to make – until you start the rolling out the dough, cutting the dough, and waiting for the first batch to bake so you can put the next one in. All that feels a little too time consuming. But, the results where worth it. Crackers are ubiquitous and treated with disrespect, especially when kids are involved. Making them from scratch just might restore your family’s appreciation for this humble snack. And the lively cheese dip doesn’t hurt either!

For the Cheese Dip:

Adapted from the Pimento Cheese recipe in the Lee Brothers Southern Cookbook.

4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 of one roasted red pepper from a jar, rinsed and patted dry
2 tablespoons cream cheese
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
Pinch salt

Place the cheddar, red pepper, cream cheese, mayonnaise and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse for about 60 seconds, pausing once to scrap down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, or until the mixture is smooth. Serve or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Yield: 1 cup
Prep-time: 10 minutes

For the crackers:

Inspired by a recipe for Homemade Saltines at Just Eat It.

3/4 cup white whole wheat flour or all-purpose flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into chunks
1/2 to 2/3 cup cold water
Flaky sea salt or kosher salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place the flours, salt and baking soda in the bowl of a food processor and pulse for a 5 – 10 seconds. Add the chunks of  butter to the flour mixture. Pulse for 5 – 10 seconds until the butter is broken down into large crumb-sized pieces. With the processor running, slowly pour in the water stopping when the dough is uniformly wet. It will not form into a ball, but some of the dough may gather into clumps.

Remove the dough from the food processor. With your hands, work it into a ball. Take a handful of dough from the ball and roll it out with a rolling pin on a well-floured work surface. Roll it out to 1/16 of an inch or as thin as you can get it. Try to keep your thickness uniform so the crackers will bake evenly.

Cut the rolled dough into rectangles and transfer to parchment-lined baking sheet. Prick each cracker two or three times with a fork and sprinkle liberally with salt.

Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the edges just start to turn a golden brown, rotating once during baking. Transfer to a cooling rack. Serve or store in an airtight container.

Yield: 100 crackers
Prep-time: 30 minutes
Bake-time: 8 minutes

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Beet Chips

These beet chips are yet another example of a supremely healthy snack that I probably never would have prepared if it hadn’t been for this blog. And my preschooler, who loves beets to begin with, said, “These are better than chocolate chips mama!” I kid you not.

She calls these “Swirl Chips”.

2 or 3 medium beets
Salt (optional)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Wash the beets throughly. Cut off both ends and peel. Keep a towel on hand or do your peeling under running water in order to keep the juices under control.

Slice the beets very thinly (about 1 millimeter) with a mandolin. (The mandolin is actually necessary. Uniform thickness in the chips is required in order for them to bake evenly.)

Lay the sliced beets out onto parchment-lined baking sheets. They can be placed close together as they will shrink during baking. Sprinkle with salt, if desired.

Bake for 20-30 minutes keeping a close eye on them after 20 minutes as they burn easily. The beets will still be pliable when done and will crisp up as they cool. Serve. Store any leftovers in an airtight container. Depending on how dried out the chips are, they are probably good for at least few days.

I’m thinking these might be tasty served with Herbed Yogurt Dip.

Note: Beets that were at least three inches wide have less of a tendency to shrivel up during baking.

Yield: several handfuls of chips
Prep-time: 5 minutes
Bake-time: 20 minutes (per batch – one beet fills approximately two baking sheets)

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Kale Chips

[donotprint]I have no love for Kale Chips. But I know all the super healthy beautiful people out there are making them and getting healthier and more beautiful with every bite.

I have been munching on them all morning simply because there is a big pile sitting on the counter. My kids, however, are not big fans. My youngest helped me make them and happily tasted one. But a minute later she was at the bathroom sink rinsing out her mouth. My oldest tried them a couple hours later and enjoyed the crispy saltiness, but not the bitter aftertaste. My husband’s assessment was “they taste better than they smell.”

Regardless, these are worth a try if you have a sad and lonely bunch of wilted kale hiding out at the bottom of your crisper drawer like I did. I originally ran across a recipe at The Kitchn which points to a recipe at ChowMama.[/donotprint]

Continue reading Kale Chips

Baked Pita Chips

There are tons of variation possibilities here. Instead of cheese and italian seasoning try some cinnamon sugar OR smoked paprika. This is a recipe that the grown-ups as well as the kids in my house really enjoy. It also does well on the go.

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2 10-inch whole wheat pita rounds
Vegetable oil spray
2 teaspoons parmesan cheese powder
1 teaspoon italian seasoning

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Preheat oven to 350 F.

Cut pita rounds into small triangles, approximately 12 pieces per round.
Pull breads apart at the fold and arrange in a single layer on baking sheet. Spray lightly with oil.
Bake for 10-15 until slightly golden. Allow to cool slightly on baking sheet.
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Sweet Potato Chips

If you don’t have a mandolin, don’t bother with this recipe. This is one of those times when a fancy kitchen gadget has actually proven itself necessary.

1 sweet potato
Salt (optional)

Preheat oven to 300 F.

Slice potato very thinly with a mandolin (less than 1 millimeter or thereabouts).

Arrange slices individually on parchment-lined baking sheets. Sprinkle with fine salt, if desired.

Bake for 10-30 minutes until chips are curling and almost entirely dried out, rotating at least once. When ready, the chips will slightly pliable, but not wet. They will crisp up more as they cool. The trick is to allow them to dry out almost entirely in the oven, but take them out soon enough so that they don’t start to brown which seems to start happening the instant they dry out (see Note).  The size and thickness of the chip plays a large role in baking time.

Allow the chips to cool on the baking sheet or on a cooling rack. Serve or store in air tight container.

Note: The potato I used today was kind enough to give me some visual clues as to when it was dry and ready to be removed from the oven. It turned from an reddish orange to more of a yellowish orange as it dried.

In the photo above the top of the chip is still a little wet and the bottom is dry.

In this photo the left side of the chip is a little wet still and the right side is crispy and delicious. Sometimes parts of the chip will brown a little bit before the entire chip is dry. Sometimes I flip them on the baking sheet, but I don’t think it makes a difference.

Yield: depends (around several handfuls)
Prep-time: 10 minutes
Bake-time: 10-30 minutes

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