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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Graham Crackers

These graham crackers taste more like pie crust than store-bought graham crackers (and given the amount of butter in them, I’m not a bit surprised). This is adapted from the Graham Crackers recipe in Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook I’ve looked around for alternatives to try, some of which look amazingly delicious. But Martha’s recipe has less sugar (which I’ve reduced further) and did well with a couple adjustments I made to cut back on time and effort expended.

I found graham flour from Hodgson Mill at my neighborhood grocery store, but it was desceptively labeled as whole wheat flour. Regardless, graham flour appears to be more coarsely ground than regular whole wheat flour. It reminds me a lot of King Arthur’s spelt flour. It does add a noticable texture and taste to the finished cracker, but it is certainly not required. I’ve used whole wheat pastry flour and the world didn’t come crashing down. In fact, they were yummy.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour or graham flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons honey

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a medium bowl whisk together the flours, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.

The butter should be soft but not runny. In a large bowl beat butter until creamy. Add sugar and honey and beat well. Pour flour mixture into the large bowl and mix with a rubber spatula until the color is uniform and the dough easily forms into a ball.

Divide the dough into 4 equal-sized balls. Put each ball in-between parchment or wax paper and roll it out with a rolling pin until it is 1/8-inch thick. (If the dough is too sticky, your room temperature may be too high. Wrap up the dough and put it in the fridge for 30-60 minutes.) Cut the dough into 1 1/2-inch squares. Use a spatula to transfer the squares onto a parchment lined baking sheet about 1/4-inch or more apart. Pierce each square once with a fork.

Bake the crackers for 5-8 minutes, rotating once, or until the edges are golden.

Yield: approximately 96 crackers
Prep time: 30 minutes
Bake time: 5 minutes

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Granola Bars

This is an extremely flexible snack recipe that is sweet and satisfying. Replacing the honey with apple butter brings the sugar content down to a buzz-free level. But I do love the sweet, moist goodness the honey imparts. These bars freeze very well (separate layers with wax paper) and keep for up to a couple months.

2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup wheat germ
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup raisins or 1/3 cup chocolate chips

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup honey or apple butter
1 large egg, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 F

Mix oats, sugar, wheat germ, cinnamon, flour, salt and raisins in medium bowl. Make a well in the center and add remaining ingredients. Mix well.Transfer to greased 9 x 13 pan and flatten mixture into pan with your hands.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until edges are brown. The majority of the pan may look under done. As long as the edges are brown, it’s okay. Don’t over bake or it will be dry.

Allow to cool slightly in pan. Cut into squares and serve or store in airtight container.

Yield: 24 bars (on the smallish side)
Prep-time: 10 minutes
Bake-time: 20 minutes

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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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