Thursday, May 15, 2014

homemade cheese crackers

My kids love crackers as much as anyone's kids do.  Only trouble is that we don't live in America: land of the entire-isle-at-the-grocery-store-devoted-to-a-million-varieties-of-crackers.  We live in Ethiopia and yes, we can buy a few Greek or Italian brands of crackers on the local economy and the commissary at the embassy has Saltines, Wheat Thins, Ritz, and Cheez-Its.  We used to order large shipments of crackers through my favorite online grocer and our family was nice enough to send boxes here and there.  But here we are 3 weeks away from departure, so we've been buying at the commissary more.  There just isn't time to get shipments here.  Long story short, the commissary is a great option but it's super expensive.  It's about $6 USD per box of crackers.  Frankly, I'm tired of the small selection offered.

So I made my own and I'm going to share the recipe with you.  These homemade cheese crackers are a better tasting Cheez-It.  No, truly...they taste way better.

Yes, this will take a bit of time.  The time consuming part of this recipe is the rolling and cutting and baking.  The dough is a piece of cake to throw together.  So here's my recommendation, make a double or triple batch of the dough, refrigerate or freeze a portion so you can take a hunk out here and there to roll and bake.  Or if you have the time, roll and bake a double or triple batch and just stash them in your pantry in ziplocs.  I got the original recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks The Homemade Pantry, and she says you shouldn't store the baked crackers for more than 7 days at room temp.  These crackers are so good, it's not likely they will last the 7 days.

Last night, Justin came home and does his kitchen sweep to see what's been cooking and baking all day.  He immediately finds the bag of crackers and I have to tell him not once, but twice that they are for the girls' lunches so don't eat them all.

So here's my other plan, these crackers are so good that they are begging to be made for a grown-up cocktail party or BBQ.  These would be perfect in a bowl or scattered on a cutting board with a little bowl of pesto dip or even a sweet bacon and date relish.

Homemade Cheese Crackers (Original recipe from The Homemade Pantry.  I've added a good amount of spices to this recipe to amp them up.  Probably because I can't just use a recipe as is.  I have to adjust something, it's just my nature.)

3 Tbsp unsalted cold butter cut into small pieces
1 1/2 cups flour (try it with a bit of whole wheat if you want)
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar or Gouda cheese
2 tsp dry mustard powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp rosemary chopped finely (I used dried but fresh is good too)
1/4 tsp course black pepper
2 tsp cider or white vinegar
3/4 cup water
1 ice cube

In a small bowl, combine the water, vinegar and ice.  Set aside to get cold.

In your stand mixer with paddle attachment, combine the flour and spices and salt.  Add the butter and let it mix until it's combines well.  Add the cheese and mix for a minute to combine well.

Add 6 Tbsp of the cold water vinegar mixture to the cheese flour mixture in the stand mixer.  Mix until combined.  Slowly add more of the liquid, 1 Tbsp at a time until the dough clings to the paddle.  Remove the dough and coat the outside with a little flour so it's dry to tough.  Seal in a ziploc or plastic wrap and freeze or refrigerate for an hour or two until it's cold and hard.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Take out dough and let sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes.  Prepare two large baking sheets with parchment paper or use a silpat.  Flour your surface and roll out the dough a portion at at time into a thin (1/8 to 1/4 inch).  It's like working with a pastry or pie crust.  Yes, there will be breaks and it won't all be perfect on the edges but if you roll nice and thin, you'll be fine.  Make sure to add flour underneath the dough so it doesn't stick to your surface.  Using a pizza cutter, cut the dough into small one inch squares.  If you want smaller or larger crackers no problem.  Peel away the rough edges, ball them up and roll them out again until you've made crackers out of all the dough.  Place the squares on a baking sheet about 1/2 inch apart.  Bake in the oven for 22-25 minutes, rotating the pans once in the middle.  Watch the crackers at the end, you don't want them too brown.  If they start browning, turn off the oven and let them sit for another 10 minutes inside.  You can adjust your baking time and resting in the hot oven time based on how crunchy you want your crackers.  Then take them out, let them cool and try to keep your family from immediately eating them all.

I've been thinking about a few variations on this cracker.  Try adding 1/4 tsp of cayenne pepper for a spicy cracker, or leave out the rosemary and add curry powder instead.  An Italian version with oregano and basil would be lovely.  Or maybe even dill if you want to serve them with a smoked salmon spread.

Happy baking, and munching!

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