Thursday, October 4, 2012

Cheese Crackers

Making items easily purchased at the grocery story is not the "normal" American thing to do.  Thank goodness I'm finally OK with being considered to be a little whacko.  :)

On the rotation of things I'm keeping in regular supply in my pantry and/or freezer: 

And now...Cheez-Its.  

We've been eating Annie's Organic Bunny cheese crackers around here for years.  I love them as much as the kids do.  But organic or not, they are still processed, and I'm trying reduce how many processed things we eat.  It is not easy, but it is becoming more normal for me.  And I'm saving money on my grocery bill.  Because processed, snacky food is not cheap.  Plus, the more often I make the recipes, the more quickly I can get in and out of the kitchen and on to more exhilarating household tasks like folding laundry and scrubbing toilets.  :/

To make these crackers, I mixed together white whole wheat flour, grated cheese, butter, salt and ice water in my food processor.  Then I pressed the dough into a moderately flat disc, froze it for 20 minutes or so, rolled it thin, and used my pastry wheel and a ruler to make each individual cracker. 

I played around with many variations of shapes and sizes.  One batch of the dough yields about 80 one-inch-square crackers (pictured below).  My boys are eating 3-4 crackers at snack-time and with their lunches, so the crackers should last a while.  I look forward to playing around with the dough, adding different herbs and spices.  The crackers are rich and buttery, tender yet crispy.  Perfect for adults.  (These would be great served with wine before dinner!)

If you want to save the time and messiness of rolling out the dough, use this method:  roll the dough into a log shape and slice away (like slice-and-bake cookies).  Bake for up to 14 minutes (depending how thick the slices are).  I've been spending some time over at 100 Days of Real Food, trying to get my head wrapped around why and how I can carry out feeding my family real food.  It's where I first got the idea to make these crackers.  And then I remembered this recipe which I found earlier this year.  So I went with it.  

Have you stopped purchasing any snack foods at the store so that you can make them yourself at home?  Please share.  Are you overwhelmed with real food or are you calm and carrying on?

I love hearing from you.  

P.S.The recipe below looks complicated because it's lengthy.  I promise it is easy.  I've just given you several options in how you prepare the dough and whether or not you roll it out.  And brevity has never been my strong suit.

Cheese Crackers
(Makes about 7 dozen 1"x1" crackers) 

1 cup white whole wheat flour
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated (substitute your favorite hard cheese)
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons ice cold water

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or a Sil-pat liner).

Using a food processor:  in the work bowl of a food processor that's fitted with the steel blade, combine the flour, butter, grated cheese, and salt.  Process until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  (When you pinch the crumbs, they should stick together.)  While using the "pulse" feature on the processor, add in the two tablespoons of ice water.  Stop pulsing when the dough comes together in a ball (or close to it).  (Don't over process the dough...if it's not coming together easily you may have to add additional water (less than a teaspoon at a time) or just remove the dough from the processor and knead it together by hand).  

Preparing the dough by hand:  Whisk together the flour and the salt.  Stir in the cheese.  (You can can finely chop the grated cheese beforehand if you want it to get really well-incorporated into the dough.)  Use two knifes or a pastry cutter to "cut in" the pieces of butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.   Then add in the ice water.  Stir just until combined. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Set an oven rack in the center of the oven.

If you want to roll out the dough and then cut it into squares or other shapes:  transfer the dough to a sheet of parchment paper.  Use the heel of your hand to press the dough into a flattened disc.  Freeze the dough for about 15 - 20 minutes, just to firm it up to make it easier to work with.  

Remove the dough from the freezer and roll it out very thin (about 1/8th-inch) on a lightly floured surface.  Then use a knife or a pastry wheel to slice the dough into shapes (using a ruler as a guide is helpful if straight lines are important to you). Small cookies cutters would work well, too.

Transfer cut crackers to the prepared baking sheet.  The crackers can be close together as they will not expand horizontally...they will only slightly puff.

Bake for 10-15 minutes until crackers are slightly golden on the edges. The longer the crackers bake, the crispier they will be.

If you want to go with the slice-and-bake-cracker route:  roll the dough into a log shape about 1.5" in diameter and freeze it for 20 minutes (or more, if necessary...the firmer the dough, the easier it is to slice).  Slice the dough into 1/4" slices and bake for 10-14 minutes (start checking for browning at 10 minutes).  The longer the crackers bake, the crispier they will be.

Transfer dough to the prepared baking sheet.  They can be close together as they will not expand horizontally...they will only slightly puff.

Allow crackers to cool completely, then store in an airtight container.  Reheat crackers slightly to "recrisp" them, if necessary.

Recipe slightly adapted from:  Rachel Cooks


Sarah Brooks said...

Ginny, I am in Awe of you! How do you have time to create such yummy looking things, (and pretty I might add) blog and raise two beautiful boys? I demand to know your secrets.