Homemade crackers, in no time flat

05/01/2013 12:00 AM

04/30/2013 10:41 AM

The day I paid nearly $11 for a 4-ounce box of “artisan” crackers, I had to wonder: Couldn’t I just make these myself?

Flour, olive oil, sea salt. Those were the only ingredients listed on the box. Make my own crackers? It seemed like the answer had to be yes.

The idea struck me as brilliant, for several reasons. It would save money. It would require no special equipment. It would let me customize snacks to my taste. And a bag of rustic-looking crackers, tied with a pretty ribbon, would make a charming hostess gift for the next time I had a hostess.

So I decided to give it a try.

I set out on my quest with just two parameters. First, I would spurn yeast. The goal was speed and simplicity, not hours waiting for single-celled organisms to digest dinner. Other leaveners – baking powder and baking soda – would be fine. Second, I wanted crackers for cheese but not of cheese. In other words, no cheddar crackers, no Parmesan tuilles, no cheese straws, no blue cheese wafers, none of that. Just. Plain. Crackers. Ones that would work with a variety of cheeses, dips, spreads, tapenades, pepper jellies, whatever.

As I branched out and tried other recipes, I learned that the thickness of the dough can be a crucial factor. Flaxseed crackers rolled out to 1/8 inch had the taste and mouth feel of cardboard. The same crackers at 1/16 inch were crisp, earthy and addictive. Rosemary flatbreads were excellent when rolled out thin but outstanding when I ran the dough through a pasta machine, gradually taking it down four settings and ending up with translucent strips that I sprinkled with the chopped herb.

Lacking preservatives and factory-sealed plastic packaging, my crackers don’t have the shelf life of most store-bought ones. I seal them in zip-top food storage bags and keep them at room temperature, and most are good for several days, if not longer. Or I separate them into smaller quantities and freeze them (labeling and dating them first, of course). Crackers that seem a little tired after defrosting or a little past their prime can often be revived by a brief stay in a 300-degree oven.

I mentioned earlier that you don’t need special equipment to make crackers – a rolling pin and a baking sheet will get you there – but a pasta machine or pasta mixer attachment can help create crackers that are thinner than hand-rolled, which often translates as better. My old hand-crank machine sets up in a minute and is good for turning out long oval or smaller round crisps.

Bottom line: DIY crackers are worth the time and effort, though I’d probably feel differently if I’d decided to go with yeast. But I love their look and taste, and I can imagine proudly presenting them – fetchingly packaged – upon arrival at my next dinner party.

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