A little over two years ago, I clipped an eye-catching article with the playful title, Crunch Factor: Crackers, Jacked, from Saveur magazine on artisanal crackers by Keith Pandolfi, who noted “Ten to try, and one DIY” (do it yourself). The short article was illustrated with beautiful photos of each of the ten crackers “worth seeking out.”
I recognized three from grocery shopping at my hometown food co-op, the Honest Weight in Albany, NY: Whitney’s Castleton Crackers based in Vermont (which was the source for two of the ten crackers noted, (1) Middlebury Maple (a maple syrup glaze complements stinky Muenster and Roquefort according to Pandolfi) and (2) Rutland Multi-Seed Rye (sturdy and sprinkled with seeds, great with brie, smoked fish, and charcuterie according to the knowledgeable food writer). My local food co-op also had on its shelves Effie’s Oatcakes (top these nutty oat cakes with a sharp cheddar cheese advised Pandolfi). The other listed crackers were equally intriguing! The DIY recipe offered by Keith Pandolfi was enticing too: Rye Crackers With Figs and Seeds.
Although I’ve purchased Whitney Castleton Crackers as small holiday gifts for friends and family, I didn’t indulge. I stuck with store bought Ak-Mok Sesame Crackers, made with organically grown and stoneground whole wheat flour, at a much lower “price-point.” But in the back of mind, there was always an idea to home-bake my own crackers. How hard would that be?
My starting point was the ever-handy cookbook, Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker (New York, NY: Scribner, 1997). The encouragement often given in this reliable cookbook is much appreciated: for example, a recipe for Cranberry Pecan Muffins posted on this website last Thanksgiving noted this advice: “Remember that muffins invite substitutions and inventive flavoring, and that any coffeecake, quick loaf, or corn bread batter can be made into muffins as well” (p. 782).
Similarly, Joy of Cooking writers were encouraging when it comes to making homemade crackers: “Almost any bread dough may be turned into crackers. Simply roll the dough out 1/8 inch thick, cut crackers to the desired size and shape, and place about 1 inch apart on a lightly greased baking sheet. You can brush the tops with melted butter or beaten egg and sprinkle sesame, poppy, or any favorite seeds on top before cutting.” In a preheated 450 degree oven, the crackers are baked “until they begin to turn light or golden brown, 6 to 9 minutes.”
But the cookbook’s advice was not all that I relied upon. I had also clipped a recipe by food writer Lisa Abraham published in my local newspaper, the Albany Times Union, for Fancy Homemade Crackers, which had been originally published in the Akron Beacon Journal. The recipe is not available on-line and food writer Abraham no longer appears to have an active internet presence. Moreover, this cracker recipe was originally sourced by Lisa Abraham from writer Catherine Newman (who writes a cooking and lifestyle blog called Ben and Birdy). Catherine Newman’s Fancy Homemade Crackers recipe apparently first appeared on a Disney family website from several years ago. (Credit given when credit is due!)
Delicious & Chewy Whole Grain Crackers (makes about 2 dozen)
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup rye flour
1/4 cup blue corn meal
1 tablespoon raw local honey
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup warm water
1/8 to 1/4 cup of unhulled sesame seeds (for topping)
For brushing on the dough before baking: 1/2 cup water with 1 teaspoon sea salt stirred into it.
My recipe varied from the recipe clipped from my local newspaper by substituting 3 whole grains, wheat, rye and corn for 1 and 1/2 cups of 100% wheat flour. The whole wheat pastry and rye flours and blue corn meal used in the recipe were all organically and locally grown in upstate New York, from Farmer Ground Flours (farmer owned, farmer grown in Tompkins County). The flours and corn meal, as well as the unhulled sesame seeds, were available in the inspiring Bulk Food department, with its nearly 1000 (yes, one thousand!) bins of bulk foods, of the Honest Weight Food Co-op in my hometown of Albany.
Whisk together the flours, corn meal and salt.
Stir in the warm water, olive oil & honey. (I used “raw, local, organic” honey from Nectar Hills Farm in Otsego County in upstate New York.)
Turn out on a floured board and knead by hand, adding extra flour if the dough seems too sticky, until it comes together and can be shaped into a nice looking ball (about 10 minutes).
Put the dough ball back into its bowl and lightly coat with olive oil (approximately a teaspoon).
I followed the directions of the recipe clipped from my local newspaper and covered the dough ball with plastic wrap.
[After following that step, I decided to google whether it would be possible to avoid using plastic wrap. The website Quora, which offers “answers to all your questions” via discussion groups which “connect people,” had a relevant discussion topic: Baking: Does dough have to be covered while rising? The discussion included advice from writer Andrew Bennigan who noted that plastic wrap could be avoided and that the traditional way is to cover with a cloth, “but make sure it is tucked in well to keep out drafts.” Next time, I would use a thin dish towel instead of plastic wrap.]
Rest the dough ball for an hour.
Heat the oven to 425 degrees.
Flip over a heavy rimmed baking sheet, flour it heavily, and roll out the dough onto the back of the sheet until it covers the pan more or less from edge to edge. It should be quite thin. Brush off the pan any extra flour.
Brush the dough with the salt and water, prick it all over with a fork (so the crackers don’t ballon up in the oven), and sprinkle with the sesame seeds.
Don’t worry about making sure the crackers are separated: they’ll break apart easily after baking.
Bake the crackers for 10 minutes, until they are golden and browning slightly on the edges and looking very baked.
Remove the baked crackers to a cooling rack. Use a pizza cutter (or a large knife) to cut the baked dough into the cracker size of your choice.
The recipe clipped from the newspaper noted that the crackers would “crisp up nicely” while cooling. However, the crackers I baked never became crispy and remained chewy (but delicious, still!). My hunch is that using corn meal made for the chewiness. For crisp crackers, corn flour, which is more finely ground than cornmeal, should be used instead. And the higher oven temperature of 450 degrees suggested by the Joy of Cooking cookbook (instead of 425 degrees) might result in crisp crackers. But the tastiness of these homemade crackers cannot be disputed and in less than 24 hours, they all were enjoyed with toppings of Manchego Anejo aged sheep milk cheese and Bionaturae organic bilberry fruit spread: a festive homemade treat perfect for picnickers.
One further note: After googling for cracker recipes, I discovered this delicious-sounding cracker recipe for Seedy Oat Crackers from Bon Appetit magazine. Although they require a total baking time of 40 minutes (and the use of parchment and flipping over the dough to bake on the “other” side), this cracker maker will be heating up the kitchen on another cool summer morning. The Bon Appetit recipe, which uses rolled oats and a variety of seeds (and no flours of any sort), is tempting.
(Frank W. Barrie, 7/27/17)