Friday, July 27, 2012

Crack(er)ing Up

While I’m ordinarily one of the last ones to finish my Daring Bakers’ challenges, this time I was among the first.  There was a possibility I would be returning to full-time employment in July so I wanted to do my challenge baking while I knew I would have time.  Unfortunately, that meant baking while the thermometer hovered somewhere around 104°F.  But the motivation was there, so I went with it.  By the time I was done, Satan would have felt at home in our kitchen.

Our July 2012 Daring Bakers’ Hostess was Dana McFarlane and she challenged us to make homemade crackers.  Dana showed us some techniques for making crackers and encouraged us to use our creativity to make each cracker our own by using ingredients we love.  The challenge required us to make crackers using two of three different methods: hand rolled crackers, “ice box” (sliced) crackers or crackers made using a pasta roller. 

My first cracker was a hand rolled cracker using a recipe I’d saved some time ago from King Arthur Flour for Carta di Musica

The recipe is intended to be thin, crisp, cracker-like bread about seven inches in diameter.  I used the recipe as is but just made them much smaller. 

The recipe itself is beyond easy: 

combine the ingredients in your mixer bowl and mix with the dough hook on medium speed for about seven minutes;

after the ingredients are combined, the dough will pull away from the sides of the bowl
divide the dough and let it rest;

I weighed out my pieces to try to keep them as uniform as possible
roll it and bake it. 

rolled and ready to bake
The only things I would do differently would be to make them slightly smaller and roll the dough thinner.  It took my crackers a lot longer to bake than the recipe indicated, and some places where the dough was too thick ended up being hard instead of crispy-crunchy.  I brushed the warm baked crackers with olive oil and sprinkled them with rosemary salt.  As is, they are pretty much a blank canvas.  I think the next batch will get spiced up a little bit.

For my second cracker, an ice box cracker, I adapted Ina Garten’s recipe for blue cheese and walnut crackers into white cheddar, cranberry and walnut crackers. 

The most difficult part of these was finely chopping the sticky dried cranberries.  (Dana, a big THANK YOU for this challenge.  Seriously, had I realized making crackers was so stupidly easy I would have done it a long time ago!)  I made these using the same method as food processor pie crust.

Measure out the dry ingredients and stir in the dried cranberries.

the cranberries really are in there
Then add the cheese to the work bowl of the food processor and give it several pulses until it's coarsely grated.

I could have shredded this by hand, but white cheddar is
notoriously crumbly and I don't like shredding my fingers
Add the dry ingredients and the cold butter cubes to the cheese, whirl it around to combine and with the processor running, slowly add one to two tablespoons of ice cold water until the dough comes together.

the amount of water you need can depend on the humidity
Turn the dough out on to a sheet of parchment (or plastic) and roll it into a log.  Wrap the dough log and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes or overnight. 

ready to wrap and refrigerate (the "ice box" part)
Slice the dough log into 1/8" - 1/4" slices using a thin, sharp knife,

thinner slices = crisper crackers
then place on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake to perfection.

these will spread a little bit as they bake
The problem with my recipe is that it didn't quite produce perfection.  The original recipe contained quite a bit of salt and I didn't adjust the quantity of salt in light of the fact I was using salty extra-sharp white cheddar.  Even with the sweet cranberries, these crackers are SAL-TY.  That being said, they are still oddly addictive and even Tug liked them, probably because the salt overpowered the sweetness of the cranberries.

Not all of the crackers fit on my baking sheet and those left over went back in the refrigerator.  The oven had been on long enough.  I was looking at them the next day and an idea to reduce their saltiness occurred to me.  Next to the wrapped, unbaked crackers was a plastic bag with some raw, rinsed potato slices left over from a gratin.  I've always heard if you over season a soup or sauce to put a large piece of raw potato in it to absorb some of the salt - so why not try and layer my unbaked crackers with the raw potato slices?  Why not, indeed.  I patted dry the potato slices and sandwiched them in between the sliced cracker dough.  The whole package was re-wrapped and put back in the refrigerator for several hours.  When I unwrapped them, I was amazed at how much moisture had been drawn out - I had to blot the crackers before baking them!  But you know what?  It worked!  Those crackers weren't even half as salty as the first ones I baked.  (For the recipe below, I have drastically reduced the quantity of salt.)

For the recipes and techniques provided for the challenge, please visit The Daring Kitchen Recipe Archive, and check out all of the inspiring results at The Daring Kitchen.  To see some particularly inspiring crackers, check out Audax Artifex - I would love to try his recipes some time!

White Cheddar, Cranberry and Walnut Crackers
Adapted from Ina Garten’s Blue Cheese and Walnut Crackers

206 g (1-1/2 cups) Italian 00 flour
2 g (1/2 tsp) kosher salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
41 g (1/3 cup) walnuts, toasted and finely chopped
43 g (1/4 cup) dried cranberries, finely chopped
170 g (6 oz) white cheddar cheese, cold, cubed
113 g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cold, cubed
1 – 2 Tbs ice cold water

Whisk the flour, salt, pepper, walnuts and cranberries together in a small bowl.  Set aside.

Add the cheese to the work bowl of a food processor and process until coarsely grated.  Add the dry ingredients and the butter cubes; pulse five or six times to combine.  With the motor running, slowly stream in one tablespoon of the ice water.  If the dough is still somewhat dry and hasn’t come together, add the other tablespoon of water gradually, using only enough to bring the dough together.

Scrape the dough onto a sheet of parchment or plastic wrap, press it together, and roll into a log about 12 inches long.  Wrap the dough in the parchment or plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Slice the dough 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick with a thin, sharp knife.  Place the crackers one inch apart on a sheet pan lined with parchment.  Bake the crackers for 20 – 22 minutes until lightly golden brown, rotating the pan halfway through baking. Remove the crackers to a rack to cool.  Serve at room temperature.  Store the crackers in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days.  If necessary, reheat the crackers in a 350° oven for five minutes to crisp.


  1. These both look and sound great. I laughed at your satan comment since I just arrived in NY today and feel that he is living at my moms house! Man, I do not like the intense heat anymore....

    1. I know, right?! It's been back over 100 degrees here again. Definitely not oven-friendly weather.

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you! There were so many great recipes this month. I can't wait for it to cool off so I can try some of them!

  3. as if that trick with the potatoes worked! awesome!

    1. Even as I was layering the potato slices with the cracker slices I was thinking, "there's no way this will work". I still can't believe it did!

  4. I like the idea of that potato trick too- good to know and great job! I like the combination of cranberry and walnut that you used.

    1. Thanks, Hannah! When it cools off I intend to try the cranberry crackers again (with less salt) to see if I can actually taste the cranberries versus just knowing they're there.

  5. That potato trick sounds fantastic! Have you ever used it with doughs before? I always hate it when there is too much salt and a recipe feels ruined. These crackers look fantastic. I'm particularly drawn to those cranberry ones.

    1. This is actually the first time I used the potato trick for anything, much less on dough! The cranberry crackers were so easy and I think they would be really great for a cocktail party.

  6. The first recipe looks great and so does the second... I would have loved to have seen a baked photo - even if it didn't work! My post is late. Soon.

    1. Thanks, Valerie! The (poorly lit) large photo in the center are the cranberry crackers right after I took them out of the oven, but it doesn't do them any justice at all!

  7. I bet your first cracker batch would be good with hummus. And white cheddar/cranberry sounds really good! Thanks for the potato tip. That's good to know.

    1. Kelly, I think you're right - those crackers would have been good with hummus. But then again, I bet your Ritz crackers would have been too! Isn't that the craziest thing about the potato? Who knew?!

  8. OMG, I can't help drooling. I just love your crackers
    Well done !
    If you submitted your crackers photos to Food Photography , I'll bet this will make you on the featured home page.
    Gosh, you have made me sooo hungry !

    1. Thank you! Honestly, my food photography skills are sorely lacking. Occasionally I just get lucky!

  9. We use the potato trick quite often with curries but using them in crackers , wow!
    Your Cranberry and walnut crackers look so yummy :) Its a shame that we dont get cranberry and cheddar cheese here :(

    1. I seriously would never have thought of trying the potato trick if I'd not had that bag of sliced potatoes sitting next to the roll of cracker dough! Funny how things inspire us.

      Dried cranberries and cheddar cheese are practically staples in our house. I don't know what I would do if I couldn't get them!

  10. They both look delicious! I will definitely be baking another batch or two when I am home again in September. Hopefully your kitchen has cooled off and Satan has moved out!!

    1. Thanks, Mary. After today, we're supposed to have a few days that will "cool down into the 90's"! I have to confess that I have some cheddar standing by to try a less salty version of the cranberry crackers.


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