Chances are, you learned to bake cookies in grade school, and over the years, you have tried your hand at muffins, maybe even yeasted breads. Depending on your love of the oven, you may even had some success with layer cakes and double crust pies. But have you ever made crackers?
Crackers, somewhere along the line, became something that nobody makes at home. We all grew up with saltines to crumble in our soup, and they arrive in a box, never from the oven.
Well, like so many foods, crackers are best when homemade. They are not that much work, either. If you have rolled out a pie crust or made cut-out cookies, you can master crackers.
A new book, Crackers and Dips, More Than 50 Homemade Snacks (Chronicle Books $19.95) has brought Ivy Manning’s amazing cracker recipes to your kitchen. Manning is a prolific food writer whose previous books are The Farm to Table Cookbook, and The Adaptable Feast. She also writes for Cooking Light, Bon Appetit, Fine Cooking, Living Without and the Oregonian, and does travel writing, too.
Manning has created a useful book that will guide you through your cracker explorations. I was completely won over by her approach, as she points out that most crackers have plenty of questionable additives, and then proceeds to make your favorite flavors using whole, natural ingredients. She also makes an economic case for DIY, since your typical box of crackers is really a bunch of packaging that contains crackers made from flour, oil, and salt. At their simplest, crackers are some cheap food to make at home.
Of course, Manning didn’t devote a whole book to plain crackers, but to exploring versions of favorite crackers made with better ingredients, and to creating new and exciting crackers. They are all worth making. They are not all vegan or vegetarian, but there are lots of good crackers and spreads in the book that are. She even gives a number of gluten-free options, for the cracker-craving GF diner.
So dust off that rolling pin and pre-heat the oven, it’s time to make crackers!
I picked this vegan-friendly veggie cracker, which is tinged red from tomato paste. I think I ground the veggie bits a little too finely, and will leave them in slightly larger pieces next time.
All in all, delicious!
Garden of Eden Vegetable Crackers
My all-time favorite cracker growing up was the tangy, salty crackers studded with dehydrated vegetables, cut out into vegetable-like shapes. I’ve sorted out how to re-create the veggie-flecked crackers at home, with lots less sodium, sugar, and fat but all the savory flavor I remember. They may not be health food, but they are addictively delicious!
For the dehydrated vegetables in the recipe, I use the chunky bits lurking at the top of Knorr Vegetable Recipe Mix pouches. You can also buy dried vegetable blends in bulk at natural foods stores (sometimes labeled “soup vegetables”), or make your own blend with dehydrated bell peppers, dried onion flakes, and sun-dried tomatoes.
MAKES ABOUT 80 CRACKERS
2 tbsp dehydrated vegetables (see headnote)
1 cup/130 g whole-wheat flour
1 cup plus 2 tbsp/145 g unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
1 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
2 tsp granulated onion powder
1 tsp granulated garlic powder
1/4 cup/60 ml extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp/135 ml water
1 tbsp tomato paste
Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C/ gas 6. Using a clean spice grinder or a mortar and pestle, grind the dehydrated vegetables until they are fairly fine; pieces should not exceed 1/16 in/2 mm wide, or the crackers will be difficult to roll and cut.
In a large bowl, whisk together the dehydrated vegetables, whole-wheat flour, all-purpose flour, sugar, baking powder, sea salt, paprika, onion powder, and garlic powder. Add the olive oil and rub it into the flour mixture with your fingers until it is completely incorporated and the mixture is crumbly. In a small bowl, whisk together the water and tomato paste. Add the water mixture to the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until just combined.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and slightly elastic, about 20 strokes. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it rest for 30 minutes. (The dough can be made ahead up to this point. Refrigerate the wrapped dough for up to 24 hours.)
Lightly dust a clean work surface and a rolling pin with all-purpose flour. Divide the dough into two equal-size balls. Roll out one ball of dough until it is 1/16 in/2 mm thick, picking up the dough occasionally and rotating it to make sure it’s not sticking to the work surface and adding more flour as necessary. If the dough springs back as you are rolling, set it aside and start rolling out the second ball; this will allow the gluten in the first ball of dough to relax, thus making it easier to roll out.
Using a pastry wheel or pizza cutter, trim any irregular edges (save the scraps). Cut the dough into 2-in-/5-cm-wide strips. Transfer the strips to a baking sheet, spacing the strips 1/2 in/ 12 mm apart. Sprinkle the strips sparingly with kosher salt and use the bottom of a measuring cup to gently tamp it into the dough. Prick the strips all over with a fork or comb and cut the strips crosswise into 2-in/5-cm squares. Repeat with the remaining dough and scraps.
Bake until the squares are light brown around the edges and firm to the touch, 12 to 15 minutes, rotating the pans once from top to bottom and from back to front while baking. Watch carefully; these crackers go from perfectly done to burned very quickly. If some of the crackers are done before others, transfer them to a cooling rack and return the undone crackers to the oven for a few more moments. Cool the crackers and store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
Wasabi Edamame Schmear
The fresh, clean flavor of this thick soybean-based dip, or schmear, as I like to call it, goes well with the sesame seeds on the Crispy Wonton Triangles and the soy and mirin flavors of the Senbei. It’s even more virtuous served with thinly sliced carrots and blanched pea pods. The heat from the wasabi will intensify with time; so if you prefer just a whisper of wasabi, add it right before serving.
MAKES 1 1/2 CUPS/360 ML
One 12-oz/340-g bag frozen shelled edamame (green soybeans), defrosted
1/3 cup/75 ml water
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tbsp sesame butter (tahini)
2 tsp wasabi paste (not powder)
Fine sea salt
2 tbsp vegetable oil
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the edamame, water, lemon juice, sesame butter, wasabi paste, and 1 tsp salt. Process until the mixture is smooth, about 4 minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides of the work bowl once or twice while blending. With the machine running, slowly add the vegetable oil and process until incorporated. Taste the dip and season with salt, if needed. Keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.