Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Home-made Crackers!

A friend of mine at work is having to eat a very limited diet for a while, due to recent surgery on her small intestine. She told me she was getting really bored with crackers! That inspired me to try making some home-made ones. So far, I've done two batches of graham crackers, two of cracked wheat crackers, and one batch of herbed wheat crackers. They're fun!


Graham Crackers

Here are my hints for crackers, based on my experiences so far:
1) Try to roll them as evenly as possible, so they bake evenly. Also, be sure they're very thin, or they will end up soft and doughy on the inside, not crisp and "crackery."
2) You definitely don't want to underbake crackers, as that will also make them soft and doughy. On the other hand, if they are deeply browned all over they don't taste as good. You want to aim for brown edges and golden in the center.
3) You'll have to hover over them and watch carefully towards the end of baking. It will help to have a spatula and small pan or rack ready, so you can scoop off the ones that have gotten done a little early and push the rest of them back into the oven to finish up.

The graham crackers were from the recipe in the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion. They do have a graham cracker recipe posted on their Web site, but it's not the same one. The one from the book has a higher ratio of whole wheat to white flour, butter instead of oil, confectioners' sugar instead of plain sugar, and no egg.

The Best Graham Crackers, from “The King Arthur Cookie Companion,” p. 332-333

1/2 c. (2 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 c. (7 7/8 oz.) whole wheat flour
3/4 c. (3 oz.) confectioners’ sugar (I reduced this to 2 oz. the second time, which we preferred)
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon (optional) (I reduced this to 1/2 tsp.)
1/2 c. (4 oz.) unsalted butter, cold, cut into chunks
2 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. vanilla extract (not in original recipe, I added it)
2 Tbsp. cold milk (not skim), or more as needed

* Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cut out two sheets of parchment paper as big as your baking sheets.
* In small bowl, combine honey, vanilla, and milk, stirring until honey dissolves. In bowl of food processor, process together flours, sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Stop processor, add butter chunks, and pulse them in until mixture is crumbly and looks like coarse corn meal. (You do not want any large pieces--this is not pie crust.)
* Gradually pour milk/honey mixture through feed tube and process until mixture mostly comes together. Remove bowl from food processor, toss mixture with fork and gradually add more milk if needed. It should come together and not be dry, but not sticky either. (Note: the King Arthur recipe calls for cutting the butter in by hand, but I love to use my food processor!)
* Turn dough onto floured surface and fold it over gently a few times, until smooth. Divide into two pieces. You may wrap and chill the dough at this point, if you wish, but it is not necessary. (You can also freeze it for future use.)
* Work with half the dough at a time, keeping the remaining half covered. Lay one of the pieces of parchment paper out on your work surface, and flour very lightly. Roll out dough into a rectangle a little bigger than 10 by 14 inches. Trim edges evenly and prick all over with fork or dough docker. Use pizza wheel to cut dough into rectangles. (They recommend 16 rectangles, 4 strips x 4 strips, but I did more like 4 x 8 for smaller crackers.) Pick up the parchment and transfer to baking sheet. There is no need to separate the crackers from each other.
* Bake for about 15 minutes, until just browning around the edges and medium gold color in center. Remove from heat and let cool 8 to 10 minutes on pan, until just barely warm. The second time I made these, I used the convection bake setting at about 315 degrees. They may not take quite as long to bake that way.
* Break crackers apart along scored lines and cool completely on rack.

I made these twice, one time with regular whole wheat flour and buckwheat honey, one time with white whole wheat flour and barley malt syrup. They were great! My friend at work really liked them. So did my husband -- he promptly pulled out a jar of peanut butter and went to town. (That's why I had to make a second batch!)

My husband then said, "Could you make those Stoned Wheat Thins at home?" We go through a lot of them, so it seemed worth a try. After reading the ingredients and looking through cookbooks, I modified the Soda Cracker recipe from Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Bread. (If you like to make bread, you really must get this book, by the way. More recipes than you'll get through in a lifetime -- unless you bake bread as often as Mr. Clayton!)


rolling out the Bulgur Wheat Crackers

Bulgur Wheat Crackers adapted from Plain Soda Crackers, p. 694-697, Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads

1/4 c. bulgur wheat (1.4 oz / 40 gm), pulsed in mini food processor to break up the largest bits
2 Tbsp. solid vegetable shortening
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tsp. malt syrup
3/4 c. boiling water
1/4 c. white whole wheat flour (1.25 oz / 35 gm)
3/4 c. unbleached all-purpose flour (3.75 oz / 106 gm)
1 1/2 tsp. instant dry yeast
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 c. (2.5 oz / 71 gm) all-purpose flour, or more as needed to make dough
more flour as needed for kneading and rolling out
2 Tbsp. melted butter for brushing (I used browned butter for more flavor)
salt for sprinkling

* Place bulgur, shortening, oil, and malt syrup in heat-proof bowl. Pour boiling water on top and stir until shortening melts. Let cool to 120 to 130 degrees F.
* In mixing bowl, place white wheat flour, 3/4 c. all-purpose flour, yeast, salt, baking powder, and cream of tartar. Whisk to mix.
* Pour liquid over dry ingredients; stir vigorously to blend with spoon or spatula. Gradually add the rest of the flour to make a dough that can be kneaded. If the dough is sticky, sprinkle in more flour until it can be worked.
* Turn out on lightly floured surface and knead until soft and elastic, about 4 minutes. If the dough is too sticky, add sprinkles of flour as needed.
* Place dough into oiled or buttered bowl, cover, and refrigerate. The longer the better, up to 18 hours.
* Place one rack in center of oven and preheat to 425 F. If you have a convection oven, set to 375 F convection bake instead.
* Cut two pieces of parchment paper the size of your baking sheets. Cut another piece about a yard long.
* Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll out to a long rectangle about 18 inches by 6 inches. Fold one-third of dough into center from short ends, so you end up with a dough packet about 6-by-6 inches and 3 layers thick.
* Lay the large parchment out on your work surface. Roll the dough out to a very large rectangle -- aim for about 11 by 26 to 28 inches. (If you don't have enough room for this, cut dough in half and roll it in two smaller batches.)
* If the dough gets too stretchy and hard to roll, cover it up and let it rest for a few minutes so the gluten can relax. Once you've finished rolling, again let it sit for a few minutes to relax. Trim the edges neatly and remove the scraps. (Note: breaks in the dough can be patched by moistening the area lightly and applying a small piece of dough pinched from the edge. Squish the patch into place and go over it lightly with the rolling pin to flatten it out. You can use a similar technique to even up the edges.)
* Cut the long dough rectangle into two equal pieces about 11 by 13 inches. Place the two pan-sized parchment papers over the dough, centering each one on one of the dough pieces. (The parchments will overlap.) Flip the whole "sandwich" over and peel off the top layer of parchment paper. Gently pull apart the two pieces of parchment paper.
* Prick the dough all over with a fork and cut into the size and shape of crackers you desire (a ruler and a pizza wheel are good for this). Brush the top of the dough all over with the melted butter, and sprinkle lightly with salt. (Mr. Clayton recommends sprinkling from about 12 inches above the dough to get a light, even coat of salt.)
* Slide the crackers on parchment onto your baking sheet. They will shrink slightly when baked, so it will not be necessary to separate them. Bake for 8 to 12 minutes, until brown at the edges and golden over almost all of the top. Remove to rack to cool.


Herbed Wheat Crackers

My last batch was Herbed Wheat Crackers,
adapted from Plain Soda Crackers, p. 694-697, Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads

About 1 Tbsp. dried rosemary and 1 tsp. dried thyme, pulsed in spice grinder or mini food processor until rosemary is in small pieces (I'm sure fresh would have been better. Maybe next time.)
2 Tbsp. solid vegetable shortening
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. malt syrup
3/4 c. boiling water
1/2 c. white whole wheat flour (2.5 oz / 71 gm)
1/2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour (2.5 oz / 71 gm)
1 1/2 tsp. instant dry yeast
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 c. (2.5 oz / 71 gm) all-purpose flour, or more as needed to make dough
more flour as needed for kneading and rolling out
2 Tbsp. olive oil for brushing
salt for sprinkling

* Place herbs, shortening, oil, and malt syrup in heat-proof bowl. Pour boiling water on top and stir until shortening melts. Let cool to 120 to 130 degrees F.
* In mixing bowl, place white wheat flour, 1/2 c. all-purpose flour, yeast, salt, baking powder, and cream of tartar. Whisk to mix.
* Continue as for Bulgur Wheat crackers above.

Now that I have mastered a couple of basic recipes, I want to branch out to fancier crackers! I'd like to try something with cornmeal, olive oil, and fresh rosemary, for example. And some sort of sesame cracker. Then there were all the fancy ones I saw at Whole Foods -- sundried tomato and olive, for example. All sorts of tastes in a simple cracker!

4 comments:

Jessica said...

Those crackers look amazing. I have several cracker recipes bookmarked in the King Arthur Companion cookbook. You've inspired me to try them. I feel much more confident about making them now that I've read your tips.

Desmone007 said...

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dharmagirl said...

thanks for the abundance of cracker recipes! i've always wanted to try making my own graham crackers but haven't done it yet. thanks for the inspiration:)

christine said...

Hello Barbara! I found this blog in foodista and followed it here. This is a lovely blog and awesome Cracker recipes, I love the Herbed Wheat Crackers most, reminds me of mom's recipe and it was superb. By the way you can place more foodista widget in your past and future blogs so that other foodista readers can follow and see your blog too. I hope to read more from you. Cheers!