Yes, of course it is easier just to go to the store to buy a box of crackers.
But they are easier to make than you think. And, at least in some cases, they taste better than store-bought. And then there is the wow factor.
Crackers are not the sort of thing you are likely to make for yourself. Frankly, you make your own crackers to impress others. You bring them to your colleagues at work, or to a pot-luck supper, or bring them out for parties.
And then, of course, you have to work the fact that you made them yourself into the conversation.
Them: “I’m getting so excited that the football season is starting again soon.”
You: “Me, too. I love to watch football from my own couch. That way, I can drink beer and eat snacks, like these crackers I made myself.”
So there is a certain amount of effort involved, but it is far outweighed by the appreciation received.
And to tell the truth, the easiest crackers do not take much effort at all. Mark Bittman has a recipe for the simplest of all possible crackers: It’s just flour, a little butter or oil, a bit of salt, and water, mixed together and then baked. It literally takes the oven longer to preheat than it does to make the crackers, including baking time.
The taste is just as simple and pure, the essence of crackers. They are sort of like Saltines without the salt — call them Tines. If you want them a little saltier, and you very well might, you could sprinkle just a little bit of flaky or crunchy salt over the top before baking them. Or if you crave a bolder flavor (and these crackers are decidedly subtle), you could add Parmesan cheese to the dough.
I like the elegance of their simplicity. I like them a little too much, actually, and have been nibbling on them nonstop. I tried some with a smear of marmalade, and they were wonderful.
For a cracker that is almost as basic, but a little richer and deeper in flavor, I turned to the erstwhile maven of cooking and design, Martha Stewart. Say what you want to about her, but she makes good crackers.
Her simple white crackers are made from just six ingredients, and two of them are salt (table and kosher). They come together quickly in a food processor, and require just a little work with a rolling pin. The crackers come out of the oven crisp and crunchy, a perfect bed for a spread or a hunk of cheese.
Much more complex in flavor, but not much harder to make, are cheese crackers made with plenty of butter and real cheddar cheese. They are quite similar to the 1770 Cheese Biscuits that we wrote about a couple of weeks ago, with a taste not unlike a Cheez-It, though somewhat broader and much richer (did we mention the butter?).
For a fool-proof recipe, I turned once again to Martha Stewart. Say what you want to about her, but …
Once again, the dough is made in a food processor, so it is fast and easy and convenient. For these crackers, though, the dough has to be rolled into a log and then refrigerated for at least four hours and up to one day. I was making mine at night, so I chilled mine for almost the full day with no detrimental effects.
As is the case with all the crackers I made, these have a short shelf life. You can keep the others for at least a few days without them going stale, but these will only last a day. The good news is you don’t have to worry about it: They’ll all be gone long before 24 hours have elapsed.
Of all the crackers I made, my favorites would have to be the crisp corn wafers, from a recipe by Shirley O. Corriher (and based on how fast they went when they were brought to the office, they are the favorites of everyone else, too). As Ms. Corriher writes in her book CookWise, “they are addictive — you can’t eat just five.”
They take the most work, but they are decidedly worth it. One secret is they are made with instant flour, such as Wondra, so the thin batter does not clump. The other secret is that the butter is, in fact, thin. That means it can be poured onto a baking sheet, which can then be tilted in all directions to spread it out and make it paper-thin. And because they are so thin, they are also extra-crispy and extra-elegant. Not to mention extra-tasty.
They are so good, you might want to throw a party just to show them off.
Contact Daniel Neman at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6155.
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter or neutral oil, such as corn or grapeseed
Cook's note: These basic crackers leave lots of room for improvising. You can blend a little cheese, nuts, garlic, or herbs into the dough before rolling or replace some of the white flour with whole wheat, rye, or cornmeal. Or, just before baking, dust the tops with coarse salt, sesame seeds, or poppy seeds. It's virtually impossible to overwork the dough since you are essentially looking for all crust.
Preheat oven to 400°. Lightly dust 2 baking sheets with flour or put a baking stone in the oven.
Put the flour, salt, and butter or oil together in a food processor. Pulse until the flour and butter are combined. Add about ¼ cup water and let the machine run for a bit; continue to add water a teaspoon at a time, until the mixture holds together but is not sticky.
Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface (or piece of parchment paper) until ¼ inch thick or even thinner, adding flour as needed. Score lightly with a sharp knife or razor if you want to break the crackers into nice squares or rectangles.
Use a spatula, pastry blade, or peel to transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheets or stone (or if using the parchment paper, transfer it to the baking sheets or place it on the back of a baking sheet and slide it onto the preheated baking stone). Bake until lightly browned, about 10 minutes or more. Cool on a rack; serve warm or at room temperature or store in a tin for up to a couple of days.
Yield: 4 servings
Source: How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman
Simple White Crackers
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
½ teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon whole milk
Kosher salt, for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 325°. Pulse flour, table salt, and sugar in a food processor to combine. Add butter, and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. With machine running, gradually add milk; process until dough comes together.
Transfer dough to lightly floured surface. Roll into 10-by-12-inch sheet, 1/16 inch thick. Sprinkle with kosher salt; gently roll to press salt into dough.
Cut dough into 2½-inch squares; carefully transfer to a baking sheet. Liberally pierce with a fork. Bake until just brown and firm to touch, 20-25 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Yield: 20 crackers
Source: Martha Stewart Living
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
½ pound sharp cheddar, grated (3 cups)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon fine salt
¾ teaspoon crushed red pepper, see cook's note
1¼ cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
Cook's note: Three-quarters of a teaspoon of crushed red pepper gives these biscuit-like crackers a notable kick. Use less if you want them to be less spicy.
In a food processor, pulse together butter, cheese, egg, mustard, salt, and crushed red pepper until smooth. Add flour and pulse until combined. Transfer dough to a work surface and form into a 2-inch-wide log. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until firm, 4 hours (or up to 1 day).
Preheat oven to 350°, with racks in upper and lower thirds. Slice dough into ¼-inch rounds and arrange, 1 inch apart, on two parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake until edges are golden, 15-20 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Let cool on wire racks. Store in an airtight container, up to 1 day.
Yield: About 30 crackers
Source: Martha Stewart Living
Crisp Corn Wafers
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon sugar
1 large egg
1 cup instant flour, such as Wondra or Shake & Blend
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup whole milk, room temperature
½ cup water, room temperature
¼ cup cornmeal, white or yellow
Butter, to grease pans
Preheat oven to 375°.
Beat together the butter and sugar in a mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat in well.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.
Sift half of the flour mixture into the butter-egg mixture and beat in well on low speed. Stir in the milk, then sift in the remaining flour mixture and stir in. Stir in the water. Sprinkle the cornmeal on top and stir just to mix in well. Strain to remove lumps. You should have about 2 cups of batter, enough for 2/3 cup per pan for three pans.
Butter well three 10-by-15-inch jelly-roll pans by spreading the butter with a piece of wax paper. Pour 2/3 cup of batter along the long side of the pan and tilt as needed to spread the batter completely over the pan as evenly as possible (if using a larger pan, tilt until the batter thinly and evenly covers an area about 10 inches by 15 inches). Repeat with the second pan. You can bake two pans at once, but alternate the shelves once during the baking for even cooking.
Bake about 8 minutes or until just the edges are lightly browned. Remove the pans from the oven and use a pizza cutter or sharp knife to cut the crackers into squares. Rotate the crackers around the edge of each pan so that the brown edge is inside. Place crackers back in the oven and continue baking another 8 minutes. Remove all lightly browned crackers to paper towels to cool. Return pale crackers to the oven to brown lightly, several minutes. Butter each pan before reuse.
Store in an airtight can.
Yield: About 75 small crackers
Source: CookWise, by Shirley O. Corriher