Cracker Recipe(s)

So then, imagine you’re a military rations purveyor to the US government circa 1865. The Civil War just ended and your hardtack business has tanked. You’ve got dozens of hard-earned dollars invested in your state-of-the-art baking equipment and need to find a way to re-purpose it for peacetime use. Could crackers be mass-marketed to ordinary citizens? Crazier things have worked, but first you need to gentrify the recipe a little. Adding some leavening would be a good start — why not some of that newfangled chemical stuff everybody’s using these days? This is modern American industry, after all. Then maybe some fat, and who doesn’t appreciate a little sugar? Mix it all up, roll it out thin and there you have it — a new industrial food product is born. You might not go bankrupt after all!

I’m including three different recipes for the same cracker here. Why? Because you may want to put lots of advance planning into your crackers, but then again you may not. The cracker recipe I used a decade ago was a simple mix-and-roll affair. It was quite nice, but the crackers were rather bland if we didn’t cover them with herbs or seeds (which we did). Surveying recipes on the web, I found that quite a few call for commercial yeast. Not for leavening (classically, crackers are made with soda or baking powder), but for flavor. A little yeast in the mix plus an overnight retarding in the fridge adds a bread-like depth to a plain jane cracker. But then if yeast and bacteria flavors are so desirable, why not just add a little bread starter instead? Provided your starter is relatively fresh, it’s a best-of-both-worlds (fast and flavorful) solution. For the straight crackers you’ll need:

7.5 ounces (1 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar
5 1/2 ounces (2/3 cup) water
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) soft butter

For yeasted crackers you’ll need:

7.5 ounces (1 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar
5 1/2 ounces (2/3 cup) water
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) soft butter

For starter crackers you’ll need:

5 ounces (1 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
5 ounces bread starter (see instructions under the bread menu to the right)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar
2 ounces water
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) soft butter

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl or in the bowl of a food processor and stir or process until smooth and even. The dough will be rather wet and soft, however a chill in the fridge will firm it up significantly. Cover the bowl with plastic and put it into the fridge for at least 2 hours, or if you’re making the yeasted version, 18 hours.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Place about a third of the dough on a well-floured surface and roll it out quite thin, about 1/16th of an inch. At this point you have a decision to make: if you like a flaky cracker, you can give the sheet a 3-way “letter” fold and re-roll it to 1/16th of an inch. Or you can proceed straight to the cutting stage, which is what I normally do. Next, cut the dough into squares — what size is again up to you. Transfer them to a parchment-lined baking sheet and “dock” them with a fork by pricking holes all over them (if you like you can do this step before you cut, but with such a small quantity of crackers, it doesn’t make much difference). Oh, and in case you were already feeling like you had too many choices, did I mention you can use a biscuit cutter to make circle shapes if you want? Roll and cut all the dough, recycling the scraps. You’ll have about two cookies sheets worth.

Paint the crackers with melted butter if you like. It’s not only tasty, it helps things like seeds, herbs and salt to stick. Sprinkle with seeds, herbs or salt. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until light browned and mostly dry. Cool and eat.

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5 Responses to Cracker Recipe(s)

  1. Shauna says:

    Hi,

    We made the boiled icing at lunch and kept reading this site…so I made the crackers about an hour later (no-yeast version). I didn’t put the dough in the fridge for 2 hours, just floured well. I used combinations of basil oil, sea salt, garlic, rosemary, butter, cheese, and black pepper. MAKE HOMEMADE CRACKERS!! I made homemade tomato soup earlier today and it’s chillin in the fridge for dinner with the crackers IF my stepsons don’t eat the rest of them before dinner. I don’t know if I’ll ever buy saltines again. Bland little square chalk-bites.

  2. Elena says:

    WOW! Excellent recipe. Made the yeasted version, with 25% whole-wheat flour and they disappeared in a day! My second batch is resting in the fridge as we are speaking. I sprinkled nigella seeds on some, sesame seeds, thyme etc and maybe overdid it with the salt sprinking on the top, otherwise they were the best! No more store bought crackers in this house!

    • joepastry says:

      Aren’t they easy? Amazing what you can do with a little flour, water and salt!

      Thanks for the note, Elena!

      - Joe

  3. Nancy says:

    We love these crackers, Joe. Any idea how many days the dough can be stored in refrigerator? I’d like to bake just what I need for one meal since the crackers are so addictive!

    • joepastry says:

      Hi Nancy!

      You can keep naturally-leavened cracker dough for about three days. Chemically-leavened dough will keep for about a week!

      Cheers and thanks. Glad you like them!

      - Joe

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