Sometimes I take on ridiculous projects. I make things that many people wonder, why bother? For example, why would you make your own crackers? Aren’t they perfectly good at the store? Well, yes. But. And it’s that but that always gets to the crux of the issue. I make things because I can, because I want to challenge my skills and myself. I make things because I’m curious. Will it work? Will it be delicious? Can I do it better, without all the crap? I make things because grocery prices piss me off. And sometimes, I just need to laugh. Well, most times actually. I crack myself up a lot.
This weekend, I found myself with some unexpected free time. I sort of found myself at a loss. Oh what to do, what to do? It was cold and rainy out so that narrowed my options quite a bit. That and the fact that I didn’t really want to change out of my pajamas. As I puttered around, for whatever reason my thoughts turned to crackers. Yes, crackers of all things. Isn’t that what most people think of on a cold rainy Saturday morning? Crackers?
Blame it on The Publican and some fabulous saltines I had last week. It got me thinking how delicious their saltines were and how do you make those anyway? My thoughts can be hazardous things when they get rolling. Case in point: I made three types of crackers that morning – saltines, seeded and cheese – because that’s what I do when I’m intrigued. I had mixed success but all were remarkably easy to do and the simplest by far was the cheese cracker. Turns out making crackers isn’t so difficult after all and so much more delicious than the store bought varieties.
I’ve been fiddling with this cheese recipe for a while. It’s a lot like cookie dough – flour and some kind of fat, worked together, formed into a roll, chilled, then sliced & baked. It’s a standard process in my kitchen and one I utilize all the time for Christmas cookies. I’ve used all kinds of cheeses in this recipes – cheddar, blue, goat, and pecorino – and have varied the spices/flavorings as well. This time I used parmesan and added a healthy shot of black pepper for a good zip. Sharp cheese and pepper are two things that I adore together. In fact, Cacio e Pepe (pasta with cheese & pepper) is a favorite quickie dinner around here so I took those flavors and made a simple cracker.
The dough couldn’t be easier – in a food processor, pulse flour, grated parmesan, pepper and salt. Work in the butter then add the sour cream and process until it just comes together. Give it a few turns, form into logs then chill. I usually freeze the logs at this point because they’re easier to slice and will keep forever. Then just slice and bake. The yield will vary based on how big you make the logs and how thick they’re sliced. Sometimes I’ll make teeny bite size crackers (more work but you’ll get a ton) and sometimes I’ll make larger crackers – about 1 ½” in diameter. All depends on what you feel like doing I suppose.
As I mentioned, I also went on that morning to make two other kinds of crackers – saltines and a seeded flatbread type. I’ll get to those at another time – they need a few tweaks and have stories all their own. I really liked the simple saltines but later that afternoon I ran into the chef from The Publican, Paul Kahan, and believe it or not we talked crackers. Doesn’t everybody? Funny how things work out. I’m going to try out his recipe and report back because it’s much more interesting than my plain ones. But in the end, the whole cracker combo I made was quite lovely, not that much work and I’ve pretty much been eating nothing but crackers all weekend. Not too shabby.
A quick word about the parmesan. Could you use Parmigiano Reggiano? Most certainly, assuming you have the budget. The stuff is delicious but pricey and these work perfectly well with a lesser grade parmesan. In fact, if I had to make a recommendation, I’d say save the reggiano for grating on pasta or somewhere it’ll really make a difference. While I’m at it, I should probably mention that I prefer the pepper to be coarsely and freshly ground. I whacked some up in my mortar and pestle to get the right texture and it was a lot faster than grinding 2 Tablespoons in my pepper mill, but you can use whatever works best in your kitchen.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: 5 STARS. You’re making cheese crackers for god’s sake. And easy ones at that. Tasty, crunchy, zippy goodness! Setting these out a party (or sitting down to a plate yourself) will make the night. Spicy cheesy bliss in one little bite. Hell yeah.
PARMESAN BLACK PEPPER CRACKERS
Makes about 5-6 dozen depending on size and thickness
Note: I grind my own pepper, rather coarsely, because I’m fancy and that’s just how I like it. It was recently brought to my attention that if you use preground pepper, 2 Tablespoons is a helluva lot. So if you use preground and if it’s a fine grind, cut back on that measurement or this may a bit much.
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup grated parmesan (about 4 ounces)
1-2 Tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cold cut into 1/2″ cubes
2/3 cup sour cream
- In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the flour, parmesan, salt and black pepper a few times to combine.
- Cut the butter into small chunks, add to the flour mixture and pulse a few times to break up into pea-size pieces.
- Add the sour cream to the food processor and process until just combined.
- Turn the mixture out on a work surface and give a few kneads to combine all the dry bits.
- Divide the mixture into thirds and shape into thick, even logs.
- Wrap the log in plastic wrap and give it a few rolls on the work surface to even out.
- Twist the ends tightly and refrigerate until firm – at least 1 hour or up to 2 days. Logs can be frozen, tightly wrapped, at this point.
- Preheat oven to 350°F and line two sheet pans with parchment or Silpat mats.
- Unwrap one log and with a sharp knife, slice ¼” thick rounds off the log, rotating the log after each slice to keep the round shape. If the dough becomes too soft, pop it back into the fridge or even the freezer to firm up.
- Place the slices on the prepared sheet pans, with about ¼” between each one to allow for a little spreading.
- Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden brown, rotating the sheets halfway through baking.
- Let cool completely on a wire rack before transferring to a serving platter. They’ll crisp up a bit as they cool.
- Baked crackers will keep, tightly wrapped, for a few days at room temperature.