I spend an unhealthy amount of time trying to figure out what makes a cracker a cracker, and how to drum up whatever I have most recently concluded at home. Is it a two-ingredient mix of spelt (or other) flour and water with some seeds on top? An olive oil-brushed flatbread with rosemary? A cheese straw rolled thin and flat? Need it be something sturdy and neutral enough that you can spread cheese or tapenade upon it? Is it acceptable if it is too tender, rich and loudly flavored to have anything piled on its belly?
About the only conclusion I have come to is that I don’t want them to come out of a box and that I detest those ubiquitous “table water crackers”. [I feel much better getting that off my chest and I apologize if I have been at a party (that would be “all parties, everywhere”) where you served them and are now offended.]
Nevertheless, this here is my latest attempt at creating something cracker-like that you can put out instead. More entrenched in the “tender and flavorful” than the “sturdy and neutral” camp, we had a bite of these and instantly concluded that I had made better, more delicious Cheez-Its. (Which is great, as I don’t like them either. This makes me some sort of cracker communist, right?) Docking them with a fork allowed the release of air so that they stayed more crisp and less puffy, and baking them until they are nicely browned on top kept them from being too tender for a schmear of tapenade or another spread. However, they stand so well on their own that I’m not sure I’d bother adding more richness to them — I mean, pudgy rubber band wrists are really only cute on the infant set.
Parmesan Cream Crackers
Adapted from Mark Bittman
Maybe I’ve mentioned this before but I like The Minimalist column quite a bit for Bittman’s ideas and low-fuss approach to cooking, but when it comes to the execution of these ideas, I need a lot more detail to make them work. In this case, the recipe itself makes delicious crackers but I found rolling the crackers the recommended 1/2-inch thick to be still too thick, that they required docking to keep them from being little puffers and that I got the best browning from making them as individual crackers, not a large one scored. Below is the original recipe with my adaptations.
Rolling the dough 1/4-inch thick, I yielded 30 1 1/2-inch square cookies that shrank slightly and puffed to 3/8-inch thick
1 cup all-purpose flour, more as needed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup finely grated fresh Parmesan cheese (alternate: I think Romano could also work well here)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup cream or half-and-half, more as needed
Coarse salt, pepper, sesame or poppy seeds or whatever you like for sprinkling (optional).
Heat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or lightly dust with flour. Put flour, salt, cheese and butter in bowl of a food processor. Pulse until flour and butter are combined. Add about 1/4 cup cream or half-and-half and let machine run for a bit until a dough forms. If it does not come together, add more liquid a teaspoon at a time, until mixture holds together but is not sticky. (I only needed the ingredient levels as listed to pull the dough together.)
Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface until 1/4-inch thick or even thinner, adding flour as needed. From here, you can either form them into individual crackers (I went for 1 1/2-inch squares cut with a fluted pastry wheel) and bake them an inch apart on your baking sheet (the method I used) or transfer the entire rolled-out sheet to your baking sheet (draping it over the rolling pin will make it easier) and score them lightly with a knife, pizza or pastry wheel to break into crackers after they are baked. For either method, dock all over with a fork and sprinkle with salt or any other toppings you are using.
Bake until moderately browned, about 12 minutes. Cool on a rack; serve warm or at room temperature or store in a tin for a few days.
Note: Mine were the most crisp before they’d been kept in a container. If you’re baking them less than a day in advance, I think they can be left uncovered to maintain their best texture.