It’s the inaugural Monday Bites post! Farmers’ Market Mondays will return when the farmers’ markets do (in the spring), so until then, I plan to keep your eyes and mouths busy (on Mondays, at least) with finger foods, appetizers, and small plates – and who couldn’t use more of those during the winter months, right? Right.
Too often, we think if we see a boxed something – frozen dinner, cake mix, macaroni and cheese – we automatically assume that the ‘from-scratch’ counterpart to said boxed thing must be very difficult to make. After all, why would someone go to all the trouble to create an instant version of something if it were easy to begin with? Is from-scratch really that much better than something pre-made? In some cases, no; pre-made can be very useful, and taste great, depending on the product. Was I going to make red velvet cookies from scratch for those cookie pops the other day? Nope, and that’s an excellent example of how smart use of boxed things can produce great, time-saving results. But there’s something about making things from scratch that can really change how you think about what you eat. Like these crackers I made you this week. Why would anyone want to make crackers from scratch? Because they’re incredible. Also; they’re easy.
Now, if I’m grabbing a few crackers to throw together with cheese for lunch, then no: I’m most likely not going to make crackers for that. My point is certainly not that every cracker you eat should be homemade. What I am saying is how delightfully simple it is to produce homemade crackers for a party, a lazy sunday with friends, or just on a day where you feel like something more than a dry box cracker. Your friends will be blown away by your kitchen savvy. They will say “Seriously? you made crackers?!?” like it’s something only Julia Child would be able to manage. You will be revered. Adored. Depending on who is in attendance, you may be thrown up on someone’s shoulders for a quick chorus of “all hail the Cracker-Baker.” You never know.
It seems like a well-kept secret that you can make things, like crackers, easily. I never even contemplated making my own crackers until a few years ago when I began making those blue cheese and walnut crackers for our New Years’ Eve festivities; it was like a light went on and an entire world of cracker possibilities opened up to me. I could make any type of cracker I wanted? At home? And they would be hot and crispy and delicious? Done. And now I’m a cracker addict.
So here is one of my all-time favorites: it’s a twist on the Back in the Day Bakery’s rosemary and pecorino cracker. For this recipe, I used Parmesan instead of the Romano, and used fresh sage as opposed to the dried rosemary it calls for in the original recipe. As it’s November (what I like to call “Thanksgiving month”), I wanted to make something you could use as a quick pre-bite to your Thanksgiving meal, if you wanted to. I think the sage does a nice job of echoing the herbs which will most likely show up at your table without killing your taste for them – I’d argue it’s a scent in these more than a flavor, and a lovely one at that. The parmesan is king here; it makes these crackers golden, crisp, and perfectly textured. Unlike store-bought crackers, which you can easily scarf and fill up on, these will seem satisfy any hunger after only two or three – a testament to how flavor-packed they are.
This post took five times as long for me to write as the hands-on time for these crackers. I timed it. There’s almost no labor other chopping the sage as finely as you can; everything else is get out, measure, dump. Poof: crackers. It’s that simple.
You say you want more simple? Fine. You can make this dough today, like right this very minute, and throw it in the freezer. It keeps for up to a month, and all you have to do is get your dough out, slice, and bake. Which means you’ve already completed your first Thanksgiving recipe.
Also! This year, I’m participating in The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2012, hosted by Lindsay at Love & Olive Oil and Julie at The Little Kitchen. Because I heart procrastination, this is the final day to sign up. If you participate, you’re matched with three other bloggers. You send them cookies, and you get three batches of cookies in return which you don’t even have to bake yourself! Currently, I’m in a state of paranoia trying to determine which cookie recipe I’ll be using; my food reputation is on the line, people, and I love a challenge.
If you want to participate, head over here to find out more information, like deadlines (including signup deadline, which is today). Evidently last year, over 600 bloggers participated and sent over 22,000 cookies to each other; that’s a lot of cookies flying over your heads during December. There’s a $4 donation, but it goes directly to Cookies for Kids’ Cancer.
I completely want to have you sign up and somehow matched up with me so I can send you cookies. I really do; how fun would that be to send and/or receive cookies to someone you know? Way fun. Natalie at Wee Eats convinced me to do this; I’m hoping we somehow get matched up with each other. I’ll probably send her a batch of something anyway, because she reminded me to participate. Perhaps some “thank you” brownies…
And now, back to your regularly-scheduled recipe.
Adapted from and inspired by a recipe for rosemary pecorino crackers from the Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook by Cheryl Day and Griffith Day. They are, it seems, an ongoing source of inspiration for me; it’s a great book bakers of any skill level should own.
Parmesan + Sage Crackers
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper (depending on how peppery you want these; I lean more to the “3/4 teaspoon” end of things)
- 1 teaspoon very finely chopped fresh sage (the finer the chop, the more easily it distributes)
- 1 1/4 cups fresh grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2-3 tablespoons of water, on standby
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream your butter for 1 minute. Add salt, pepper, and sage and beat on high for 1-2 minutes until everything is evenly incorporated, scraping down the sides at least once during that time. Scrape down the sides again, and beat for a few seconds more to make sure everything is homogenous.
Add grated parmesan and beat on high for a few seconds until it begins to incorporate. Using your spatula, scrape down the sides and up from the bottom, catching any stray bits of unmixed butter or cheese. Beat again for 20 seconds until everything looks even.
With your mixer on low speed, add your flour slow and steady until dough starts to come together in large clumps, about 1 minute, scraping down the sides at the halfway point. If you see small, sandy clumps, add a tablespoon of your standby water and keep going on low speed. Repeat as necessary, adding a small amount of water, until your dough begins to form large clumps and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
Note: I think the best way to tell if you have a good cracker dough is at this stage: if it’s too shaggy and sandy, it’s too dry and will be difficult to handle. Your finished cracker will be dry as well, and crumble easily. If it’s too wet, stickiness becomes an issue, and your crackers will have a heavy taste to them. You know your dough is finished when it cleans the bowl – meaning, your dough will gather in on itself and the paddle and be moist enough to pick up any outlying dough without re-sticking back to the bowl. If you have that, you’ve got yourself a perfect dough.
Form your dough into a ball, pressing and kneading it together with your hands. split the ball in half and roll each half into a log roughly 9 inches long. I like my crackers petite; feel free to roll them as thin or as thick as you like. Wrap each long individually (and tightly) with plastic wrap and chill in your fridge for at least 1 hour or overnight.
If you want to bake these at a later date, make sure to house them in freezer bags and store in your freezer for up to one month.
When you’re ready to bake your crackers, preheat your oven to 350˚F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
Remove your dough from your refrigerator or freezer (giving the dough a few minutes to thaw a bit if it’s emerging from the freezer). Unwrap and slice, using a sharp, thin-bladed knife. You make these as thick as you like (be reasonable), but I like to stay anywhere from 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch thick. Place them 1 inch apart on your prepared sheet pan.
Bake for 15-18 minutes, watching closely after the 13-minute mark. You’ll see the bottom edges begin to get golden brown, and if you lift one up off the pan, you should see a golden spiderweb of parmesan crust below. They are done at this point. Remove them from the oven and let cool a few minutes on the pan, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.
Serve these slightly warm or at room temperature. The flavors will intensify after a day, but slightly. These keep well stored in an airtight container for up to 5 days, but you will not need to know that, because you will eat them far too quickly for this to be an issue.