monday bites: parmesan + sage crackers.

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.

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26 Comments on "monday bites: parmesan + sage crackers."

  1. elizabeth says:

    I’ve made Ina’s version of these (also with Parmesan, I believe) and they really couldn’t be easier. Thanks for the reminder to whip some dough up to take to my in-laws this year, as the culinary stakes are going to be HIGH.

    • shannon says:

      it’s so great when something this fancy (or viewed by people as fancy, at least) is so easy, right? It sounds like thanksgiving is a huge deal for you at your in-laws. How does your family do it? Is it a “traditional” menu or do you experiment and switch different dishes in and out each year? I don’t know what’s more difficult: trying to measure up with the same dishes and be consistently amazing or trying to think of new things that are equally incredible. I know you of all people (considering the food which shows up on your blog) don’t need my help, but i’m happy to help. :)

  2. Monday Bites!? I love the concept and the name! Can’t wait to see more. These crackers are a great way to kick it off – I can practically taste them already!

    • shannon says:

      why thank you, melissa! I’m happy you like my Monday Bites theme – it will be as much fun for me as it is for you (and a great excuse to make picky finger foods.) :)

  3. I love little savory crackers like this, they are just calling out for a big chunk of sharp cheddar and a glass of wine….and thanks for the reminder about the cookie swap, I was disappointed to miss out last year!

    • shannon says:

      Sue, now i’m hungry for nothing but homemade crackers, cheese and wine: today in my corner of the world, it’s rainy and cold, which is perfect weather to snuggle up with that sort of meal. are you doing the cookie swap this year? i missed out too last year, but i’m thrilled to be a part of it this year. yay!

  4. I need to try this! I made some cheesy crackers something this past year that were absolutely delicious (tasted exactly like Cheez-Its!) but they took f.o.r.e.v.e.r because you had to roll a million tiny balls and flatten them. The slice and bake log sounds waaay easier. Not to mention, I love the addition of rosemary in these. yum!!

    • shannon says:

      and that’s exactly the type of cracker i pooh-pooh; if i’m making a cracker, it just can’t take a billion years to make. it’s selfish, too; people just chow down on them entirely too fast for it to be worth it, at least for me. cut and slice is the way to go! In fact, i liked this dough so much i may try and modify it into a cheddar cheese cracker. hmmm. :)

  5. Ashley says:

    You’re dead on with saying people will think you’re Julia Child when they learn you make your own crackers. I love being in the kitchen, but even I am guilty of thinking like that. Which means I’m excited to try this super easy recipe out! Topped with goat cheese, of course, because I cannot have enough of that in my life. How did I live so long without it? I was crazy, that’s for sure.
    This new series is going to be amazing! I suspect several of your Monday Bites will be on my table for get-togethers…

    • shannon says:

      i know, right? People just do NOT think that homemade crackers could be easy. And i’m guilty of it too; I do think some crackers are too finicky. I’ve tried a few in the past that i’ll never make again because they simply aren’t worth the trouble. These were so – i mean SO – easy, i’ll make them all the time.

      GOAT CHEESE! I never had goat cheese until maybe 5 years ago. I think sometimes when your mom cooks a certain collection of things, that’s sort of what you’re exposed to. when you first move out and all that, i don’t know how many people really vary much from what they know, but eventually (and hopefully) well all open our hearts and minds to things like goat cheese. :) i find reasons to put it in EVERYTHING.

      yay! and that’s the goal: we’ve made it a point in my family this year (like, actively talked about it) to make things easy. i think too often everyone hustles and bustles their way through and makes these ginormous efforts in the kitchen and it can be unfun. i want all of you to have a good time, and if i can help with that from a recipe standpoint, i’m honored.

  6. natalie says:

    YAAAY MONDAY BITES!!!
    I’VE BEEN WAITING FOR SO LONG (it seems) AND FINALLY IT IS HERE!!!

    these look AMAZINGGGGGG … I have made the “cheez its” before but for some reason that is where my cracker making stopped….. also….. i think i might include crackers in my cookie boxes this year…. something savory for those people who get sick of all the sweets. AWESOME, RIGHT?!

    • shannon says:

      I’m excited that you’re excited! I wanted to start off big. :)

      oddly enough, i have never made homemade “cheez-its.” and they’re like my guilty pleasure, so i honestly can’t believe i haven’t tried by now, except i get afraid i’ll screw them up.
      twins alert: i was also thinking about doing a savory assortment for the holidays! I think there’s a positive correlation between the closer you are to christmas and the level in which you can’t so much as look at another sweet baked good. That is such an awesome idea: it’s like saying “hey you; i know you may die if you see another chocolate thing, so how about some parmesan and herbs? cool? cool.” SO awesome.

  7. Brianne says:

    This recipe makes me so sad that I am mixerless. MIXERLESS!! I’m reading the recipe and trying to discern if I could do this by hand, but I don’t think I want to lose my right arm. These would be such a hit in my house!

    I went to a party this weekend, and there was lox served on homemade mini bagels. HOMEMADE MINI BAGELS. I was speechless. My cranberry cobbler went over well, but it was definitely not homemade freaking mini bagels!

    This column is sure to help me with my potluck impressing abilities.

    • shannon says:

      MIXERLESS!?!?! how is this possible?? what happened? I would say this is easy to do, up until the “incorporation” part. I mean, it’s a thick dough. I would really need to like, mentally and physically prepare myself to do this by hand.

      mini bagels? you’re kidding. i can’t even figure out how to make REGULAR SIZE bagels, much less miniatures. I’m jealous of the skills involved. although i’m also jealous that someone got to eat cranberry cobbler; YUM! i’m having such a cranberry moment recently.

      I will do my best to assist. :)

  8. Welcome to Monday Bites all of us! Wheeee!

    Also, I’m participating in the Cookie Swap. I did it before you made this post…clearly, we’re on the same wavelength…sistah.

    Also, how did you make your crackers so round? Mine are always sort of shaped like a rhombus.

    Also, I’m emailing you. Finally. Because I can breathe.

    • shannon says:

      JEN: what if we get matched up together! i know like, statistics and stuff indicate that we probably won’t but a girl can dream, right?

      honestly, these are the roundest i’ve ever been able to make cookies/crackers like this. Mine, too, typically are not “round” but rather “roundish” with a distinctive flatter side where they were chilling in the fridge. I think (and i need to experiment further to test my theory) that it’s beginning with a dry-ish dough and slowly adding water until it’s just the right texture. then it’s not too wet to stay in place.

      i will be anxiously awaiting your email. yay!

  9. BranDGarrett says:

    Could you sub basil for the sage? I have some lovely little basil just hanging out waiting to be used and this looks like a fabulous opportunity for it.

    • shannon says:

      I think swapping out basil for the sage would be lovely! In fact, you may have just given me an idea for a different cracker flavor combination, so thank you. :) If you try these with basil, i’d love to hear what you think of them. If it were me, i suppose i’d start with the same ratio that i use for the sage, since they both have about the same potency of flavor.

      • BranDGarrett says:

        The basil was amazing! I read the recipe wrong and started with 2 sticks of butter… blamed the darn Southern humidity for the extreme wetness of my dough… re-read the recipe, realized the mistake, tried deperately to add the appropriate amount of ingredients to properly double it, ended up with a rather tasty little cracker. I did find though that the shredded parm I used made it a little difficult to roll the dough and cut it thin enough, so we ended up letting the dough warm back up a bit, rolling it out with a fondant roller and cutting out wee little rounds. They disappeared within 5 minutes of leaving the oven.

        • shannon says:

          YAY for the crackers working! And i’m so thrilled about the basil option; i’m going to try them with that instead of sage next time i make them.
          I have done that SAME thing in terms of reading quantities wrong, but you totally pulled it out! way to get creative…i think it’s even more satisfying when you bake something successfully knowing it started off wrong. You’ve got some talent, for sure! I bet they were delicious, and i’m happy you made them.
          I may go back and note this on my recipe, but i always grate my parmesan using a microplane grater for coarse cheeses; it gives the shreds a nice fineness that’s hard to come by otherwise. It’s not critical in every recipe, or even most of them, but in this one, based on what you said, it may help a bit with the process. thanks so much for sharing your tips!

  10. Emma says:

    Op, I’m too late for the cookie swap. But uhh we could cookie swap? Almost wrote wookie swap… want to watch Star Wars with me instead?

    Love homemade crackers! They were one of the things I first tackled when I started getting into baking, so I have a soft spot for them:) Haven’t made any in a long time, though, must get back on that cracker bandwagon (and someone’s shoulders).

    • shannon says:

      you know, it would be awfully fun to cookie swap with you. or watch Star Wars. So, yes to both.

      you have a sentimental attachment to homemade crackers! I feel like you could think of some supremely creative versions for me to try. pleeeeeaase. :)

  11. I’m thinking I should make these and take them to school next week! We start making massive gingerbread displays, and apparently “things are more casual.”(I’ve heard that there will be hot chocolate.) Imagine how cool I’d be if I brought a savoury snack to balance out all of the ginger and royal icing in the kitchen… I’d be hoisted on some shoulders for sure!!

    • shannon says:

      i like when somehow i manage to miss a comment. for DAYS. *sigh*
      i’m excited at the mere thought that my crackers could show up as a guest at baking school! it’s like i’m there, but in small round form. right there with you. i hope there was some shoulder-hoisting.
      i need to know more about anything which is referred to as a “massive gingerbread display.” photos.

  12. Homemade crackers are the best, and they’re super easy to make. I think most people have the wrong idea about homemade crackers. Daunting comes to mind, but they’re really not, unless of course you’re like me and decide to make homemade gold fish, then daunting is the correct word. All of those fish to cut out. Worst decision ever! I’ll stick with pepperidge farm.

    These look wonderful and so every easy to make. I love the combination of parmesan and sage.

    My vote is for your saucer-like hazelnut cookies. Damn, were they good!

    • shannon says:

      jennie, totally agree: you just have to weigh the pros and cons of homemade versus storebought with each kind to determine which is best. i love store goldfish, so it would be difficult for me to find a homemade counterpart worth the effort (and perhaps more difficult to find tiny goldfish cookie cutters), while maybe a homemade graham cracker would be a better bet.

      they are extremely easy to make: i couldn’t believe how easily they rolled out into logs and cut when chilled; i’ve had trouble with it with other crackers, and this had neither issue.

      you LOVE those cookies. i’m actually afraid to make them again considering the swiftness with which we devoured them.

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