I gather from your comments and a little blog browsing that all of you had a delightful and delicious Thanksgiving, yes? I, for one, am thrilled we all enjoyed ourselves. Are you sick of leftovers yet, or are you still plowing through them? I officially hit the wall yesterday; right on schedule for me. If I had my way, I’d toss everything which qualifies as a Thanksgiving leftover (except the turkey, which I’m still adding into salads) into the garbage and call it quits. The problem with that? It would make more dishes. I can’t take it. I’m pretty sure we’ve washed every serving platter, utensil, and mixing bowl in this house ten times over by now, and it shows no signs of letting up. In fact, I’m not taking my mom to the airport until she finishes cleaning out the pie pans.
And so, here we are, people: the official start of the Christmas season. Thanksgiving has been had, hopefully you’ve had better luck with dishes than I have, and it’s time to buckle down and get moving. We have parties to plan, gifts to purchase, and trees to decorate. I need to bake and send my cookie packages for the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap, somehow construct a gingerbread thing for Movita Beaucoup’s Ginger 2012 competition, and bake cookie trays for Mr. Table to take into work. I know all of you are easily this busy, and I hope I just reminded you of how truly swamped you’ll be this December. See? You’re not alone. We can do this.
I thought we’d start off the holidays with a little homemade cracker again, like we did with Thanksgiving. This one is the very classic, very southern favorite: the cheddar pecan cracker. For those of you who have had these, you know they’re delicious; I don’t need to convince you. For those who have not had the pleasure, I’m here to tell you that you’re missing out on a very good thing here. Pecans and cheddar together are astoundingly good. It’s like someone stuffed a cheese ball into the cracker rather than on top of one. Only the American South would have the wisdom and the ambition to do such a glorious thing to nuts and cheese.
If you tried making the parmesan + sage crackers and liked how easily they came together, you’ll not be disappointed by these; I used that recipe to come up with this one, so it’s the exact same process. Often when I see the cheddar pecan cracker, it’s a cheddar cracker with a whole pecan smooshed into the center. I’ve made them this way, and they’re fine, but they tend to be on the dry side, and with an odd ratio of nut to cheddar cracker. Adding the nuts into the dough incorporates the flavors more, and the oil from the pecans keep the crackers from drying out. It’s a very balanced pairing this way, and one doesn’t outshine the other. And really: wouldn’t you rather cut and bake than spend your time picking out perfect whole pecans to place on each round? Yes.
People, this holiday is going to be awesome. We are going to bake our brains out, give some wonderful gifts, and manage to keep up with our normal lives at the same time. It’s going to happen; I can feel it. I’m hoping to give you some good cookie tray/baked gift ideas over the next few weeks, and I’m looking forward to hearing what all of you will be doing too. For now, consider this an option for a savory baked gift, or just something fun to throw together for your family and friends. I’m considering using it as one of the items in a possible homemade cracker trio gift this year, alongside the parmesan + sage crackers and the stilton + walnut crackers. I’ve found that people get a little cookie’d out the closer it gets to the actual Big Day, so I feel like a savory gift may be a much-needed break in the sugar action.
Adapted from my recipe for parmesan + sage crackers, which was adapted from a recipe for pecorino rosemary crackers from The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook by Cheryl and Griffith Day. Whew! Mouthful.
Cheddar + Pecan Crackers
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 3/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 cups fresh grated sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup chopped pecans (on the small side)
- 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 and pepper 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 cheddar 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 pecans and mix for about 30 seconds until evenly distributed. Scrape down the sides, and 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. Work with confidence here: you’re slicing through nuts, which can sway your knife one way or the other; be sure to cut with a firm hand moving straight down. 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 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.