In ancient (definitely not ancient) times, one might have said to someone they suspected of losing their mind that they had gone crackers. Crackers! You might have clicked on this article just to see what the fuss was about, to see what kind of truly unreasonable person out there was spending their time making crackers when there are probably hundreds of perfectly delicious varieties of crackers available for a perfectly reasonable price at any store—the grocery store, the convenience store, the big-box store, even the drugstore. Perhaps you think I have gone crackers myself. I guess you could say that I have: I love making crackers from scratch.
We make pie without thinking twice about it, don’t we? Crackers are easier and more appropriate (or maybe just more likely) for everyday noshing. Yes, like pie, there will be a rolling pin involved. But you’ll get a lot more mileage out of a batch of crackers, you’ll get to flavor them according to your whims, and they’ll take an hour, tops, start to finish.
The cheese plate of your dreams is calling. Shall we?
5 parts flour
1 part cornstarch
Salt, pepper, spices, seeds, cheese, whatever to taste
1/2 part oil
2 parts ice water
More of the “whatever” to scatter over the top, if desired
For the sake of knowing what you’re getting yourself into, 2 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 cup cornstarch, 1/4 cup oil, and 1 cup water will yield two baking sheets’ worth of crackers (that’s about 100 square-inch pieces).
On flour: I’d recommend making at least half of this all-purpose flour. The rest can be whatever you’ve got or are inclined toward. Rye flour makes a really delicious cracker; so does buckwheat flour, graham flour, good old whole wheat flour… Flax meal or wheat germ could also be used for part of the flour. I have not experimented using a gluten-free flour mix but I imagine it would work beautifully. I’ve also not tried using nut meal/flour for any part of the flour, but again, I think it would work great; you might start with a small amount.
On cornstarch: Maybe you weren’t expecting to find cornstarch in crackers, but here it is, and this is why: A little cornstarch in there with the flour keeps gluten development—which gives crackers their structure but can also make them tough—to a minimum. The result? Crispier crackers. (This is a tip straight from the extremely Genius recipe for Aretha Frankenstein’s Waffles of Insane Greatness, which you should make before you even make a batch of crackers if you haven’t already.)
On oil: I generally like olive oil here, but use whatever you have or whatever’s speaking to you. Melted coconut oil is another great option. If you want to use something strongly flavored—like toasted sesame oil, which I’d highly recommend—use it for only part of the oil. You can also use melted butter here, but know that it decreases your crackers’ shelf life slightly. Okay, and this isn’t oil at all, but: For a touch of sweetness, add a tablespoon or two of honey or maple syrup along with the oil.
On fun stuff: That is, what gives your crackers character, makes them sing! Salt—both kosher or sea salt or whatever you like best in the dough and a coarse or flaky salt sprinkled over the top—is a must, as far as I’m concerned. (That said, if you’re watching your salt levels, DIY crackers a great option for you because you can totally control what goes in.) Everything else, both mixed right into the dough and sprinkled over the surface once rolled out? Up to you. That could mean: seeds—like sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, chia, poppy, flax; herbs—like rosemary or thyme, but stick to dried ones here; spices—like smoked paprika, garlic powder, cinnamon, dry mustard, fennel seeds (pound in a mortar and pestle until somewhat crushed before adding to the dough); cheese (must be relatively dry and easy to grate finely, like Parmesan, pecorino, or Gruyère).
All that’s left to do is mixing. I like a fork for this job. In a medium bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients, including any mix-ins; pour in the wet ingredients and stir until a cohesive ball forms. At this point, you can wrap this dough tightly in plastic wrap and pop it in the fridge for up to a day.
When you’re ready to bake, lightly flour a piece of parchment paper the size of a baking sheet. Sprinkle the dough with flour (depending on how much dough you made, you may want to roll out only half at a time) and use a rolling pin to roll the dough as thinly as you possibly can. If you have a pasta roller and you’re feeling crafty, this is a great time to use it. Whatever you’re using, aim for 1/8th of an inch thick. Like pasta, it’s really important to roll crackers a consistent thinness; unevenly rolled crackers will brown in some places and still be doughy in others.
Transfer the dough on the parchment to a baking sheet. Sprinkle with anything you want to sprinkle—coarse salt, more dried herbs, edible flowers (!), more seeds (if you have a bagel seasoning mix—either from Trader Joe’s or a homemade version—this is the best possible time to bring it out)—and press firmly with your hands so they stick to the dough.
You’ll break your finished crackers into pieces by hand. For an avant garde sort of look, bake the dough just as it was rolled out, then let the finished cracker break into pieces along its own imaginary dotted lines. You’ll get lots of funky shards. For a slightly less funky look, use the tip of a sharp knife to score the dough with a grid before popping it into the oven, then break the baked and cooled cracker into pieces along the scored lines.
Bake at 425°F until dry at the center and golden at the edges, about 15 minutes. If you’re baking two sheet trays at a time, rotate them back to front and top to bottom halfway through.
When they’re done, let these giant crackers cool completely, then snap into smaller pieces. If, as you’re doing this, you notice that your crackers are not as crispy as you’d hoped, do not fret. Just pop them back into the (still-warm, or heated to 200°F) oven for 20ish minutes. That should do the trick.
Now all you need is cheese.
Have you ever made your own crackers? Share your experiences with us below!