Although packaged olive oil tortas are available for purchase at many grocery stores, my deep, undying, close-your-eyes-and-sigh-with-pleasure sort of love for them necessitated learning to make the snacks myself. Because as much as I wish my bi-monthly paycheck allowed for the constant purchase of what is essentially a dollar-a-cracker snack, it just doesn’t. So until I hit the jackpot, I’ll save buying the real things as a treat every now and then, and make them myself when a craving hits. —Rebecca Firkser
6 to 9 tortas
finely ground aniseed or fennel seeds
1 1/2 to 2 cups
6 1/2 tablespoons
warm (120º F) water
plus 2 teaspoons olive oil, preferably Spanish
Flavoring, optional (see ideas at the bottom of the recipe)
Granulated cane sugar for topping (omit if making savory crackers)
Use a spice grinder or mortar and pestle to grind aniseed or fennel seeds. They don’t have to be a fine powder, but the seeds should be cracked open and fairly pulverized.
Whisk the flour, salt, and a few pinches of ground aniseed or fennel seeds together in a large bowl. In a small bowl, combine warm water, olive oil, extracts, if adding (see flavor variations, below), and yeast and whisk until yeast dissolves. Combine the oil mixture with the flour mixture, then knead with the heel of your hand—inside the bowl is fine, if there’s room—for about five minutes. Alternatively, you can use the dough hook of an electric mixer if that’s more your speed.
If it’s chilly in the kitchen, heat the oven to 200° F for the duration of kneading time, then turn it off. Cover the bowl containing dough with a dish towel and place it in the warm oven with the door open, or find another warm space. Let it sit for 30 minutes, until doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 400° F, line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and lightly dust a work surface with flour. Pinch off pieces of dough to form mounds about the size of golf balls. Use a rolling pin to roll out each ball into a flat round, about 6 inches in diameter. Rounds should be very thin and fairly—but not very—translucent. If the dough resists being rolled flat, the gluten simply needs to relax a little. Move onto the next ball and then try again.
Place no more than 4 tortas on the baking sheet at a time. Brush each cracker with egg white, then sprinkle with a mixture of sugar and aniseed. If making savory crackers, omit the sugar. If adding extra flavors, sprinkle them on now. Note: If doing a chocolate drizzle/dip, save that for baked crackers.
Bake for 6 to 10 minutes, depending on how large and thick crackers are. They can burn within that last 30 seconds, so be cautious. Start with 6 minutes, check the crackers, and rotate the pan. Continue baking at 1-minute intervals until the tortas are golden brown. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire wrack to cool.
Enjoy the crackers warm, or let cool completely, then wrap individually in waxed paper. Place wrapped crackers in a large zip-top bag. They’ll keep for about 5 days.
For the sweet-toothed: To the dough add 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract, vanilla extract, orange flower water, cinnamon, ground star anise, and/or citrus zest; sprinkle with chopped nuts or dried fruit; or drizzle the baked crackers with or dip into melted chocolate post-baking.
For the savory snacker: Omit the sugar and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of dried herbs (like rosemary, thyme, or sage), 2 teaspoons of chopped fresh herbs or spices like sweet paprika or sesame seeds, or finely grated Parmesan or Manchego before baking.