Today I had a bit of time on my hands whilst my nearest and dearest busied himself building a Shepherd’s Hut (more about that to come) and decided to try something I’ve never baked before. Crackers.
I love crackers. Ryvita, Carr’s Water Biscuits, Cheddars, Jacobs’ Cream Crackers, Hovis etc. Love ’em all. They’re just handy to have in the cupboard ready to smother in pate, marmite, or cheese and pickle and the smaller ones can be popped in as a “hole in one” as my husband would say. I find them indispensable for lunch as I rarely buy bread and of course home-made bread doesn’t keep well and is only really serviceable for sandwiches on the days it’s made. Pretty impractical to be making bread at four o’clock every morning in time to make sandwiches for a lunchbox!
Anyhoo, I found this recipe at kitchn.com http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-crackers-at-home-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-186144, thought it looked fairly straight-forward and so this morning I gave it a go.
Now, I’m a fairly seasoned baker so it’s fair to say that the methods weren’t a complete mystery to me but after the first couple of batches, I’d found a few simple tricks that helped to make the last batches better looking and much closer to the type of water biscuit that I often buy.
A word on oven temperature. This was a US recipe and the oven temperature given was 450C which equates to approximately 230C. If you have a fan oven you’ll need to either reduce the temperature by 20 degrees or drastically reduce the cooking time – a dangerous game. A good rule of thumb is to stick to the timings given in the recipe, (checking on progress a few minutes early just in case) and always set the oven 20C lower than the given setting. It saves having to refer to the manufacturer’s instructions (who actually keeps these?) and then, some potentially complicated mathematics which probably involves a calculator. Credit to Delia Smith for that little gem!
I used –
1 lb plain flour
60 ml olive oil
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp granulated sugar
9 floz water
and followed the method described on the site.
Here are my extra notes –
I threw the ingredients in the Kitchenaid with the dough hook attachment and ran it on the second slowest speed. Lazy? Yes.
I found it quite difficult to roll the dough out thinly and evenly enough and the first two batches were probably a little thick and not quite crunchy enough in the middle. Time to bring in the pasta machine!
The pasta maker was an obvious attachment to get for the Kitchenaid as we keep chickens and have a lot of eggs to deal with. Making pasta, either to eat fresh or to dry and store for later is a beautiful thing, though it scared me half to death when I first tried it. But, with a bit of practice, a pasta machine can be quick to use and a lot of fun. It made the next few batches of crackers a doddle and I’ll definitely use it again next time.
I didn’t dampen them before I cut them out simply because I was using a pastry cutter to make circles and wanted to be able to re-roll the dough to make more. Brushing it with water would have created a soggy, mushy mess so I left that until I’d transferred them to the baking sheet.
I used baking parchment rather than dusting the trays with flour because I’m not keen on floury bottoms on my bread or biscuits. I wouldn’t recommend using greaseproof paper instead because it’s not the same thing. Greaseproof works well with recipes that have a lot of oil or butter in them, like biscuits or cookies, but it sticks like a limpet to bread-based stuff and I didn’t want to run the risk of ruining these little babies. Once you’ve spent half an hour picking greaseproof paper off the bottom of your beautifully baked loaf of bread, you won’t confuse the two again!
When pricking them, a fork is fine but a skewer is better if you have one. It’s important to take a bit of care over your prick marks (ha ha) because not only will they look much prettier, but an even distribution of holes will stop them puffing up. See what happens when you get lazy?
Ok, so this recipe makes a lot of crackers here and it’s easy to be a bit blasé but, if you’re looking to impress, it’s worth taking a bit of care.
Similarly, if looks are your thing and you want an even shape, try not to pick them up with your hands as they inevitably stretch a bit and look wonky. I don’t worry too much ‘coz that’s how you know they’re hand-made. On the latter batches I swapped to using a baker’s…what on earth are these things called? A scraper, divider, pick-er-up-a-rer? Anyway, one of these –
If you’re going to ’sprinkle’ with seeds and the like, you might want to press them into the dough a bit otherwise they just fall right off after baking. Grrrhh.
Final note: Don’t answer the phone while they’re in the oven as they’ll happily overcook while you chatter away. Oops!
Happily the dogs will generally polish off any rejects and can be relied upon not to tell tales.
Eh voila! Crackers…made, and without too much kitchen calamity.
I’m off to try them out with some cheese, pickles and a cuppa.
Let me know if you try them out and if you have any tips to share.