Like most of us, award-winning cookbook author and cooking teacher Molly Stevens has no team of prep cooks, no vast pantry, and no one paid to clean up her home kitchen. What she does have are delicious, time-tested recipes made from easy-to-find ingredients, collected for the first time in All About Dinner. A gorgeous collection of balanced meals, packed with flavor, All About Dinner will entice busy cooks back into their kitchens. This no-sweat recipe for homemade crackers is the perfect place to start.
I know that you can find good-quality crackers at any decent grocery store, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make them yourself when you have time. Homemade crackers are delicious, and no sweat to make. And for those evenings when cheese and crackers is all I crave, homemade crackers turns this otherwise spartan supper into a respectable one. Yes, it takes a little time to roll, cut, and bake a batch of these crunchy little squares, but there’s nothing finicky about the easy-to-handle dough. In fact, it’s a safe place for novice bakers to get some practice (even young ones). And it’s fun to play around with different shapes and sizes. Square bite-size crackers are great for snacking, but long rectangles can be fun for spreads, and pointy triangles are designed for dipping. If your crackers are a little uneven, the thinner edges will crisp more than the centers, giving you good textural variation. You can also bake whole sheets of crackers, along the lines of matzoh. After rolling it out, transfer the dough to the baking sheet without cutting it into pieces. Bake and cool, then break into pieces to serve.
If you’re looking for a wheatier cracker, increase the whole wheat flour to ½ cup and reduce the all-purpose to 1½ cups; I don’t recommend adding more whole wheat than that, because it can make the crackers dense and tough. Or swap melted butter for the olive oil for a tender, buttery cracker with a flavor that is slyly addictive. Top with sesame seeds (white or black, or a mix) and flaky salt in place of the “everything” mix of seeds and flavoring. Homemade crackers don’t contain the preservatives of store-bought, so they do stale after a few days, but once you get the hang of the process, you’ll be able quickly whip up a fresh batch when the mood strikes. They also make a thoughtful house gift when packaged into little tins or other pretty containers — even more so if you pair them with a beloved cheese.
Makes about 4 dozen 1- to 2-inch crackers
Get ahead: The dough can be refrigerated for several days or frozen for a month. Once baked, the crackers can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days. In humid conditions, the crackers can be recrisped in a moderate oven (300°F convection, 325°F non-convection) for a few minutes.
1¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour; more for kneading and rolling
¼ cup whole wheat flour
¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, preferably a mix of white and black
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
2 teaspoons dried minced garlic or onion
1 to 1½ teaspoons flaky sea salt, such as Maldon or fleur de sel, or kosher salt
Heat the oven to 400°F convection (425°F non-convection) with a rack near the middle or lower third of the oven.
Make the dough. Whisk both flours and the salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour and add the olive oil and a scant 1⁄3 cup water. Use a wooden spoon or silicone spatula to work the liquids into the flour until you have a soft, raggedy ball. If the dough doesn’t come together, gradually add a few more teaspoons of water, until it holds together. With your hands, gather up the dough and press it against the sides of the bowl to catch any scraps, then turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead briefly just until smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. Cover the dough with a clean dish towel and let it rest for 10 minutes. (The dough can be wrapped tightly in reusable food wrap or plastic and refrigerated for 2 days or frozen for up to 1 month. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator or for a few hours at room temperature.)
Make the topping. While the dough rests, put the sesame, poppy, and caraway seeds and the minced garlic or onion in a small bowl and stir to combine.
Roll out the dough. With a kitchen knife or bench scraper, divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Return 3 of the pieces to their little hideout under the towel, and place the remaining piece on a lightly floured work surface. If you want to make neat square-shaped crackers, take a moment to pat the portion of dough into a squared-off shape; I generally roll it more free-form, leading to more whimsically shaped crackers. Lightly flour your rolling pin and start rolling out the dough as thin as possible — the thinner the dough, the crisper the crackers — ideally about 1⁄₁₆ inch thick. As you roll, lift and rotate the dough to make sure it’s not sticking, and add more flour as needed. (This dough it very forgiving, and you don’t have to worry about overdeveloping the gluten, so go ahead and roll and flour with abandon.)
Top and cut the crackers. Brush any flour from the surface of the dough. Dip a pastry brush in water and brush the entire surface of the dough so the seeds will stick. Scatter about one quarter of the seed mix evenly over the top. Sprinkle generously with flaky salt. Use the rolling pin or palms of your hand to lightly press the seeds and salt into the dough. With a sharp knife or a pizza or ravioli cutter, cut the dough into 1- to 2-inch squares, strips, or triangles. Transfer to an unlined baking sheet, lifting them with metal spatula or your hands and trying to avoid folding the thin crackers, arranging them closely but without overlapping; the dough doesn’t spread at all as it bakes.
Bake until the crackers puff up in places and are nicely browned, 8 to 10 minutes. If you pull them out before they are browned, they won’t be crisp. Transfer the crackers to a wire rack to cool.
Repeat the rolling, cutting, and baking. I like to wait for the first batch to cool before I roll out the rest of the dough, so that I can take a taste and judge their crispness. If the crackers are a bit too crisp, I won’t roll the next portion of dough as thin; if they aren’t crisp enough, I roll it a little thinner.
If there are seeds from the topping on the work surface, leave them, they will just add texture to the next batch; but if there’s any water on the work surface from brushing the last batch, be sure to dry it, or the dough will stick. Repeat the rolling and cutting with the remaining portions of dough (using your hands to brush the flour from the dough before cutting, unless you have a second, dry pastry brush). Bake the crackers on a fresh baking sheet or allow the baking sheet to cool to the touch before loading it with another batch for baking.
Serve. The crackers are best after they’ve cooled completely. When warm, they won’t be as crisp. Serve within a few hours, or store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Reprinted from All About Dinner. Copyright © 2019 by Molly Stevens. Photography copyright © by Jennifer May. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
A Finalist for the 2020 IACP Cookbook Award and the 2020 James Beard Foundation Cookbook Award (General)
The Atlantic “Best Cookbooks of 2019” • Washington Post “Cookbooks That Inspired Us in 2019" • Christian Science Monitor “Best Cookbooks of 2019” • NPR “Favorite Books of 2019” • WBUR Here & Now “Best Cookbooks of 2019”
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