So crackers have always been one of those go-to foods in my house, both as a kid in my parents' house, and now that I have my own home. They are great for a quick snack, good for hiking or day trips, last a while, don't go off and pack up small. Then came Little Bit, who, as it turns out, also loves crackers. The only issue is that they are loaded full of salt which he isn't supposed to have much of. A couple of months ago, therefore, I started playing around with making them for myself. I checked a few of my cookbooks, hoping to find a recipe to start me off, but there didn't seem to be anything even in cookbooks I thought might have a cracker recipe (the Tolkein cookbook, as I thought homemade crackers might do for a Lembas reference, the Food DIY book, as it seemed inline with other recipes, and a few others).
So in the end, I decided to wing it (I know the internet exists, but sometimes, figuring it out for myself is so much more fun). I took a basic pie crust as the base, tweaked it a bit so it would be quite stiff and dry, and then baked it. After baking, I then baked it a second time for much longer at a lower temperature to get any moisture out. I used part barley flour (home ground in the coffee grinder) and part regular wheat flour. Barley has a lower gluten content and is a bit sweeter, so I thought it might help make the crackers crumbly. If you do grind your own barley flour, don't worry if it isn't completely smooth. The bits just add a little texture, as long as they aren't too big. I have also used whole wheat flour in addition to the barley flour, and that was tasty too.
I made them a first time in the autumn, and somehow, despite us all really enjoying them, a few were forgotten in a tin. Weeks later, they were still good, unspoiled, not stale and still tasty. I've tried them again, with some added flavours. And this time, I had help from a little one in a foxy apron. Here is the result:
1 c barley flour
1 c wheat flour
1/2 c + 2 tbsp butter
1/4 c water
For Carrot Crackers:
2 tsp carrot ketchup (use carrot purée as a substitute)
1 tbsp extra flour
Black sesame seeds for sprinkling
For Honey Thyme Crackers:
1 tsp thyme
1 1/2 tsp honey
Sesame seeds for sprinkling
For Tomato Crackers:
1 1/2 tbsp tomato purée
a pinch of allspice
1 tsp nigella seeds
1) Mix barley and wheat flours in a large mixing bowl. Add the butter and mix with fingertips until the mixture forms a crumbly texture. Add water and mix with a fork until it comes together to form a stiff dough.
2) Divide the dough into three equal parts and add the ingredients for each of the variants to one piece of dough, and mix well. Knead as little as possible, just combining the ingredients and bringing them to cohere. (Kneading forms gluten strands which would make the crackers chewy, not crumbly). Alternatively, make only one varients, but triple the ingredients for it!
3) Wrap the balls of dough up and place them in the fridge to chill for at least 30 minutes. Then, on a lightly floured surface, roll out each dough to about 3-4 mm thick. I then used different cookie cutters for each flavour (for fun, especially for Little Bit, and to help keep them straight). You could just use a knife or a pizza-cutter though and cut the dough into neat squares or rectangles.
4) Place the proto-crackers on a lined baking tray and brush with a little salted water. Sprinkle with seeds and tamp down a little (alternatively, press each cracker face down in a little mound of seeds then place face up on the baking sheet.)
5) Bake at 180°C for about 30 minutes, until the crackers are golden and firm. A taste test should reveal them to be cooked through and taste similar to cooked pie crust (but less flakey). Bake again at 50°C (or whatever your minimum oven setting is) for several hours until the crackers are quite dry seeming.
6) Allow to cool and store in a cool dry place.
I was quite pleased with these. I am very pleased with the base flavour, but the added flavours need some tweaking as I don't feel that they come through strongly enough. That is possibly in part because I forgot my plan midway through. I had been going to divide the dough into three after the butter and flour stage, without adding any liquid. This would mean that all the liquid content would have to come from the carrot or tomato, for example. I would like to try them again like that, but it might be in a little while...
Texturally, I am very happy with these. The butter created pockets as the dough baked, so the crackers have layers and crumbly flakiness to them. They are quite buttery and rich, so I suppose I could go back and try another dough without the butter base, but I quite like it. Even when dry and relatively old, the flavour held really well last time, and they make a good snack on their own, are a good base for other things. I had thought of using baking powder in them, but found that I had run out, so made do without.
The first time I tried these, the dough was too sticky and I didn't manage to roll it out as thinly as I wanted. The resulting crackers were still tasty, but far too thick to really be called crackers. And having made them for Little One, I discovered that although he liked the taste, he struggled to eat the thicker ones (possibly part of the reason they hung around for so long). This time, with a much drier dough, not too elastic either, but relatively firm, I was able to roll them out very thin, and I find that works much better. Now they crack much better too, allowing them to live up to their name. And anyway, we want to dry them out afterwards, so a drier dough works in service of that too.
All in all, I am pleased with these and feel I have something to work with and play around with a bit now.