Friday, July 27, 2012

Daring Bakers: Crazy for Crackers!

Our Jully 2012 Daring Bakers' Host was Dana McFarland and she challenged us to make homemade crackers!  Dana showed us some techniques for making crackers and encouraged us to use our creativity to make each cracker our own by using ingredients we love.

While I knew it was possible to make crackers, I must admit it was not something to which I had given much thought.  So when the July challenge was announced, I was intrigued!  Crackers!  Hmmm.

There are several methods for making crackers, and part of our assignment was to try two different methods.  Crackers can be made by hand rolling, using pasta rollers, and by putting them in the icebox and slicing.  While I do own a pasta roller, I opted to use the two other methods for my crackers:  hand rolling and icebox.  Crackers are surprisingly easy and fun to make!  Why didn't I think of this sooner? 

I was thrilled to discover a recipe for homemade Ritz crackers.  We eat a LOT of Ritz crackers, or "circle crackers", as the clever girl calls them.  To make my own without the bizarre unpronounceable ingredients from the packaged Ritz would be fantastic!  Stef, of the Cupcake Project, went on a mission at one point to create the perfect Ritz cracker.  Yahoo, because she baked about a zillion crackers before figuring it out!  I benefited from her mission!  Thanks, Stef!

Throw all of the dry ingredients into the food processor and pulse to combine.  Then add cold butter a few bits at a time and pulse.  Then comes vegetable oil, pulse, water, pulse... you get the idea.  The dough forms a ball around the blade and you are done.

The dough needs to be rolled as thin as possible.  Then use some sort of biscuit cutter to make the circles!  I happened to have this cute ruffly cutter, which made my crackers look even more bona-fide!  Yeah!

Slide the crackers onto a parchment lined cookie sheet and poke holes in the middle.  I used a wooden skewer to make the holes - toothpicks seemed a bit small.  I think next time I'll use something a little bigger than the skewer too, maybe a knitting needle...  The holes help the crackers bake correctly, so those holes are important!

Bake the crackers until they start to brown.  I baked them quite a bit longer than Stef suggested to get them nice and crispy!  As soon as they come out of the oven, brush them with some salty butter.

Ta-da!  While I intended to take a nice photo of these crackers on a plate with some cheese or something, I neglected to do it right away and the crackers were consumed super fast!  They were a huge hit.  I will definitely make these again.

Homemade Ritz Crackers
adapted from the Cupcake Project
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp + another 1/2 tsp salt for topping
6 tbsp cold unsalted butter + 3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2/3 cup water

Preheat oven to 400 F.
Put the flour, baking powder, sugar, and 1/2 tsp salt in the food processor, and pulse to combine.
Add cold butter a few small pats at a time, and pulse to combine.
Add vegetable oil.  Pulse to combine.
Add water a little bit at a time.  Pulse to combine after each addition.  The dough should start to form a ball.
Roll dough out as thin as you can.  If it ends up somewhat uneven, don't worry about it.  They are homemade crackers for goodness sake!  You could run these through a pasta roller if you are concerned about the dough being even.
Use cookie cutters to cut the dough out.  You can make them shaped like an actual Ritz, or use any shape that you like.
Poke holes in the dough in the Ritz pattern or any pattern you like.  Keep in mind that the holes are not just decorative; they help the crackers to bake correctly - so be sure to poke some. 
Bake the crackers on a parchment-lined baking sheet until the crackers just begin to brown, approximately 10 minutes or more.
While the crackers are baking, melt the remaining butter and mix in the remaining salt.  Use more or less salt to your taste.  As soon as you remove the crackers from the oven, brush them with the salty butter.

My plan for next time:
  • try using half whole wheat flour
  • use FROZEN butter instead of cold butter, like with pies.  I think this will help make them a little puffier.
  • try a batch using olive oil instead of vegetable oil
  • try some with different seasonings on top
  • the options are endless!

My second cracker was a Parmesean and Thyme Cracker, using the icebox method.   A while back I actually found this recipe in a Barefoot Contessa cookbook, and I remember thinking that they sounded good.  I am so glad to have found the recipe again!

Cream butter in a stand mixer.  The butter needs to be warm... not melted but definitely at room temperature or a bit warmer.

Add a ton of grated Parmesan cheese, thyme, salt, pepper, and flour.  Mix together.  If it looks dry, which mine did, add about 1 teaspoon of water to help it come together in a ball.  While making this recipe I realized that there were two Parmesean and Thyme Cracker recipes by the Barefoot Contessa on Food Network.  I have no idea why there are two but I went by the one written first, in 2006.  However, there are benefits to the 2008 version that I will incorporate next time and review here.

The first change is that she used more Parmesan cheese in the newer recipe.  The first recipe called for 3 ounces, the newer one called for 4 ounces or 1 cup.  I grated my cheese with a microplane, thereby getting fine wisps of cheese.  It amounted to way more than just one cup.  In the video in which she makes the second recipe, she puts the Parmesan in the food processor to finely chop, and uses 1 cup.  It would be an interesting test to see the real difference, but my crackers were definitely very cheesy so I am not sure more is necessary. 

The one other ingredient change was in the amount of kosher salt.  In the earlier recipe she used 1/4 teaspoon, and in the later recipe she used 1/2 teaspoon.  I used 1/4 teaspoon and it was plenty.  Parmesan cheese has plenty of salt so using more would not have been a good idea, in my opinion.

I think the difference may be in how you grate the cheese.  My cheese was finer thus I used a lot more to get the weight.  Her cheese was grated more into crumbs which would weigh more, so she used less to get a higher weight.  Anyway, there you go.  Those are the first 2 differences! 

Roll the dough into a log, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate until firm.  I just did it overnight, but 30 minutes would probably be enough if you want them sooner!  Another recipe change is the length you are supposed to roll the log.  The earlier recipe calls for a 13-inch log, while the newer recipe says 9 inches.  Next time, I will do 9 inches.  That will provide a nicer sized cracker.  My crackers were tiny, but so good...

Slice the log into 1/4 inch pieces and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.    Bake for 22 minutes at 350. 

Mmmm.  For perspective, each cracker is about 1 1/2 inches on each side.  It may be hard to put anything ON these crackers, depending on your selection.  Personally, I have been eating them plain.  They are so good!

Parmesan and Thyme Crackers
adapted from the Barefoot Contessa

1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, very room temperature
3 ounces grated Parmesan
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place the warm butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix until creamy. Add the Parmesan, flour, salt, thyme and pepper and combine.
Dump the dough on a lightly floured board and roll into a 9-inch long log. Wrap the log in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to harden.  They can stay in the refrigerator for up to 4 days at this point.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Cut the log crosswise into 1/4-inch thick slices. Place the slices on a sheet pan and bake for 22 minutes.
Printable Recipe

This Daring Bakers challenge was such fun!  It really opened my eyes to an entire world of baking I had not really considered!  I am excited to try more crackers...  What a great appetizer for a dinner party or for friends...  A sure way to impress!


  1. Awesome job!!! Both of your crackers look and sound delicious!

  2. I always thought Ritz crackers had cheese in them! But maybe not?! They look great :)

  3. Reading this makes me think I really need to give homemade Ritz a try (especially since they're my husband's favorite cracker). Great job!

  4. Wow - both of those crackers look delicious! I have to give those homemade Ritz crackers a try - they look so perfect!! Wonderful job.


Due to some bizarre spam comments I have recently received, I am moderating the comments for a while. I hope this spam craziness stops so this becomes unnecessary!