In the short while since I started this blog, the words made from scratch have taken on such new meaning to me. It’s no longer just about following a recipe or venturing beyond the boxed cake mix. Rather, it’s about taking even the simplest of foods and reducing them to their bare bones ingredients: the butters, flours, salts and eggs of the world. I’ve talked before about how I believe that the very best of recipes are often born from the utmost in simplicity, but it still never ceases to amaze me how a few simple ingredients, when blended together in just the right way, can turn into a homemade (and arguably tastier) version of something incredibly familiar. The grocery store aisles are filled with boxes of foods we could all make ourselves, with a bit more time but far less ingredients.
I never thought about making homemade crackers before, largely because they’re such an easy thing to buy right off the shelf, but last week I was inspired by another blogger who made homemade flatbread crackers with sesame seeds. The process looked wonderfully simple. Sesame isn’t quite my cup of tea, so I thought a basic Parmesan cracker would be a nice alternative. Equally simple and equally delicious. And though I’m not quite ready to forgo the few boxes of whole wheat crackers I always have on hand (the 5-year-old in me is partial to Annie’s Whole Wheat Bunnies, which I’ll happily continue buying until I’ve tracked down a mini-sized bunny cutout), it’s refreshing to think that made-from-scratch isn’t much of a stretch.
From the New York Times Essential Cookbook (Amanda Hesser, p. 84)
• 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
• 1 cup all-purpose flour
• 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Combine all three ingredients in a food processor, and pulse until dough comes together. Turn the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap, and form into a log about 1 ½ inches in diameter. Chill until firm, at least 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cut the log of dough into ¼-inch-thick slices, and place them 1 inch apart on a greased baking sheet. Bake until firm, 12 to 13 minutes. Remove baking sheet from oven, and turn oven temperature up to 500 degrees. Once oven reaches that temperature, bake for 3 minutes more, or until crackers are deeply golden brown all over. Let cool on wire rack.
I love how Hesser describes these crackers as “a more polite version of Cheese Straws, a whisper to their shout.” They are abundantly Parmesan-y without being too loud, which makes them a perfect foundation for a delicate cheese spread or a nice accompaniment to a tomato-base soup. Jared and I both topped ours with Boursin pepper cheese spread, and I added a kalamata olive, pitted and sliced down the middle, on top of the cheese for a salty zing that works really well with the subtlety of the cracker. They’re great little party starters, easily dressed up in different ways. But they are pretty rich (it is butter, cheese and flour after all), so keep that in mind when filling your plate.
Have you done any back-to-basics cooking lately? Any made-from-scratch dishes that you never thought about trying before? What’s your favorite pairing when it comes to crackers as hor d’oeuvres?