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Crackers and milk. Crackers and soup. Cheese and crackers. Crackers and peanut butter. We may not give much thought to these crisp, bite-sized bits of baked dough we eat in so many different guises, but they truly are a staple of every nibbler's pantry.
While it's easy enough to go to the store and buy crackers, it's really quite simple, and an interesting process, to make your own. The basic dough can be augmented with herbs or spices, sprinkled with seeds, or brushed with butter as you make your own customized crackers.
This recipe is based on one from Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Bread. The dough gains flavor by resting overnight, so it's a long process, but not really very involved. This recipe makes lots of crackers -- enough to fill two half-sheet (13 x 18-inch) pans.
1 1/2 cups (6 3/8 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
2/3 cup (5 3/4 ounces)hot water (120°F to 130°F)
1/2 teaspoon barley malt extract or 1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons (3/4 ounce)vegetable shortening
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) butter, melted
In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 cup flour, yeast, salt, baking soda and cream of tartar. Stir in hot water, malt extract (or sugar) and shortening. Mix well to combine.
Add remaining 1/2 cup flour to form a workable dough. Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface and knead till soft and elastic -- about 5 minutes by hand, 3 to 4 minutes in an electric mixer equipped with dough hook, or 30 seconds in a food processor. Form dough into ball and place in a large, clean, well-greased bowl, turning to coat all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or up to 18 hours (the longer the better).
Punch dough down and transfer to a lightly floured work surface. Using a rolling pin, roll dough into a large rectangle about 1/16-inch thick. If dough seems too elastic and fights being rolled thin, let it rest for 5 minutes, then start again; it should be easier going after the gluten has relaxed.
Fold the dough in from the short ends to make three layers (like folding a letter). Roll out again, no more than 1/16-inch thick. Make sure surface under dough is well floured, as otherwise crackers will be hard to transfer to baking sheet.
Prick the dough all over with a fork. Cut into squares, circles, or whatever shape you'd like. A rolling pizza cutter and yardstick makes short work of this part. Transfer the crackers to lightly greased or parchment -lined baking sheets; don't allow them to touch one another, but you don't have to leave much room between one cracker and the next, either. Sprinkle crackers lightly with salt, and seeds (sesame, poppy, caraway...) if desired. Press salt/seeds lightly into dough with your fingers.
Bake crackers in a preheated 425°F oven for 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the crackers. Crackers will be lightly browned. Remove crackers from oven and brush with melted butter. Remove from baking sheet and allow to cool completely on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container.
This recipe reprinted from The Baking Sheet Newsletter, Vol. III, No. 4, March-April 1992 issue.