I have a great respect for people who make everything from scratch. And by that I mean not only people, but people who operate restaurants. For the going East Coast rates of dining out you better hope the majority of your dish is house-made, from the tortillas to the bread to the cheese to the dressings to the mayo to the burger, and the more you experience it the more you can absolutely taste the difference. Of course, kitchens pay people to spend all day prepping those kinds of things-gallons worth of homemade X. And to replicate that at home, you'd also have to spend lots of time in pre-production (without pay : )).
Well, no I'm not advocating this. But I'm advocating a little more attention to production when possible and a little less fear surrounding it. Because it pays off. It ends up saving time, and the more you concoct from scratch at home, the more you can tell this sort of thing when you go out, too and become a better consumer. Of course, smart consumption is for you to judge for yourself. Time is money after all, but spending time can save you money, too.
The entire subject of DIY unboxed snacks you typically can buy in a box, like cereal, or chocolate nut treats or spiced nuts, is an interesting one. What if we crack the code to making nearly everything at home that they sell in boxes? "They" sure don't want that. And the point is, we don't have to because they do it. And they help a lot of people. No one has to feel bad about throwing their kid a healthy boxed granola bar when the request announces itself while in the car. But, as Michael Pollan not-so-discreetly brought up in his book, when people (women) who formerly spent a lot of time in the kitchen opted to stop doing so (even unconciously) because of the post mid-century advent of more packaged foods, did they realize what kind of power they were giving to the (male) CEOs of these snack companies.
That was a line that stuck with me. I've always had the DIY gene (my father refused to hire anyone to do anything in the house he could do even if it made life easier) and as time goes on I've been itching to try to make more snacks myself... and I'm certainly not alone! Blogs across the blogosphere are practically devoted to this very topic. Combating funky filler ingredients is one motive in this quest, but the sheer desire for the ability to be able to do it, is another, as well as using up ingredients on hand. We can speak to our cell phones and have them speak back to us whether to turn left or right, so, long story short, let's make crispy rye crackers and save seven bucks at the Epicurean marketplace.
Super-smart cookbook author/recipe developer Ivy Manning recently released a cookbook specifically on crackers and dips. Brilliant. I found one of her recipes for rye caraway crackers and went in tepidly. I opted to omit the caraway, for one, and just do a seed and salt sprinkle top. I knew I might be screwed because I didn't have a pasta maker for the one suggested step to get the dough super thin, but I decided to try out half the dough (the recipe for which I'd already halved of course--I said I went in tepidly!) since the dough, once made, can be stored in the fridge for up to 2 days (bonus points).
And what do you think happened? I mixed the dough, rested it, cut it in half, rolled the half I was using, scored it, baked it off, and the edges...the edges were great. Crisp, thin, tasty and crunchy. But the center of the cracker was much too pliable, like a dry flatbread. Well, bummer. The flavor was there but it was not cracker-like enough beyond those great edge pieces, no sirree. The thin, crispy edges made great dippers but slowly ascended in height to malleable center pieces all because I had been a rolling-out scaredy cat.
Luckily, being frugal, I'd considered the first foray a test, was willing to be sup-par and learn, and then the next day, having learned, I got out the saved piece of dough and nailed it. I rolled out the dough paper thin, thinner than I thought permissible, baked it, and those were the ones to write home about.
The secret to homemade crackers (beyond a good recipe like Manning's) lies in rolling them super thin and baking them to within a millimeter of their lives.
Repeat that. Then go make some crackers.
Egg wash and flakey salt help too : )
Salted Rye Crisps
Adapted from Ivy Manning
Notes: While Ivy has you slightly separate crackers before baking with a pastry wheel, I found it easier to work with small amounts of dough at a time and bake a super thin, scored, cracker sheet. I also did not use a pasta maker and rolled by hand.
1/2 cup/57 g rye flour
1/2 cup/62 g unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp finely chopped seeds (like sunflower + pumpkin - optional)
1 Tbsp chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-in/6-mm cubes
1/4 cup/60 ml whole milk
1/2 tbsp molasses
1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp water
Sea salt + poppy seeds (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400°F when ready to bake. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Meanwhile, in a food processor or large bowl, combine the rye flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, salt, and ground seeds and pulse or whisk to combine. Add the butter and pulse or rub with your fingers until the butter is in tiny pieces and the mixture resembles fine cornmeal.
In a measuring cup with a spout, combine the milk and molasses and stir until the molasses has completely dissolved. Gradually add the milk mixture to the flour mixture and pulse or stir with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together into a ball.
Knead the dough until smooth, (I found folding it over itself the best way). The dough will be slightly sticky; Divide the dough into two balls, cover with plastic wrap, and let the dough rest for 30 minutes. (The dough can be made up to this point and stored in the refrigerator, tightly wrapped, for up to 2 days.)
Pat one ball of dough into a small rectangle, divide in two again, and roll one rectangle at a time out on a between two pieces of parchment, turning it over here and there, until the dough is 1/16 in thick. Very thin.Transfer to baking sheets. Score into strips, brush with egg wash, sprinkle with salt and seeds, pressing them in lightly with a rolling pin over parchment.
Bake two sheets at a time, on the upper and lower thirds of the oven, until the crackers are golden brown around the edges and no longer pliable, 12 to 15 minutes, rotating the baking sheets once from top to bottom and from back to front while baking. Watch carefully to make sure the crackers do not burn. Cool the crackers on their trays on racks and store in an airtight container once cool.