Monday, December 15, 2014

A Tale of Two Crackers, Part Two: Thin Wheats

This post highlights the second homemade cracker I made to go with the Thanksgiving Soup Bar. The method is very similar to the Black Pepper Parmesan Cream Crackers, with the added twist of whole wheat flour and no cheese or cream. Thinner and a little less rich, as well as nuttier from the whole grain, these make a great accompaniment to soup or salad or as just a stand-alone snack.

Thin Wheat Crackers

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, which was adapted from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking

1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp table salt
1/4 tsp paprika
4 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
1/4 cup cold water
Sea salt or other coarse salt

Heat oven to 400F. Line a cookie sheet or half sheet baking pan with parchment paper. Put flour, sugar, table salt, paprika, and butter in bowl of a food processor. Pulse until flour and butter are combined and the mixture is like a coarse meal; do not over-process. With the machine running, add the water in a steady stream through the feed tube. Allow it to run for a minute to mix in the water; at this point the dough should gather itself into a ball. If not, add more water, a dribble at a time, allowing it to mix in thoroughly to see if a ball forms before adding more. The dough should hold together but not be sticky. The whole wheat flour I had was very very dry; I wound up adding nearly 1/2 cup water before the dough came together.

Put the dough out on an impeccably clean, lightly floured surface (I like to use a silicone pastry mat) and knead gently for a minute to make the dough a cohesive unit. Let it rest in the refrigerator for 10 minutes or so. (At this point you can also wrap in plastic wrap and keep refrigerated for a few days before baking, or even freeze for future use.)

Divide the dough in half. Wrap one half in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Dust the surface with flour again if needed and form the second dough half into a rectangle that is about twice as wide as it is high. Use a floured rolling pin to roll it out until it's as thin as you can get it without being translucent, and it should be no longer or wider than your baking sheet. When rolling out dough, I usually roll a few strokes then lift up the dough to make sure it's not sticking to the mat or counter, and flip and turn it occasionally to make sure it's evenly flat. If you find the dough is snapping back and not holding its shape, it's been overworked a bit and the gluten has developed. Let the dough rest in the refrigerator for 15 or 20 minutes, then try again.

Gently roll the dough loosely around the rolling pin, then gently unroll it onto the baking sheet. Use a knife, pizza wheel, or pastry cutter (straight or fluted) to cut the dough into the desired size crackers. I use a standard 1-foot wooden ruler to help keep my lines straight. Most of the time I use a fluted pastry wheel, and cut square crackers that are the width of the ruler, about 1 inch. You can, of course, cut much larger crackers if you like.

Dock the crackers to let steam escape and keep them from puffing up too much. Use a fork or any sharp pointy object to poke holes in each cracker. I'm too impatient to do evenly-spaced, decorative holes, so I just stabbed each one with a salad fork. Sprinkle the dough with the sea salt and black pepper. Very gently press on the dough to help the seasonings stick.

Bake for 5 to 10 minutes (depending on how thinly you could roll them out), turning the pan halfway through the cooking time. Cool on the pan on a rack for a few minutes, then transfer the parchment paper and crackers to the rack to cool without the pan.

Repeat with the refrigerated half of the dough, or save that dough to bake later.

Store the cooled crackers in a container that allows some airflow. If stored in an airtight container, they can go limp. Either way, the crackers can be crisped and warmed in a 350F oven for a few minutes before serving if desired.

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