I am making a soup for Sunday’s dinner and I decided that fresh crackers would go nicely with it. When I started making fresh crackers, Jan named them, “Karl Don’t Make These Crackers.” This was not because they were so bad, but because they were so good. These crackers were just too good to leave laying around tempting you to eat them.
Today, Miriam is taking some medicine that is making her nauseous and Jan is in the mood for death by Crack-ers. Fresh crackers are just the thing for both of them. Not one to leave-well-enough-alone, I had to try something different.
In previous attempts I had made these crackers in the French way, trying to keep the butter as cold as possible, so that it did not bind with the flour. The sheets of butter then melt while baking and puff up the gluten sheets. This technique produces a cracker with many internal layers of crispy crunchiness.
In a recent Cook’s Illustrated there was a discussion of the differences between American scones and British scones. For a good British scone you actually want the butter to bind with the flour. This prevents much of the flour form forming gluten.
After Dinner Note: The crackers produced with the English method did not have the internal layers produced by the French technique. They came out with an even crumb and a soft bite when eaten right out of the oven. After they had dried for a few hours they got crisper, but they did not have the brittle, almost toughness, of the cold butter technique.
Still, they were just as addictive. Four cups of flour made a large bowl full of crackers. By the end of the evening, there were only a few left in the bowl. Once you have had a fresh cracker, it is very hard not to have another, or six or sixteen. This is why Jan named them, “Karl don’t make these crackers.”
Karl’s Sesame Crackers II
4 + cups all-purpose flour, separate uses
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. Karl’s Mandarin Orange Infused Sugar
1 tsp. salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
2 Tbs. black sesame seeds, lightly toasted
2 large egg, lightly scrambled
1+ cup chilled half-and-half, separate uses
1 tsp. Flor de Sal (medium course grained sea salt from Spain)
1. Put 4 cups of flour, the baking powder, sugar, and salt into a large bowl and mix well.
Tip: I run the dry mixture through a flour sifter 4-5 times to get a good even mix. I would use Kosher salt, but the crystals are too large to go through my sifter.
2. Toast the sesame seeds and let them cool completely.
3. Stir in the cold sesame seeds.
4. Pour the melted butter into the flour and mix it well.
Tip: Use your hands to work the butter into the flour completely. The flour should look a bit like wet sand when you are through. You are trying to get as much of the butter absorbed by the flour as you can.
5. Put the eggs in a measuring cup and lightly beat them.
6. Add enough cream to make one cup. Add two more tablespoons of cream and beat the eggs and cream together.
7. Make a well in the flour mixture and pour the cream mixture into it. Stir briefly, until most of the flour has been moistened.
Tip: A little dry flour is OK, but add another teaspoon or two of cream if there is a lot of dry flour in the bottom of the bowl.
8. Turn out the dough onto a board (a pastry marble if possible) and knead the dough until all of the dry flour has been incorporated, about five minutes.
Note: When I make these crackers with cold butter you had to be careful not to overwork the dough and melt the butter into the flour. With this method the more you knead the dough the better. Since the butter is binding up most of the flour, you need to help the dough make as much gluten as it can.
9. Divide the dough in half and form the halves into smooth balls. Put them in a large bowl and cover them with a damp towel.
10. Dust a clean flat surface with two tablespoons of flour and press one of the dough balls into a 4 inch flat square about one half inch thick.
Tip: Use a board scrapper to push in the sides of the square, so that any breaks in the edges of the dough are smoothed out and the dough is a fairly even rectangle.
11. Turn the dough over, so that both the top and bottom are well coated with flour.
12. Move the oven rack to the top position and pre-heat the oven to 400° F.
13. Roll the dough out into a 12 inch square about a ¼ inch thick.
14. Transfer the dough square onto a sheet of parchment paper, the size of a large, flat, lipless, cookie (baking) sheet.
15. Roll the paper and dough together into a cylinder, to keep the dough from drying out, and let it rest for 15 minutes.
Tip: When you roll out dough, the gluten has the tendency to tighten up and try to snap back to its original shape. Resting give it the opportunity to relax and adjust to its new shape, allowing you to stretch it further when you start rolling it out again.
16. While the first dough is resting, repeat steps 10-15 with the second dough ball.
17. Unroll the first dough and starting from the middle of the square of dough roll it out into a rectangle at least 1/8th inch thick (the thinner the better).
Tip: Leave the dough on the parchment paper while you are rolling it out. You want the dough to cover most of your baking sheet, but you do not want it drooping over the edges.
Note: The parchment paper will tend to pucker as you are rolling out the dough. Grip the edges of the paper on opposite sides and pull to smooth it out, before continuing to roll out the dough.
18. Use a rolling dough cutter to cut the sheet into individual crackers.
A Note on Shape: I have a jagged edged pastry wheel which gives the crackers a decorative edge. You could also use a sharp knife or rolling pizza cutter to give your crackers a straight edge. You can cut the dough sheet into squares, rectangles or diamonds. If you would like round crackers, use the 2” lid of a Kerr jar (or similar open jar lid) to cut out rounds. Gather and reroll any dough straps and repeat until the dough is used up.
19. Slide the parchment paper with the crackers onto the baking sheet.
Tip: Do not try to separate the crackers at this point. After they are baked they separate easily along the cut lines.
20. Brush the tops of the crackers with cream and, if you desire, sprinkle each cracker with a few grains of Flor de Sal or Kosher salt.
21. Bake crackers until they are starting to have some golden brown spots, about 15 minutes (18-20 minutes for thick crackers).
Tip: Do not over bake. If the edges start to get dark brown they will taste burnt.
22. When done remove the crackers to a wire rack and let them cool.
Note: The first few hours the crackers will be a bit soft and chewy. By the second day they will dry out completely and be crisp and crunchy. If they last three days, which they rarely do, store them in an airtight container at room temperature.