Since I started making fresh cream crackers, I have made many variations on the basic cream cracker. I have made them with sesame seeds, rosemary and parmesan, raspberries, za’atar, and even French onion soup. This week, I decided to seasoned them with black pepper and thyme.
The original recipe called for using self-rising flour which is not commonly available in the US. Fortunately, it is easy to make yourself. For each cup of flour add 1-1½ teaspoons of baking powder and ¼ teaspoon of salt. Mix it well (I sift it 4-5 times). The advantage of buying the self-rising flour is that it is mechanically mixed to be evenly blended.
Karl’s Pepper Thyme Crackers
4 + cups all-purpose flour, separate uses
4 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1 Tbs. black pepper, ground
1 Tbs. thyme
1+ cup heated half-and-half, separate uses
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 large egg, lightly scrambled
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.
2. Stir in the black pepper and thyme.
3. Put the milk in a two cup measure and heat it until just to a boil.
Tip: This is a variation in my original technique. In reading my mother’s Monkey bread recipe, she used scaled milk to get a more tender bread. I thought this might work for crackers as well.
4. Cut the butter into pats and add them to the milk.
Tip: The butter will melt and cool off the hot cream.
5. When the butter and cream are cool enough—not to cook the eggs—add the eggs to the measuring cup and lightly beat.
6. 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.
7. 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. The butter bindings up most of the flour and prevents gluten form forming, giving you a more tender cracker.
8. Divide the dough in half and cut the halves again to form four lumps.
9. Form the dough into smooth balls and put them in a large bowl covered 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 the rolling process 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 ⅛th 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.
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.
23. Repeat until all of the dough balls are turned into crackers.
Tip: You do not have to wait for one batch to be finished before starting on the next. You can be working on one dough ball, while another resting, while the first batch is in the oven.
Note: For 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. You may speed up this process by separating the crackers and pile any soft one into a baking pan. Set the pan in the cooling oven for 20 minutes to “crisp” the cracker. If they last three days, which they rarely do, store them in an airtight container at room temperature.