Jan was visiting her graduate friends in Santa Barbara last weekend. She brought me back some chili salt. She suggested that using it to top corn meal crackers would be something to do.
Looking on line I could not find any recipes that suited me. They used either too much corn meal or too much flour. Corn meal does not produce any gluten, without structure the crackers would just break apart. With too little corn meal, they would just be corn flavored crackers.
I have a good cracker recipe, so I decided to simply adapt it to corn crackers. I used the chili salt on the first batch of cracker. Since the chili salt was an unknown quality, I decided to use Flor de Sel on the second batch.
Karl’s Corn Crackers with Chili Pepper Salt
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup medium grind corn meal
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. black pepper, ground
1 tsp. Kosher salt
6 Tbs. cold unsalted butter
1 large egg, lightly scrambled
1 cup low fat milk
½+ tsp. chili salt
½ tsp. Flor de Sel (optional)
1. Put the flour, corn meal, baking powder, sugar, pepper 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. Grate the cold butter into the flour mixture.
Tip: Put the stick of butter into the freezer for 20 minutes before you need it to get it good and cold.
Note: I chill a whole stick of butter and then use a box grater to make shreds of butter of about ¾ths of it—about half way through I toss the butter shreds with the flout to keep them from sticking together in lumps. I use a pastry cutter to chop the butter shreds into fine bits—the trick here is not to over-work and melt your butter into the flour.
3. Put the egg into a large one cup measuring cup and scramble it well.
Tip: Scrambling the egg before adding the milk makes it easier to break down the egg’s structure.
Note: You will be adding milk to total one cup, so you want a measuring cup that will allow you to mix the egg and milk together without slopping over the sides.
4. Add enough milk to make one full cup and mix the egg and milk together.
5. Make a well in the flour mixture and pour the milk 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 milk if there is a lot of dry flour in the bottom of the bowl.
Note: It is easy to add more flour if you dough is too wet, but it is nearly impossible to add more liquid to a dough that is too dry.
6. 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 one minutes.
Note: The corn meal gets in the way of the wheat flour forming gluten sheets—the thing that gives breads their structure.
7. Divide the dough in half and form them into dough balls.
8. Lightly wrap the dough in plastic wrap and set them aside to rest for half an hour.
Tip: Put the wrapped dough in the refrigerator, to keep the butter cold.
Note: This gives the corn meal time to fully hydrate and for the wheat flour to finishing forming it’s gluten chains.
9. 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.
10. Turn the dough over, so that both the top and bottom are well coated with flour.
11. Move the oven rack to the top position and pre-heat the oven to 400° F.
12. Roll the dough out into a 18 inch square about a ¼ inch thick.
13. Letter fold the sides of the dough square into the center and then again top to bottom.
Tip: This will produce a six inch square of dough with nine layers.
14. Roll the dough square out again into a 12 inch square.
15. Transfer the dough square onto a lightly floured sheet of parchment paper.
Tip: You want your parchment paper to be about the size of a large, flat, lip less, cookie (baking) sheet.
16. 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.
17. While the first dough is resting, repeat the rolling process with the second dough ball.
18. Unroll the first dough and—starting from the middle of the square of dough—roll it out into a large rectangle at least ⅛th inch thick.
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.
19. 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 re-roll any dough straps and repeat until the dough is used up.
20. 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.
21. Spritz the tops of the crackers with water and sprinkle each cracker with a few grains chili salt or Flor de Sel.
22. Bake crackers until they are starting to have some golden brown spots, about 15 minutes.
Tip: Rotate the baking sheet half way through so that the crackers cook evenly.
Note: Do not over bake. If the edges start to get dark brown they will taste burnt.
23. When done remove the crackers to a wire rack and let them cool.
24. Repeat the rolling and baking process with the second dough ball.
25. You can begin rolling out the second dough ball while the first crackers are baking, so that it is ready to pop into the oven when the first sheet is done.
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 ones into a baking pan. Set the pan in the cooling oven for 20 minutes to “crisp” the crackers.