Amuse Bouche: Weekly Musings on Food & Life

19Feb09

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Making Much of a Cocktail Party Wallflower

By Suzanne Lenzer

Good crackers, like great art, are rare. At least when you buy them in a package. And unlike cheese, olives, or other traditional cocktail party fare, crackers don’t often get a lot of deep thought. You know what you want in a cheese: a robust Stilton, a buttery brie, a creamy goat. And you know you need something to serve with these delicacies–so you grab a box of whatever looks decent.

Sometimes you get lucky on this front and find a nice cracker that actually has a distinct texture and taste (though often when this happens you’re paying upwards of $5.99 a box). More often you’re faced with shelves upon shelves of packaged crackers that are either bland, overly seasoned (sesame-poppy-chive-sea salt crackers anyone?), or full of ingredients that you can’t pronounce and don’t know why they’re in there (I don’t know about you, but “thiamine mononitrate” just doesn’t seem like something I want to eat).

So why bother with packaged crackers? In less time than it will take you to go to the store and buy a box—one that probably won’t do your cheese justice anyway–you can make your own. And you’ll be using good, wholesome ingredients that you probably already have in your kitchen.

Making your own crackers is literally as simple as putting some flour, butter, salt, and liquid in a food processor, mixing it up, rolling it out, and baking it for about 10 minutes. That’s it. Seriously.

The crackers you’ll see in the picture took exactly twenty minutes to throw together and are my personal favorite, made with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and thyme. But you can flavor these flakey little gems with whatever you like. Rosemary, chives, oregano, black pepper, pretty much anything will work as long as you don’t go overboard and try to do too much in one cracker.

If there is a trick to this recipe it’s to be sure to roll your dough nice and thin; the thinner the dough, the lighter the cracker. You also want to be gentle when you transfer the dough to the baking sheet and score it. (The scoring allows you to break the crackers into nice presentable shapes; I use a pizza cutter to get nice even lines, but a knife will work too.)

So before you run out a grab a box of something to serve this weekend, give these decadent crackers a try. I’m pretty sure once you start making your own you’ll won’t go back to store-bought—and you might even find your guests devour the crackers before the cheese.

Parmesan-Thyme Crackers

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed

1 teaspoon salt

1 stick butter

1/2 cup cream or half & half plus more as needed

1 cup finely grated fresh Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme or other herb

Sea salt (optional)

1. Heat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Put the flour, salt, and butter in a food processor and pulse until the flour and butter are combined. Add about 1/2 cup of the cream or half & half and let the machine run for a bit, what you want is for the dough to come together into a ball. If the dough seems dry, continue to add a bit more cream liquid a teaspoon at a time, until it holds together but isn’t sticky.

2. Split the dough into two balls and roll one of them out on a lightly floured surface until it’s 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick, adding flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking. Transfer the sheet of dough to the prepared baking sheet by rolling it gently over the rolling pin. Score the dough lightly into squares with a pizza cutter or knife. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt if desired. Repeat with the remaining ball of dough.

3. Bake until lightly browned, about 12 minutes. Cool on a rack; serve warm or at room temperature or store in a sealed container for a couple of days.

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