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Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011 08:08 pm

Spread it thin

Give the party cheese the platform it truly deserves –  a homemade cracker. They’re easy to make, taste great and there’s no frustrating packaging to open


If you still reach for a box of buttery-tasting crackers for the party cheese to rest on, you can find more appealing alternatives. Thanks to the cracker revival, you’re in for exciting new taste and texture sensations.

“It keeps getting more interesting. I see more shapes and more flavors [of crackers],” says Kara Nielsen, trendologist at the Center for Culinary Development in San Francisco.

This generation of rustic crackers features aromatic herbs, whole grains, crunchy nuts and seeds, and olive oil.

The ingredients speak to the fresh and healthy way you want to eat, according to Gail Cunningham, corporate executive chef at The Food Channel, a food marketing and trend company based in Springfield, Mo.

You can buy these rough-hewn crackers in the best gourmet stores – or you can let loose your creativity and make your own for a holiday gathering. Get ready for compliments and maybe some leftover cheese as guests clamor for unadorned crackers.

Here are some tips for starting:

Experiment with ingredients: Replace pistachio nuts with pumpkin seeds, or use dried rosemary instead of cumin.

Proportion appropriately: Baking times depend on the thickness of the dough, not the surface area of the cracker. Cut the cracker dough into small squares for use with cheese or into large thin sheets for prosciutto.

Do a trial run: Bake a small batch as directed, and cool. If the cracker bends instead of snapping in half, roll the next batch thinner.

Use two baking sheets: Arrange dough on one sheet while the other is in the oven.

Prep in advance: Make the crackers a day or two in advance if you prefer, but store in an airtight container to remain crisp. 

Holiday Recipe
Pistachio and sesame crackers 

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling dough
  • 1 1/4 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/3 cup olive oil  (regular – not extra-virgin)
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1/4 cup black sesame seeds (see note)
  • 1 cup chopped, roasted, salted pistachio nuts (about 1 1/3 cups whole)
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Brie, red grapes and/or other fruit.

1. In an electric-mixer bowl stir together 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, sugar, salt, chile powder, cumin and paprika. Add oil and water and beat at medium speed for 30 seconds or until a soft dough comes together. Beat in sesame seeds and pistachio nuts. Remove dough from mixer and separate into four balls; let rest 30 minutes.

2. Lightly flour a work surface. Roll out one dough portion at a time to a large sheet less than 1/8-inch thick. Lightly sprinkle with sea salt. Cut into 16 to 18 crackers or shapes you prefer. Gently lift onto baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake in preheated 400 F oven for 11 to 15 minutes. Start checking after 11 minutes; crackers should be golden brown on the edges and lightly browned in the center. Remove. Cool on wire rack. Makes about six dozen crackers. Note: Black sesame seeds are available in Asian sections of supermarkets.

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