Thursday, January 5, 2012

Cracker Control

As far as I am concerned, crackers are the perfect food. First of all, they are a carbohydrate; that propels them way up there in the direction of perfection. Secondly, they are tasty by themselves and they serve as a luxury vehicle for the delivery of other delicious stuff like peanut butter, cheese, hummus, fruit . . .

The one thing that has kept the crackers in my world from reaching absolute perfection is that I buy them pre-packaged. I hate to buy pre-packaged food because you just don’t know what really comes in those packages. There should be nothing in the ingredient list on a box of crackers, or most any other edible product for that matter, that I can’t attain at my local grocery store or that I can’t pronounce. I am really not a control freak with regard to most things, but I do want ultimate control over what I put in my body. The only way to accomplish this is to make it yourself.

Today I set out to create perfection in my cracker world. Nabisco Wheat Thins are my favorite store-bought cracker. I began a search for a comparable recipe. I did not have to look too far. I found one called Wheat Thins in the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking cookbook. Just a few simple ingredients - all easily pronounced kitchen staples.

I must say that I was surprised that the flavor comes from vanilla and paprika. (The newspaper on the counter in the background contains the New York Times crossword puzzle, a necessary kitchen staple for all recipes.)

Here is the complete recipe:

1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon paprika

4 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup water

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Mix the dry ingredients. Cut in the butter. Mix water and vanilla then add to other ingredients. Mix well either by hand or using some electric device such as a mixer or food processor. (I mixed mine with my hands.) Divide the dough into four pieces. Working with one piece at a time and keeping the others covered, roll the dough on a floured board to 1/8 inch thickness or less if you can. Using a pizza cutter, cut into 1 1/2 squares. Place on a “prepared” baking sheet. (I used a cookie sheet with a Silpat liner.) You can sprinkle the tops with additional salt or not. Bake for 5-7 minutes. Keep a good eye on these crackers as they bake because they cook quickly.

Having been successful with the made-from-scratch Wheat Thins, Brooke and I decided to push our luck a little further.

Offspring No. 2 really likes Nut-Thins, another store-bought cracker. Coincidentally, there was an article in yesterday’s Dallas Morning News touting the health benefits of almond flour - high fiber, high protein, high nutrients. Surely if we can make Wheat Thins, we can make Nut-Thins using almond flour.

The first order of business was getting the almond flour. We made it using blanched almonds that we had in the freezer and a food processor. The trick here is that you want almond flour, not almond butter. So, use the pulse setting on the food processor. Pulse the nuts until you have something that resembles flour.

2 cups almond flour

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon salt

You can add the paprika and vanilla if you want to replicate the Wheat Thin flavor. We instead chose to add garlic salt and black pepper to the dough. (cayenne pepper would probably be really good too. Maybe next time . . .) The rolling and cutting process for these is the same as the previous cracker;the big difference is that they cook at 350 degrees for 12-14 minutes, or until brown and crispy.

This was a very wet dough. Brooke suspects that this was because the almonds had been in the freezer. She suggested that next time I spread the almond flour on a baking sheet and put it in the oven for a few minutes to draw off some of the added moisture before mixing all of the ingredients. We ended up rolling the dough between two sheets of parchment paper. This worked fine.

Since I have not eaten the Nut-Thins from the store, I don’t know how closely our crackers come to the taste or texture of their store-bought counterparts. Taken as they were, I thought they were good crackers. We did use wheat flour to roll them so our process was not gluten-free. If you are trying to avoid wheat, you could flour your board with rice flour or corn starch.

I am happy to be in absolute cracker control with regard to my Wheat Thins. Next on my list of things to conquer and over which to gain control . . .graham crackers.

Brooke and I did have one unexpected incident during our cracker making extravaganza. At one point the dogs ran to the back door barking hysterically. This was not their “barking to get attention” bark; it was their “there’s something out there and we’re going to protect you” bark. As we looked out the kitchen window, this is what we saw.

Actually s/he was much closer when we first looked but quickly moved further down the fence in the time that it took me to get my camera. I think someone forget to mention to this critter that possums are nocturnal. But hey, I like a non-conformist.