Rustic Whole Wheat Spice Crackers
I have no sense of whimsy. It’s official. Every now and then Mike will be downstairs on his laptop and I’ll hear him start to howl with mirth. So I stop what I’m doing and wait for the bellow up the stairs of, “YOU HAVE TO COME AND SEE THIS!!” And when I do? Sometimes…sometimes I just don’t get it. Or I do get it, but I don’t think it’s funny and I’ll get all peevish that I was distracted and forced to walk up and down one whole entire staircase to see a picture of Darth Vader at a tea party. But the opposite side to that coin, of course, is when I stop and wait….and the bellow doesn’t come. My eyes will narrow and I’ll start to get a bit twitchy because the only thing worse than not thinking something is funny is the possibility that something is REALLY funny and you’re never going to know what. My rampant curiosity, of course, gets the better of me every time. So I go to find out what was so g.d. funny…..and then I don’t get it. Sigh.
Such was the case with the Vinta cracker commercials that have been airing recently.
Mike: “Tina, Tina! You have to see this!!”
<Vinta commercial plays on TV>
Mike: “And then he bit her hand!! ‘You’re sick, Paul’ she says! HAHAHAHA”
Tina: “I don’t get it. Is he, like, some guy who has a fetish for dressing like a parrot? Is that their kinky love craft game for him to put on a bird hat like some stupid sidekick? Or an avian version of furries? Wait, or is he actually supposed to be a parrot?”
Mike: “Um…he’s a parrot. That’s….that’s why he likes the crackers. Because parrots like crackers…..”
Tina: “So if he’s actually a parrot, and she was feeding him crackers, can she really be upset that he bit her finger? He’s a goddamned PARROT. That’s what they DO, they bite you when you least expect it, particularly if it gets them food. God, I hate birds.”
Mike: “I think maybe you’re missing the point here -”
Tina: “If you ask me, SHE’S the sick one. SHE’S the one who’s banging a parrot. He’s just hungry, is all. Also, do we have any of that Irish stout cheddar left? Because all of a sudden I have a craving for cheese…and crackers….”
I always have at least a bit of a craving for cheese and crackers, which has only been exacerbated by going down to Leslieville Cheese Market last week to sample cheeses for our wedding cake. I have now decided that the only thing I like more than a wine tasting is a cheese tasting, and with the help of the effervescent Kristie behind the counter we were actually able to narrow down our choices quite significantly! You know, to about ten. So…I guess I still have some work to do on that one.
Anyway, all this talk of cheese has been reminding me to make some crackers. It’s been a while since I made crackers, which is a pity because it’s just so satisfying to bite into a crispy morsel of preservative-free carby goodness that you made yourself. Now that the fall is officially here, I’m starting to get into holiday planning mode and stocking up on snackers that are perfect for nibbly cocktail bites or lazy nights of gossip on the couch with a bottle of wine and a thick dip to dig into.
Speaking of thick dips, I’m the maevan of all things dipped. I can’t get enough of cruddite, crackers and crostini. But you know what really gets my goat? When you have an awesome dip and a flimsy cracker, so each time you go for a scoop it breaks off and you’re faced with the option of either trying to pick out the broken bits with your fingers and hope that nobody sees (note: I struggle with both the morals and the method of this one) or using yet another chip to try to rescue-scoop out the remnants. Either way, badness ensues. This time, for the thick and rich Middle Eastern white bean and spinach dip that I made, I opted to just go for a rustic cracker that could hold it’s own on the table. So I made one.
These crackers are seriously a snap to make. Hehe…I think I just made an unintentional crispy-cracker joke there, and now it’s making me giggle. I swear, my sense of humour never made it out of fourth grade. But back to the crackers, right? You might have noticed that I’ve been kind of promoting the whole wheat flour for the last little while. I would like to tell you that it’s because of my born-again drive to consume healthier, fiber filled foods, but I’d be lying. It’s actually because my father bought me a 10 kg bag of sale priced whole wheat flour so for the last few months I’ve been trying to fit the horse to the cart. For those of you in the Americas, 10 kg is a lot of whole wheat flour. Imagine a 22 lb sack big enough to hold 7 cats. This isn’t just a bag of flour, it’s like a marathon of baking.
Whole wheat flour has a lot of pros and cons. The pros are more fiber and nutrients with less refined carbohydrate. The cons, of course, include buns that you could use as paper weights and breading that tastes like it was made on a hippie commune in South Dakota. Here enters the cracker. A rustic cracker should be heavy and dense, and it takes pride in that fact. You don’t need to worry about chewy dough, because a whole wheat cracker will roll out thin and cook down to a toasted and crispy form. And so, as the fall unfolds, you can bet dollars to doughnuts that you’re going to see a lot more whole wheat flour making an appearance in my recipes, and I’ll assure you again: I’m not going granola on you. I wish I were, and no doubt I’d be healthier for it, but this is really just a means to the end….the end of a very, very large bag of whole wheat flour.
Rustic Whole Wheat Spice Crackers
- 1.5 cups all purpose flour + more to dust
- 1.5 cups whole wheat flour
- 2.5 tsp baking powder
- 1.5 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp honey
- 1/3 cup + 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2/3 cup warm water + 2-3 tbsp more if needed
- 8 tsp za’atar spice blend*
* If you don’t have access to za’atar (a Middle Eastern spice blend with sumac, cumin and sesame seeds among others), feel free to substitute your favorite spice blend or see my recommendations at the end of the article. Za’atar is often pre-seasoned with a generous amount of salt, but always taste your seasoning blend first. If it tastes salty, you might even consider reducing the salt in the dough to about 3/4 tsp. If the za’atar is savory but not salty, you might want to sprinkle the dough with salt before you bake it. Either way, it’s up to you and your tastes.
Mix the all purpose and whole wheat flour together in a bowl and add the baking powder and salt.
In a separate container mix your honey into the warm water and add the oil.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and start to work it together with a spoon. If you’re having difficulty getting the dough to come together, add more water 1 tablespoon at a time. You can test whether the dough has enough water by grabbing up a small handful and squeezing it together. It should come together neatly into a compact ball without sticking to your hand (too wet) but should not have tears or crumbly seams (too dry). Maybe it would help if I said the texture of Playdoh that’s been sitting out for about 20 minutes? Or maybe not. I don’t have children, so you should never trust me when I make comparisons like that.
When the dough has started to come together, turn it into the center and form a ball. Knead the ball in the bowl 7 or 8 times until any residual flour has been sucked back inside and the bowl is about as clean as it’s going to get.
Turn the dough out onto a just barely floured work surface. You might not need the surface to be floured at all unless your dough is a teensy bit sticky. Knead the dough for 5-6 minutes or until you can feel the texture change and the ball has become pliant and rubbery. At this point, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and leave it to rest for at least 30 minutes, or 60 if you have the time.
Preheat your oven to 325ºF.
Divide the rested dough into 4 equal parts. I find it’s easy to do this by cutting it in an “X” shape. Cover whatever dough you are not using with a clean tea towel.
Roll one portion of dough out thinly in a rectangular shape. You want the dough to be thin but not translucent and it should still hold it’s shape. If you make your rectangle about 9″x12″ it should be just about right.
Brush the dough with some of the remaining 2 tbsp of olive oil and sprinkle all over with about 2 tsp of za’atar (or whatever spice blend you choose). If your za’atar is not salty, season the dough at this stage as well.
Cut the dough into whatever cracker size suits your fancy using a sharp knife or pizza wheel. Because the crackers are so hale and hardy I opted for a small shape, meaning that each flat of dough produced about 2.5 dozen smallish (1″x2″) crackers. That may sound like a lot, but bear in mind that they’re just wee little things.
Bake the crackers on the center racks of your oven for 20-24 minutes or until they’re browned and crispy. You’ll want to rotate the racks partway through, and if after 20 minutes some of the crackers seem crisp but the rest are still chewy, take the cooked crackers off the tray to cool and let the rest continue to bake for another short while.
The crackers will keep perfectly crisp for a few days in an air tight container or Ziplock bag. If you wanted to store them for up a week you can do that, but they will start to soften and become chewier over time.
Now then, za’atar isn’t your thing? Why not try:
- smoked salt and freshly ground pepper for a basic cracker to pair with most things
- 1 tbsp each of poppy, sesame and flax seeds with a generous sprinkling of salt on the side of a cheese ball
- 2 tbsp of Garam Masala with 1 tsp of cayenne and 1 tsp of onion powder with Baba Ganouj
- 1 tbsp smoked paprika, 1 tbsp dried oregano, 1 tsp mustard powder and 2 tsp garlic powder to go with a Mediterranean inspired dip
- 1.5 tbsp dried dill, 1 tsp mustard powder and 1.5 tsp garlic salt to go with a smoked trout pate
- 2 tbsp brown sugar, 1.5 tsp cinnamon and .5 tsp nutmeg for a sweeter option to go with a mascarpone dip
The cracker is just a hearty, snappy and wholesome flavor base. What you put on it is entirely up to you!