A Shared Tradition: Homemade Crackers

December 2, 2011

In her biweekly column, A Shared TraditionCIA grad and amateur food historian Molly Siegler cruises around the world (and into the depths of her pantry) to explore the versatility of a single food item. 

This week: Molly uses a buttery cracker dough to explore old world flavors (but she can't resist looking to her own backyard for inspiration).

Fig and Blue Cheese Savouries
Photo by Sarah Shatz

Molly

We have been tricked into thinking we’re not supposed to make crackers. Grocery store aisles are so full of options, what’s the point of heading to the kitchen? But, with the ease of my basic recipe and the pressure of holiday entertaining knocking at your door, why not hop into the kitchen and create your own signature hors d’oeuvre? 

My basic homemade cracker recipe is based on Dorie Greenspan’s "cheez-it-ish crackers" from her book Around My French Table -- one of my absolute favorite cookbooks. I have made some variation of these crackers an embarrassing number of times and they store so effortlessly (in logs of yummy cracker dough) it makes my addiction much too easy to feed. As you experiment with these cracker concepts, add more butter (or a splash of olive oil) if necessary to hold the dough together.

To avoid leaving a trail of crumbs in her wake, my mom often eats crackers from a bowl with a spoon. If you roll and slice your own crackers at an appropriate diameter you can keep crumbs to a minimum and forgo the utensils.

Indian 
The layering of spices in Indian cuisine is so appealing in cracker form and perfect for experimenting. 

  • Fennel seeds offer a bright anise flavor and a subtle cleansing power.
  • Curry powder is the quintessential subcontinental spice and should certainly be included here. 
  • Dried peas will add a riotous crunch with a quick nod to Indian’s fun snack mix chevdo.
  • Mustard seeds gently sautéed are the base of many Indian dishes, and they’ll add a surprising pop and light zing.

Wisconsin 
We’re called Cheeseheads for a reason! This state is stuffed with beautiful cheesemaking facilities, but cheddar is a standard I cannot ignore. 

  • Cheddar offers a salty, slightly sweet flavor, plus, as the crackers bake, the cheese and butter will melt creating an irresistibly flaky texture.
  • Cranberries in dried form (or fresh if you’re up for a challenge) are a colorful add-on to this dough, while also paying tribute to the huge cranberry industry of the state.
  • Cooked wild rice introduces a nutty chewiness and fun streaks of color.
  • Wild blueberry jam dabbed into the center of your sliced crackers will offer a dose of the foraging life of Northern Wisconsin.

Southern French 
Images of Southern France conjure up rolling hills littered with herbs and edible flowers. Add those dreamy, aromatic qualities to your crackers for a quick getaway.

  • Dried lavender flowers (which can be pulled from Herbes de Provence mixes in a pinch) offer color and a fragrant, floral burst. 
  • Fresh thyme has an earthy, savory quality that's at home in these buttery crackers.
  • Toasted walnuts will add a pleasant bitterness if you include the skin (I always do) and the roasted flavor of the nutmeat is a great foil to the lighter additions.
  • Clementines are a citrus used often in Provençal sweets. Add some juice and zest to the cracker dough to counter the salty elements.

Middle Eastern  
The color of these crackers alone promises lively banter.

  • Tahini is a delicious sesame paste that can substitute for some of the butter and beef up the protein quotient.
  • Saffron will tint your crackers a beautiful orangey-yellow (just soak a couple threads in 1 tsp water then add that to your dough).
  • Rose water, used discreetly, can add a heady perfume like nothing else. 
  • Sumac is a deep red spice with a lemony bite that will balance out the richness of the tahini and the soft floral notes of the rose water.

Spice Cabinet Spicy Cheddar Logs
Rummaging around my overstuffed spice cabinet; spicy cheddar crackers in log form (photos by Molly Siegler)

These are just a few of the ways I like to travel by way of crackers. What other regionally inspired flavors would you infuse into this staple snack? Share your ideas in the comments section below.

Do you love a good food theme as much as I do? Tell me what food items or themes you'd like to see featured in this column and your idea could be the subject of an upcoming post!

Molly is a chef and food educator living and cooking in Northern Wisconsin. When she's not dreaming up themed menus, she's dishing out other delicious content as the editorial assistant for the Whole Foods Market Cooking program.

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9 Comments Add a Comment
  • Dsc_0603

    Devi says: who doesn't love crackers. We make crackers for snacks a lot. But they are different in shape. Once I had prepared mint water for pani-puris (Indian Snack dish also known as gol-gappas)The had to make use of the leftover water, so i decided to make crackers , we call it crispy puris. I simply added the mint water which had ginger-chilli paste, salt, lemon, cumin powder, chat masala even coriander alongwith fresh mint into the dough and made rounds and deep fried them. It had so many nice flavors to it and tasted really good. It was a hit. Another type of cracker or I would say puris, we make which is my mom's recipe is a layered puri. It has a real technique in making it. It has approximately 5 layers and comes out real crispy. I would love to share the recipe soon.

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
  • Molly1bw

    molly's kitchen says: Sounds so yummy! I would love to see your recipes. Thanks, Devi!

    over 2 years ago
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    alexandracooks says: These crackers look divine! So excited to try them out this holiday season. Making homemade crackers has been on my to-bake list for years now. Must make it happen this season. Thanks for the inspiration!

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
  • Molly1bw

    molly's kitchen says: My pleasure! I am happy I gave you the extra push you needed to start making your own crackers. :) Please let me know what combination you whip up.

    over 2 years ago
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    Katy says: I literally have never even considered making my own crackers, I am so behind! This looks so fun and delicious, definitely will be trying this soon.

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
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    Sadie says: I never considered making crackers either, I can't wait to try this for Christmas!! Loving it.

    over 2 years ago
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    thegreenfog says: Gorgeous picture of cracker logs! I feel inspired to whip up a cracker or two this weekend!

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
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    Chef VanGilderschnitzel says: I love this! Crackers are so tasty and easy, but like you said, somewhere along the line consumers forgot that they could actually be made at home, with real ingredients that come in forms besides chemical compounds. My kids love crackers (especially my son). This sounds like a fun weekend cooking project. We could probably even roll them out and use cookie cutters to make fun shapes. I love crackers too, crispy and savory is where it is at for me. Thanks!

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
  • Molly1bw

    molly's kitchen says: It's definitely a perfect project with kids! If you make the basic dough (without cheeses and hot pepper) then prepare several fun add-ins they can create their own signature crackers. Have fun!

    over 2 years ago

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