MAY Ihave some cookies?" asked 5-year-old Dylan as we took our aromatic home-made snacks from the oven. "They're crackers," we repeated for the third time. But try as we might, he still wouldn't believe that crackers could come from anywhere but a box.
Actually, crackers are quite easy to make at home. What's more, homemade crackers are extremely impressive to family and friends. "Did you really make them yourself?" and "They look and taste so 'real,'" are some of the comments we hear.
Unlike the majority of packaged crackers, all of these are prepared only with wholesome, natural ingredients. And they're not expensive to make, especially when you consider that an 11-ounce box of stone ground wheat thins cost about a dollar.
The easiest way to make crackers is to roll out the dough directly on the baking surface -- either a flat cookie sheet or the bottom of an inverted pan. It is important to roll the dough to the size or thickness indicated. If they are too thick, they will not be as crisp as they should be.
When you cut the dough into crackers, use a small, sharp knife or pastry wheel. The latter is especially quick and easy. If you have one with a fluted blade, it makes an attractive serrated edge.
The poppy seeds and sesame seeds used in relatively large quantities in some of these recipes are available in bulk at most health food stores, as is the whole wheat pastry flour. SESAME-CHEESE STRIPS (Makes 1/2 pound) 1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour 3/4 cup granted, sharp cheddar cheese (1 3/4 ounces) 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/3 cup oil 2 tablespoons ice water 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
Combine flour, cheese, salt and oil. Blend with fingers or pastry blender until crumbly. Add ice water, a little at a time, to form dough. Roll dough out directly on a greased, flat cookie sheet (or the bottom of an inverted baking pan) to a 10 x 14-inch rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick. If the dough is sticky, place a sheet of wax paper on top. Try to roll as evenly as possible. Sprinkle rolled out dough with sesame seeds and press them into the surface lightly with rolling pin. Cut dough into small strips about 1 1/2 by 1/2 inch, leaving dough in place. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 13 to 15 minutes. Dough rectangle should be slightly brown at edges. Cool on baking sheet 15 minutes before carefully removing strips with a metal spatula. CHILI CORN CHIPS (makes 8 to 9 dozen small crackers)
These spicy crackers are a perfect accompaniment to guacamole or cheddar cheese. Cut down (or leave out) the cayenne and/or use less chili powder if you want a milder taste. 1 cup yellow cornmeal 1/2 cup whole wheat (pastry) flour 1 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon baking soda 3/4 teaspoon chili powder, or to taste 1/8 teaspoon cayenne (optional) 1/2 cup buttermilk 3 tablespoons oil Paprika
Place cornmeal, flour, salt, baking soda, chili powder and cayenne (if desired) in a medium bowl. Mix well to combine.
Add buttermilk and oil, and mix until dough is completely moistened. Use a mixing spoon or fingers to knead dough a few minutes until smooth.
Roll dough out directly on a greased, flat cookie sheet (or bottom of an inverted baking pan) to a 12 x 16-inch rectangle (or two 8 x 12-inch rectangles), about one-sixteenth inch thick. Try to roll as evenly as possible. Sprinkle dough lightly with paprika. Cut dough into small squares, about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches on a side, leaving it in place. Prick all over with a fork.
Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven about 25 minutes, or until crisp. (Crackers crisp even more as they cool.) Remove crackers from cookie sheet with a flat spatula, and cool on a rack. Store in an airtight container. HONEY GRAHAM CRACKERS (Makes 16 "double" crackers) 1 cup whole wheat (pastry) flour 1/2 cup unbleached white flour 1/2 teaspoon baking powder 1/4 teaspoon baking soda Pinch salt 1/4 cup margarine or butter 2 tablespoons light brown sugar, packed 2 tablespoons honey 1/2 teaspoon vanilla 3 tablespoons milk
Mix together flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside. Combine margarine or butter, sugar, honey and vanilla. With electric mixer on medium speed, cream until smooth. Add flour mixture, alternately with milk, beating well after each addition. When all ingredients are combined, use hands to gather and knead dough into a ball.
Roll out dough directly on a greased, flat cookie sheet (or the bottom of an inverted pan) to a 12-inch square, about 1/8-inch thick. If dough is sticky, place a sheet of waxed paper on top. Roll as evenly as possible. Leaving dough in place, cut into 16 3-inch squares. Lightly mark a crosswise line down the center of each square, and pierce four times with a fork.
Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven 9 to 10 minutes, or until edges are brown. Remove crackers immediately, and cool on a wire rack. Crackers will crisp as they cool. POPPY SEED-ONION CRACKERS 1/3 cup water 1 tablespoon dehydrated onion* 1/3 cup poppy seeds 1 2/3 cup whole wheat (pastry) flour 1/3 cup soy flour 1/4 teaspoon baking powder 1/4 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon pepper 1 teaspoon honey (or sugar) 1/3 cup vegetable oil 1 large egg, lightly beaten
Boil water, then pour onion and seeds. Let mixture rest while preparing rest of ingredients.
Mix together wheat flour, soy flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Add honey (or sugar), oil, egg and moistened poppy seed onion mixture (do not drain). Mix well until dough is completely moistened.
Roll out dough directly on a greased, flat cookie sheet (or bottom of an inverted baking pan) to a 14 x 16-inch rectangle (or two 8 x 14-inch rectangles), about 1/8 inch thick. Try to roll as evenly as possible.Leaving dough in place, cut it into 16 even rectangles, then cut each rectangle into four triangles. (Or cut into any shape you desire.) Prick all over with a fork.
Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for 20 minutes, or until edges are beginning to brown. Remove crackers from cookie sheet with a flat spatula, breaking apart if necessary, and cool on a rack. Store in an airtight container.
*Note: You may substitute 1/4 cup (or less) finely minced onion for the dehydrated onion. Use only 1/4 cup boiling water for the poppy seeds, and add the onion with the remaining ingredients.