RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—For most of us, crackers are things that come in plastic sleeves with a bunch of unpronounceable ingredients, and usually go stale before we have a chance to eat them all. But homemade crackers are actually remarkably easy to make, not to mention healthier than most packaged varieties. And making them doesn't involve much more than flour, olive oil, and whatever herbs or flavors you'd like to add. After all, well before Nabisco came along, cooks slopped some of the barley gruel they were cooking onto the hot rocks around their fires, and thus ate crackers to their hearts' content, sans plastic wrappings and chemical additives.
There are lots of cracker recipes available online, but many of them involve a lot more fuss than I’m willing to invest in something my family will snarf down before I get all the batches out of the oven. The recipes below involve a minimum of fuss and yield delicious crackers that are better tasting, better for you, and definitely less expensive than crackers in the supermarket.
The only special tools you need to make crackers are a large cookie sheet, a roll of natural parchment paper or a silicone liner sheet to fit inside it (Silpat is a good brand), and a rolling pin. If you don't have a rolling pin, you can repurpose a clean wine bottle to roll out your dough.
For my cracker recipes, I usually use freshly ground Prairie Gold wheat (a special variety of whole wheat that has a lighter color and is less strongly flavored than most whole wheats, and it is not a refined or unbleached), which you can find in many stores sold as white whole wheat flour. Buy whole grain flours at a store with a high turnover rate or one that keeps them in a refrigerator. To keep your flour fresh, store it in the freezer.
The cracker recipes below are basic—delicious as written, but also a great starting point for inventing your own personal favorites. Try different types of flours, or melted butter instead of olive oil; add seeds or herbs to the dough, or brush the top of the raw crackers with milk and sprinkle them with seeds before baking.
Whole Wheat Matzoh or Water Crackers
Crackers at their very simplest!
Makes: 4 large matzoh
1½ cups organic whole wheat flour
½ cup warm water
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Put the flour in a medium bowl and add most of the water. Stir and mash with a heavy spoon until blended and it makes a doughy lump. If your dough is still crumbly, add more water, a few drops at a time, until it comes together. Put your silicone sheet on your work surface, turn the dough out onto it, and knead it for a few minutes until it becomes elastic and doesn’t crumble when you fold it. If it sticks to your hands, sprinkle a little bit of flour over your dough, rub your hands clean, and keep kneading. Cut the ball into four equal parts. At one end of the silicone sheet, roll one part out as thin as you can into a rough rectangle about 8 inches by 10 inches. Do your best to get the dough as evenly thin as you can, as the thinner areas will cook faster than the thicker ones. Roll out a second ball at the other end of the sheet. Professional matzoh makers have a vicious-looking spiked device called a pastry docker, which they use to poke tiny holes all over the surface of raw matzoh, but you can get the same effect using a fork to poke holes every ½ inch all over the surface. Slide the sheet onto your cookie pan and bake the crackers for 3 to 4 minutes, just until the edges start to turn golden brown. Watch carefully; they get too brown really fast! Pull the pan out, flip the crackers over, and back for 1 more minute or less. Remove from the oven and put the matzohs on a rack to cool. Repeat with the three remaining lumps of dough. Enjoy right away or store in airtight container for up to a month.