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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Basil Parmesan Crackers

My friend Maggie and I have always had fun in the kitchen together, but since our trip to Chicago we have been especially excited to challenge ourselves in the kitchen. That list includes some extensive desserts, complicated main courses, and crackers. After we bought some delicious homemade crackers to go with our fig and olive tapenade, we were eager to try ourselves. On one Saturday afternoon, we set about in her kitchen making a spread of various appetizers to enjoy, crackers included.

Maggie actually covered the first half of the recipe, making the dough and letting it sit. We then got busy rolling it the dough out and sticking each cracker "sheet" into the oven, anxiously peeking every few minutes to check its progress. We were silly to worry, these crackers were amazing! Crispy and bursting with a cheesy basil flavor, these were awesome with our goat cheese, pesto, and sundried tomato spread.

I recommend rolling the dough as thinly as possible before cooking it. The thinner it is, the more cracker-like it'll be. Don't be afraid to let the crackers firm up and brown a bit in the oven. They continue to crisp up after being removed from the oven, but you definitely don't want soggy crackers! We returned a few batches to the oven for a few extra minutes of cooking to prevent this. If you want uniform crackers, use a pizza cutter or knife to cut into even shapes. We preferred to cook in large sheets and then break into chunks for a more authentic look.

These would be great with other cheeses or herbs; I also can't wait to try a version that includes sprinkling some seeds on top! Impress friends at your next gathering and make crackers from scratch--these can be made a few days ahead of time and stored in an airtight container (though they're best the day they're made!). 

Basil Parmesan Crackers
adapted from Williams Sonoma Essentials of Baking

-2 cups all-purpose flour
-2 tsp sugar
-2 tsp salt
-1 tsp coarsely ground pepper
-1 tbsp solid vegetable shortening, at room temperature
-1 tbsp cold unsalted butter
-1/2 cup heavy cream
-1 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
-2 tbsp fresh parmesan 

1. If creating dough by hand, stir together flour, sugar, salt, pepper, basil, and parmesan. With a pastry blender, cut in the shortening and butter until large, coarse crumbs (size of peas) are formed. Add in the cream, mixing with a fork until a rough mass is formed. (You can also use a food processor to make the dough. Adding the ingredients in the same order and pulsing after each addition until the dough comes together)
2. Place the dough on a clean work surface and press it together, adding a few extra drops of cream if dough won't hold a soft shape. Gently shape the dough into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and let it rest for 20 min-1 hour (dough can also be frozen at this point for up to one month)
3. Preheat oven to 350F and place a rack in the middle of the oven. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Unwrap dough, putting it on a lightly floured surface. Cut the dough into two equal pieces. 
4. Roll each half as thin as you can without tearing (dust with flour as needed). (We rolled our dough into more than 2 pieces because it was easier to bake and transfer.) Transfer sheets of dough onto baking pans and, if desired, cut into smaller shapes. 
5. Bake crackers 1 sheet at a time until they are crisp and brown (12-15 minutes). Transfer to wire racks and allow to cool completely. If you haven't already cut into shapes, break cooled crackers into pieces before serving.