Sourdough Cheese Crackers

It’s the end of October in L.A. and as we finally break free of 100 degree weather, rounding the corner into fall much later than other states, it’s time to look forward to winter soups, oven roasted dinners and holiday baking. As if hearing our internal longings for legit sweater weather and brisk mornings, Sarah Owens surprises us with a recipe for exactly the nibble I want to have at hand for all of the above!

Sarah gives good insight for baking and keeping your crackers crisped. To her notes I would add the following reminder that low and slow are friends to whole grain baking, especially when looking for crispness. If your oven runs hot, or you have convection, set the temperature for 325°F and bake a few minutes longer. Here’s to salty, cheesy crunching and happy fall! – Nan
(photo, text and recipe by Sarah Owens)

From Sarah:

Baked goods made with cheese are renown for being addictive and these whole grain crackers are certainly no exception! Although you can experiment with different varieties of hard red or white whole wheat flours, these were developed using Wit Wolkoring. The buttery flavor and neutral color of this heirloom white wheat allows a colorful golden cheddar and added spices to shine through. Even when rolled thinly, they puff up delightfully in the oven and have a tender, flaky bite. Although inactive (discard) starter is preferred for its subtle tang that compliments the cheese, active starter will work equally well. To lightly ferment but also hydrate the dough, it is rested overnight in the refrigerator before rolling out. You may however hold the dough for up to three days in the refrigerator or for up to 3 months in the freezer, thawing and baking them off when a craving hits.

Be playful with the spices or leave them out altogether if you have a picky audience. The slight heat and raisin-like quality of the chili and the warm color of the turmeric and paprika makes for a special experience that far exceeds store-bought cheese crackers, particularly when made with a white cheddar instead. If you cannot source Marash chili, Aleppo pepper, Urfa Biber, hot paprika, or simply crushed red pepper flakes will do. The latter two are typically hotter in nature and beckon their use in smaller amounts, depending upon your preference. Although it isn’t necessary, a pinch of unrefined sugar helps add a caramelized crunch without noticeable sweetness.

If entertaining a socially distanced gathering, serve with pâté and tangy fresh fruits such as Valencia oranges, passionfruit, or raspberries. Freshly-ripened dates are also a welcome foil to the cracker’s salty character. These savory treats are an excellent substitute for their packaged counterparts but be warned, they do not contain added preservatives and will have a shorter shelf life accordingly. Because of their snackability however, they rarely last long enough for anyone to notice!

Recipe: Whole Wheat Sourdough Cheese Crackers
Makes about 120 small crackers

180 g G&T whole grain Wit Wolkoring or other flour
1 teaspoon coconut or light brown sugar (optional)
1 teaspoon Marash chili
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
100 g 100% hydration whole grain sourdough starter, cold
80 ml whole milk, cold
180 g sharp cheddar cheese, grated and cold
90 g unsalted butter, cubed and cold

1. Make the dough.
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the flour, sugar if using, chili, paprika, turmeric, and salt until well-combined. Vigorously whisk the starter and milk together in a small bowl until a thick slurry forms and set aside. Add the cheese and butter to the food processor and pulse to achieve a dry and crumbly but even mixture, similar to coarse cornmeal. Drizzle in the starter and milk mixture and pulse until a moist dough comes together.

2. Chill the dough.
Remove the dough from the food processor and transfer onto a lightly floured surface. Using a bench scraper, divide and shape dough into two 4×6-inch rectangles. Wrap each separately in plastic and transfer to the refrigerator overnight or up to 3 days. Alternatively, store in the freezer for up to 3 months before thawing in the refrigerator the day before you intend to bake them off.

3. Roll and shape the crackers.
Remove one rectangle of dough from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for 5 minutes. Unwrap the dough and place on a lightly floured surface. Using a rolling pin to flatten and a bench scraper to release and lift, roll the dough to an 1/8-inch thickness and transfer to a parchment paper-lined 13 x 16-inch baking sheet. Use a pastry wheel, a knife, or small cookie cutters to shape the crackers into your desired size and form. For best crunch after baking, a 1 x 1-inch size is best. Separate the crackers so there is a small gap in between; they do not spread when baked but will puff in the oven. Place the sheet pan in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes to chill the dough. Repeat with the remaining rectangle of dough.

4. Preheat your oven to 350°F.

5. Bake the crackers.
Bake the crackers on the middle rack of the oven for 16-19 minutes with a fan assist, rotating halfway through. For a crispier, crunchy cracker, allow the edges to brown just slightly before removing from the oven.

6. Cool and store.
Allow the crackers to rest for 5 minutes before transferring onto a wire rack to cool completely. Store in a covered container for up to 3 days, if they last that long! If the crackers absorb humidity and become soft, pop them back into a preheated 350°F oven for 5 minutes to regain crispness.

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