During a snow-bound post-Christmas day at my parents’ house, I decided I pilfer my mother’s cupboards to find some old recipe books that I might have some fun ideas from times passed. I came across a 1989 edition of Joan S Harlow’s The Bread & Cracker Cookbook. We used to have a family friend that lived in New Hampshire and would bring us bags of the Harlow crackers from The Loaf and Ladle in Exeter, NH. My mom became such a fan that our friend gave us a copy of this cookbook as a gift.
My mom wanted me to make a honey oat bread, but I decided to try my hand at the famous crackers. The last time I tried to make crackers was a disaster. I was living in Santiago, Chile… had one baking sheet and had to use a wine bottle as a rolling pin. The crackers came out thick, lacked a certain crispiness and were dumped into the trash. Since my mom has 6 baking sheets and a large kitchen, I decided now was the time.
The first batch suffered all the pitfalls that make for bad crackers. Too thick, no added salt, no crunch. But my mom and I experimented until we figured out just the right technique.
The cookbook says that the crackers should be rolled out so thin that you can read through the dough. I cannot reiterate that enough. Parchment paper and a floured surface prevents the crackers from sticking to the counter top.
The quality of the cheddar is also important, and I would go for a sharp selection. I used Adam’s Reserve Extra Sharp Cheddar.
For beer, we used a Wheat IPA. The recipe stresses that the beer should be inexpensive.
In her book, Harlow explains that chilling the dough for one entire hour at least makes it easier to roll out. These times worked out, but we had to bake our crackers for a substantially longer time to get them to bake and crisp up completely. I have a feeling this has to do with the differences between a gas industrial oven and a little electric kitchen oven. So if the crackers seem to be baking too quickly, adjust times accordingly. The end goal is to have a crispy, crunchy cracker.
You start working with a piece of dough about the size of a grapefruit. This must have been an incredibly large grapefruit because it was only half of the dough and it make over 100 crackers. It’s difficult to say exactly how many crackers this recipe yields because they were disappearing off the cooling rack left and right. In fact, my family ate so many as I was cooking that we ruined our dinners. The funny thing is that I actually cut the original recipe in half, so it would have made literally hundreds and hundreds of crackers.
Spicy Cheddar & Beer Crackers
(From The Harlow’s Bread & Cracker Cookbook)
- 4 cups bread flour
- 1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated
- 3 3/4 tablespoon dry active yeast (1 and 1/2 package)
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1/8-1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
- 1/4 tablespoon dry ground mustard
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 12 ounces inexpensive beer
- 1/4 cup table salt (optional)
- In a large bowl, stir together the flour, yeast, salt, ground mustard and cayenne pepper.
- Mix in the grated cheese.
- Add oil and beer and stir together until just combined.
- Using an electric mixer, continue to mix dough as you would cookie batter. It will be thick and dry. The mixture should become a uniform paste but will not be smooth.
- Form into a large ball, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.
- Pre-heat oven to 335 degrees F.
- Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Place another large piece of parchment paper on the countertop and lightly flour surface.
- Cutting off a grapefruit-sized piece of dough, form into a ball and press flat with hands.
- Roll dough into thin sheets. If necessary, cut the dough into smaller sheets to roll each out as flat as possible.
- Place rolled dough onto the parchment lined baking sheets.
- Using a pizza cutter, gently score dough into desired size of crackers.
- Prick the dough all over with a fork to prevent buckling and warping.
- If desired, take a pinch of salt into the palm of your hands and rub hands together, moving hands over the sheet of dough, releasing a small amount of salt over the top of the crackers.
- Place as many sheets of dough into the oven as possible, turning and rotating them half way through baking time.
- Bake for 10 minutes, flip crackers.
- Bake for another 10 minutes and flip.
- Bake for another 5 minutes until golden brown but not burnt. If some of the edges cook faster than the centers, remove crackers and allow them to cool while other crackers continue to bake.
- Once crackers are crispy, place them on a cooling rack.
- Allow crackers to cool completely before serving or storing in an airtight container.
- Work in batches until all crackers are baked. Enjoy!
I recommend serving the crackers with Suhey Peppers!