Store-bought vs Homemade: Crackers
Author & Photographer: Rebecca Chen
Crackers might not be the first thing you think of when you're looking to bake something from scratch. Is it really worth it, you say, when you can buy a box at the store for a few dollars? I took an afternoon to bake a few hundred crackers to find out.
The basic process is so simple you'll memorize it after a batch or two. It only requires five ingredients you probably already have in your pantry: flour, salt, sugar, water, and some kind of fat, such as olive oil or butter.
Let's start with the simplest variation first: no extra flavorings, and extra virgin olive oil for the fat. Start by preheating your oven to 450 degrees F. Stir together 1½ cup all-purpose flour, 1 tsp salt, and 1 tsp sugar in a medium mixing bowl, then add ½ cup water and ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil.
MIx everything together until no visible flour remains, and pour out your dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead the dough for 30 seconds to a minute, or until no longer loose.
Using a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough over a large sheet of parchment paper until as thin as possible, or until roughly a 13 by 18 inch rectangle. Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut the dough into small squares and/or rectangles (use a ruler if you're looking for consistent shapes). Prick the center of each cracker with a fork or the tip of a chopstick to prevent it from puffing up while baking.
Transfer the crackers one by one to a sheet pan. They won't grow in size, so feel free to line them up with not much space in between. Brush the top of each cracker with extra virgin olive oil to help them crisp up. Bake the crackers in the preheated oven for about 8 minutes or until lightly golden, and remove to let cool on the sheet pan. If you're not planning on baking multiple batches in a row, you can also turn off the oven and leave the crackers in for around two extra hours to additionally crisp up and dehydrate.
The neat thing about this recipe is its incredible versatility. For Wheat Thin-like crackers, use half whole wheat flour and half all-purpose flour. For something like Cheez-Its, mix in a cup of shredded cheddar. You can substitute the olive oil for another fat like butter or even bacon fat. You can brush the tops of the crackers with egg white or water and then sprinkle on your favorite seasonings and spice mixes: dukkah, everything bagel seasoning, even something sweet. Mix in chopped nuts or fresh herbs like thyme into your dough! You get the idea.
Taste and Texture
I was completely blown away by how flavorful even the plainest of these cracker variations was. The plain EVOO crackers were savory, crisp, and pleasantly flaky, while the plain butter crackers were reminiscent of shortbread. I could eat these crackers plain by the dozens, but they'd go equally well with cheese or other spreads. Taste-wise and texture-wise, homemade crackers win over any generic store-bought cracker.
Time and Difficulty
This recipe is pretty straightforward and comes together in as fast as 15 minutes once you have the process down. It probably takes about as much time--if not less--to make these crackers as it takes to make a trip to the grocery store.
My biggest complaint with these crackers is that they don't stay crisp for very long. After being stored overnight in an air-tight container, the crackers were noticeably less crunchy. Though they can be re-crisped in the oven in a few minutes, it’s certainly not as convenient as having store-bought crackers that will last for weeks.
If you're hosting an event with a nice cheese board or you want to enjoy some crackers for their own sake, definitely give homemade crackers a go. They're fun and easy to make and the difference in flavor compared to most store-bought crackers is tremendous. For everyday, on-hand use, it's probably not worth the extra effort for crackers that you can't just eat straight from the bag.
Makes: about 55 small square crackers
Time: 15-30 minutes
1½ cup flour (any combination of AP and whole wheat)
1 tsp + 1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
½ cup water
¼ cup + 1 tbsp fat (such as olive oil or butter)
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Stir together flour, salt, and sugar in a medium mixing bowl.
If using butter: cut in butter until mixture resembles cornmeal. Add water and stir until no visible flour remains. If using oil: Add oil and water and stir until no visible flour remains.
If adding mix-ins such as cheese or herbs, mix into dough until combined.
Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface. Knead for 30 seconds to a minute, or until dough comes together into smooth ball.
Roll out dough on floured surface or on parchment paper until as thin as possible, or slightly smaller than a 13 by 18 inch rectangle.
Cut into any size crackers and transfer crackers one by one to baking sheet.
Using a fork, prick each cracker in the center. Brush tops with oil, butter, egg white, or water. Sprinkle salt and other toppings over top as desired.
Bake crackers 8-12 minutes or until lightly golden. Check for doneness every minute, as they burn quickly!
Remove from oven and cool crackers on baking sheet or cooling rack before consuming.