Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Dan Barber's One-Ingredient Whole-Grain Crackers (+)

California! Caaalifornia, I'm comin' home! I'm gonna see the folks I dig. . . Oh, man. We had a dream trip to the land of tacos and honey, thanks to the generous and wonderful diaTribe Foundation, who brought me out to do a reading as part of their CPS Lecture Series. (If you live in the Bay Area, sign up for emails about their events. They bring the most AMAZING speakers! I personally was there through pure nepotism #oldfriends.) 

I also got to read at Bookshop Santa Cruz, one of my favorite old haunts. As many of you know, we lived out there for 10 years, and Ben was actually born in Santa Cruz. The carnitas at Taqueria Vallarta are just as succulently excellent as I remembered! As are the dear old friends we got to see. Not in that order.

I ate this in Berkeley at Bartavelle, and it was, perhaps, the single most perfect meal of my life.
Anyhoo, you are not here to hear about my dream vacation, I realize. You are here for the one-ingredient crackers! I don't blame you. But first, a few links to other things I've been making:
  • These oven-dried cherry tomatoes.
  • These oily roasted peppers.
  • This chili.
  • This vinaigrette. I mean, I always make it, but still, it is the best.
  • This applesauce cake, which is the oven right now and smells wonderful.
  • This challah. I subbed in some spelt flour (natch), and used melted butter instead of oil (#badjew), but just look at it:

"I hate to be immodest--" "No you don't." 
I am also reading, as I am wont to do. I just finished this, by the inimitable Lindy West, which Birdy read some of too and loved, and this, by Micah Perks, which was like a modern, slightly creepy, super-romantic Little House on the Prairie ghost story, in a fantastic way. I'm now reading this, by Colson Whitehead, which is all it's cracked up to be. It is all I can do not to feign illness so as to read in bed all day.

Okay, okay, you are here for the crackers.

The crackers are more or less nubbly, depending on how long you cook the grains and how smooth your puree is. These were, perhaps, just a hair over-nubbled, but they were still wonderful. Watch your dental work! Last time I made them, they were thinner and finer. These are the unglazed ones (I made 1/2 and 1/2), and I love how they look.
I have, as you may, lots of friends who avoid gluten, and I am always looking for the best crackers for them. Glutino table crackers are great in a junky (expensive) kind of way, and Mary's Gone Crackers are great in a gut-scouring and birdseedy (expensive) kind of way, and my own chickpea crackers are just plain great ("I hate to be immodest--"), but I like to mix it up a little, and also am cheap, and these are my new favorites.

They come from the Food52 Genius Recipes book, which is full of wonderful things. But how can you not love a recipe like this? Puree a cup of cooked whole grains, spread it thinly on a lined baking sheet, cook for 2 hours at 300 degrees. I mean, come on. That is a great recipe. Of course, if you're like me, you might like a hair more guidance, so I'm expanding it just slightly here, but the simplicity is dreamy, the crackers are all crisp and rustic perfection, and THE PRICE IS RIGHT.

One-Ingredient Crackers a la Dan Barber (PROCESS PHOTOS BELOW!)
I feel like you need to use a grain that will, when you puree it, keep itself stuck together. So, for example, while I think adding some cooked quinoa would be wonderful here, I don't think you could use only quinoa. Or could you? I suppose I am not sure. I am interested in trying steel-cut oats. 

1/2 cup raw grain, such as brown rice, freekeh, farro, or another f-named wheat of your choosing
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (a second ingredient! aaagh! it is TOTALLY OPTIONAL!)

Heat the oven to 300 and cover a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

Cook the grain with the salt in plenty of boiling water, until it is very tender. The timing will depend on the grain you're using, but short-grained brown rice takes about 40 minutes. If the liquid has pretty much boiled off by then (that's what happened to me this last time), then tip the contents of the pot into your food processor and puree it. Otherwise, drain the grain, save some of the cooking liquid, and puree the grain with as much added liquid as you need to make a smoothish puree. (I have done this in a blender, and found it to be very gummy and hard to get out of the blender jar.)

Dump the puree out onto your baking sheet and use an offset spatula to spread it into a very thin, even layer. If you're not going to soy-glaze them (below), you might consider gently sprinkling them with coarse salt at this point.

Bake the crackers for 1-2 hours. I know that's a big range, but the timing kind of depends on a lot of factors, like how wet the mixture is, how thickly spread, your oven, etc. The cracker should be lifting up off the sheet at the edges and corners, and it should feel dry and not bendy. You can always break off the done outer parts and return the less accessible middle to the oven for a bit.

Cool the crackers on a rack, then break them into the desired size.

Or, before cooling breaking them, brush them with a mixture of 1 tablespoon soy sauce and 2 teaspoons sugar, that you've heated until the sugar dissolves. Return them to the (turned-off) oven for 3-5 minutes, until the glaze is just dry to the touch. This is especially for rice crackers, and especially if you love the Japanese kind with the sweet soy glaze.


  1. I've been reading Michael Pollan's "In Defense of Food", and it has me wanting to reduce the amount of processed food that I put into my body. I was just wondering what to do for crackers, which I love, and your recipe came to my rescue! I will definitely have to try this.

  2. We make a version of this in the spring, but it only takes 18 minutes . . . seriously, I'm looking forward to trying my own rice crackers--thanks! Also, we had a cilantro/basil faceoff at the dinner table over your delicious Thai squash soup. I liked a basil chiffonade, but I was outvoted by the kids, who agreed with your cilantro choice. And that's one heckuva challah.

  3. Anonymous2:25 AM

    I'm really here for the peeks into your life and the book & game recommendations �� But I appreciate the good food pictures & imagine a day when I might be able to cook something better than spaghetti & jarred sauce! Such a long way to go though :)

  4. Ditto. Sweet glimpses of Birdy. Our babies are growing up. Mine both spent fall break at the beach with friends and we realized we are NOT READY for an empty nest!