Monday, April 11, 2011

Cheese Crackers

mmmmm. . .
Did you know that Blogger has a function that allows you to see the Google search terms that have landed people on your blog? Oh, it is so delightful. Most of mine appear to be regular--"Ben and Birdy," "world's best pancakes" {shrugs modestly}, stuff like that. But then there are some that crack me up: "why I won't marry Catherine Newman," for example, which I know refers to my piece in Bitch in the House, but which always looks like something Michael might have typed to tease me. Or "Catherine Newman dwarves" (?), "Do tiger barbs have babies?" (I don't know), "Catherine Newman diaper cake" (yum!),"Catherine Newman love affliction" (I get that one), and my new all-time favorite: "menstrual dumplings." I really hope you found what you were looking for, seeker of the menstrual dumpling, but I'm not sure you found it here. Unless it was my recipe for blood-clot spaetzle?

Anyways, one search term I saw today was "Catherine Newman salt," and that makes perfect and excellent sense. Salt! I have a lot to say about salt, many strong feelings about salt, tons of advice about salt. It is in almost all of my recipes, at the heart of all of the deepest cravings of my stomach's soul, the one seasoning I would choose if I could only choose one seasoning. And when I finally launch myself into full-blown fatness, it will be from the plank of salty snacks. I love them--all those salty, styrofoamy veggie "stix" you put out for the kids, the Pirate's Booty and Pringles and Cheetos and Goldfish Crackers. Oh, yum, yum, yum. And so, as always, my goal is to make a typically lame snack a little more nutrient dense so as to have a better excuse for the gorging and the gobbling. Enter the Nutritionally Enriched Cheese Cracker: like Cheez-Its on a spa vacation. Make no mistake: they are rich and salty, cheesy and addictively, insanely, wonderful. But, thanks to the walnuts, the whole-wheat flour, and the loads of cheddar, they are also full of protein, calcium, phyto-nutrients, omegas, minerals, and fiber. Which is good, because I make them, I send the kids to school with some, and then I eat the rest.

Cheese Crackers
Makes tons
Active time: 1 scant hour; total time: 2 hours

This recipe is a cross between Smitten's version of the Lee Bros. Cheese Straws, the Cheddar Cheese Crackers in the Tartine book (which I've renewed from the library, like, 100 times), and these blue-cheese crackers that I make every Christmas. I'm ambivalent about the onion powder, which makes them taste more like packaged junk food, which is both a good and bad thing in my book. Skip it if that sounds unappealing. Likewise, skip the cayenne, if you like, although that little spicy kick will keep the competition down if your kids balk at it. (Oh, and I can't myself imagine cutting out a million little fish shapes, but if you can imagine it, then you should.)

¼ cup white flour
½ cup whole-wheat flour
¼ teaspoon each cayenne and onion powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
8 ounces sharp cheddar, grated
½ stick (4 tablespoons) butter
2/3 cup walnuts, chopped fine

In a small bowl, whisk together the flours, spices, and salt, and set it aside.

Now here's the order of things, for me: I chop the nuts in the food processor, then dump them out and put in the grating attachment and grate the cheese. Then I put the blade back in with the grated cheese (I just wedge it in, though it would doubtless be easier to dump the cheese out first) and add the dry ingredients and the butter (not the nuts yet). Okay, back to the imperative: process the cheese, butter, and flour mixture until it starts to look clumpy, and not just like a dry whirlwind spinning around. Now add the nuts and process until a ball of dough forms. You'll know this has happened by the sound of something that's been sleeping suddenly waking up and trying to bang its way out of its cage.

Remover the dough and do one of two things: flatten it into a disk, wrap it in plastic wrap, and chill it for an hour (shown here) or shape it into a log (around 1 inch in diameter), wrap it in plastic wrap, and freeze it until hard, around 2 hours.

Heat the oven to 400, and line a pair of baking sheets with parchment paper.

For the disk: On a well-floured surface, keeping the dough floured as you go, roll the dough out thin (1/8-1/4 of an inch), then use a knife, pizza wheel, or pastry roller to cut the dough into small squares or rectangles. Transfer them to the baking sheet, leaving a bit of space between them.

For the log (log!): Use a sharp knife to slice the dough thin, and transfer the rounds, as you cut them, to the baking sheet, leaving a bit of personal space between them.

Bake for 7 or 8 or 9 or 10 minutes, until they are deeply golden on the edges and pale golden in the center--but check them at 5 to get a sense of how quickly they're progressing. You want them done, but not overly browned, unless you like that brown-cheese taste, which some people do. Transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely, then store them airtight.

This is not so complicated, right?
dry ingredients
Let me out! Dough ball WILL escape!
The dough, she is chilled. . .
she is rolled into a crazy shape of a strange color
she is cut
She is poked with a stick. This is called "docking," which means either "poking so it doesn't rise too much" or "trying to make it look more like a Cheez-It," depending on whom you ask. I forgot to mention it in the recipe I think.
ready to bake
eated up
Have I mentioned how Michael hates cheese crackers? No wonder he won't marry me!
 Yowza. Sorry for the photographic micromanaging.

Thank you for entering the game give-away, which is still open! I'll pick and post a winner at 9 am EST on Friday.



  1. dale in denver4:20 PM

    Weird, I just checked for this weeks recipe and it wasn't there, so I decided to read a few of the comments on the game post, came back, and voila, here it is. Yay!

    Mensrual dumplings? Oy.

    My kids are going to love me for these - and, given that I love you, through the transitive property of equality, my kids will love you too.

  2. shari4:36 PM

    can't wait to try these! I was just thinking something like this over the weekend. awesome.

  3. Ooh, those look delicious! I might make them and hide them from the littles so I can gorge on them late at night while watching forbidden shows...which is what they think I do anyway. :) Thanks, Catherine!

  4. casio4:46 PM

    Any suggestions for mixing the dough without a food processor?

  5. Casio, do you have a stand mixer? The Tartine recipe actually has you use one. Here, from that recipe: "In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or with a wooden spoon or your hands in a large bowl), combine the cheese and butter and beat on medium speed until combined. Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until incorporated. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Mix in the walnuts on low speed. The dough should be fairly stiff, with small chunks of cheese and walnut visible." Or else you could do it all with a wooden spoon.

  6. Catherine,
    I loved reading every word and looking at every pic and I love to think I might make these some day. But I know I won't so I'll have to come by and eat some at your house.
    now i need to read about this cool game i've been hearing about!
    Miss you,
    Lisa (and allan and alcy and tug and kate -- some of these are making the car smell like fish breath)
    P.S. you will appreciate this. I will have to wait to read about the game, because we are getting off at an obscure exit along Rte 66 in Oklahoma to eat some caramelized onion burgers Jane and Michael Stern recommended :)

  7. Can anything be substituted for the walnuts? Avoiding nuts due to allergies at my house but would love to make these.

  8. I might actually make these! My daughter has an unhealthy Cheez-it obsession. Thanks for a much healthier alternative.

  9. These look delicious. Thanks for including the stand mixer instructions in the comments. I inherited a food processor form my very talented mother-in-law, but I seriously can not figure it out. And I'm a smart girl. But I can work wonders with my stand mixer, so will give that a try. Oh, and the Catherine Newman Salt search cracked me up. I try to limit salt in our diet, so as much as I love your recipes, I'm ALWAYS cutting the salt by at least half. Many times I've thought to myself "Wow, Catherine really loves her salt." Whenever I make a recipe of yours that isn't a home run, I just know I need to add way more salt.

  10. Anonymous8:58 PM

    Yay! A healthier and less expensive alternative to my children's Cheez It obsession! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU.

  11. Even though I love cheese crackers (okay, okay, Cheez-Its) and all things salty and am totally going to make these tomorrow, my FAV part of your post is that Michael hates cheese crackers. My hubs hates them too. More for us!

  12. Heather9:25 PM

    I am so happy you are still posting. The log (log!) comment made me snort.

  13. Okay, Catherine, I'm saying a version of what so many of your other adoring reader fans here have said..... I clicked, I remembered as it was going to your blog "Oh, today's Monday, she'll have posted!" and then.... sweet relief. Just like others have said, you scared the bejeezus out of me. Something about that blog firing/ending thing made me suddenly worry that somehow you might disappear?! Like, scary, man. (um, I think I just channelled Shaggy from Scooby Doo there?! haha!) That Ben. That Ben's face. I tell ya, I know you've heard it often, but I feel like I *know* your children. And there is Ben, so big, so unbelieveably big. Where does the time go?! Crackers. Cool. Keep on cookin' and munchin', mama. Could you believe that 80 degree day today? (me East Coaster too) Love you, don't ever go away, or we shall be brokenhearted, we readers, and we shall find you and force you to share with us. lol. xoxo

  14. Awesome! Funny because I've been wanting to make some cheese crackers this summer. I haven't made crackers in a very long time and I need to get on that. We definitely like cheese crackers 'round here.

  15. Jennifer10:58 PM

    Can't wait to try these. Definitely making them tomorrow. Looks like you prefer the round over the log? (log!)

  16. I have never made crackers before, these sure sound good. I know the girls will love them.

    My word verification is "bless" that seems about right.

  17. I have no idea if I would actually attempt making my own crackers, but I like that you're sort of making them in the Cheez-its name. They are so delicious and salty they make goldfish taste like cheese water.
    I'm loving the menstrual comment. If only you could see where that search actually ended!

    Oh, I tried to make your chocolate cake this weekend (from way back when on Dalai Mama, the Cooks Illustrated recipe). It didn't come out of the pans and was generally a mess, but my husband was so happy it was a flop because that meant it didn't get taken to poker group as intended. It really is a delicious cake and I'll absolutely try it again, buy maybe with the unholy Pam spray instead of hand buttering and flouring!

    Thanks for keeping the posts coming.

  18. Anonymous12:46 AM

    First time ever posting a comment, but have been following you (sound like a cult!) since you were pregnant with Birdy. (I was also pregnant and had a 3 yr old at the time) I'm too bussy and too lazy to make most of your recepies, but I enjoy your writing and the kids pictures. I wish you and your family the very best!

  19. pdxAmy1:08 AM

    We're all thinking of wacky searches to try to amuse Catherine, right? Don't be surprised if you have crazier results next time you look...

    I made your other crackers (awesome) and I think the children will like these more so as soon as I get over this last-cold-of-the-season (knock wood), I'll make them!

  20. Anonymous1:41 AM

    Perfect- thanks for coming through with more recipes.

    PS Please, can you invent a recipe for a wholegrain pancake mix that we could just add water to?

  21. Angela2:58 AM

    Also walnut allergy :( More flour?? It didn't work too well leaving walnuts out of the banana muffins (they were too banana-y), but I might try it here!!!

    Lastdogz: muffins! I couldn't get the chocolate cake timing right so now I make muffins (with papers, can't stick)- nice to bring along somewhere too. You know, bite-sized portions... (For those with giant bites :) ).

  22. Brooke7:17 AM

    ha ha ha...I was the "catherine newman dwarves" person. I couldn't remember the name of the dwarves and dice game when trying to find it on amazon (where it isn't located)...I'm always doing "Catherine newman + some random words I remember from a post": funky fish sauce, dad's best, etc etc.

  23. These look delicious! And perfect for snacking on outside as the weather (hopefully, slowly) breaks.

    One question- assuming there may be some leftovers, any thoughts on storage? I've made homemade cheese crackers before, although undoubtedly not as delicious at these, and storage (in tupperware) made them soggy.

    Maybe we'll just have to eat them all instead. Oh, the humanity.

  24. Ooh, fellow cheese crackers lovers! Yay! Two things: if you don't eat nuts at your house, leave them out and reduce the cheese to 6 ounces and the salt to 3/4 teaspoon. Simple as that. They're actually lovely that way too. And also: I find they store well. They have grease in them but no liquid, and as long as you bake them long enough they really won't be inclined to be soggy. Is my experience.

  25. Anonymous9:22 AM

    If I had a blog and found out about that feature, I wouldn't be able to stop checking it. What a riot! These crackers look yummy. Thanks! --Cathy K

  26. My favorite line from this post: "when I finally launch myself into full-blown fatness, it will be from the plank of salty snacks." :-)

    I checked my blog stats to see if there were any funny searches -- not too much today. At first I was confused about what "pass wool absently" was about, but I figured it was a line from a poem (it was).

  27. Oh, yes, it is so much fun to poke around the blog. I always wonder who in Vietnam is reading my blog. When you see views from Denmark, that's me!

    Thanks for the recipe, which I promise to make when I get a food processor.

  28. Teafortwo4:45 PM

    This post really made me laugh, but then again, I have a splitting headache right behind my right eye, so "Mentrual Dumplings" had the correct effect. I love the cheese crackers. I just started back at boot camp yesterday, so I'm limited in terms of food choices. I think homemade crackers would fit the snack bill. I wish I had some now. Ah, off to Cub Scouts. Maybe the boys won't notice I'm keeping one eye closed.

  29. Anonymous7:05 PM

    I SO want to try this. How do you recommend doing it without a food processor? My blender is also on the fritz. :(

  30. Catherine, you are, as you have been many times through the years, a lifesaver! Not that my life hinged upon figuring out how to break our Cheez-It habit, but I've had the kind of day that after being on the verge of tears for the bajillionth time, then happening upon that solution, and reading period related food jokes at the same time, makes you feel a lot better. I've been working a lot on eliminating as many processed items from our diet as I can, and we've been Brokeback style unable to quit Cheez-It's for a while, so this is a must try. :)

  31. Angela4:57 AM

    YUM!! Have made them walnut-free as per your suggestions, Catherine - delicious!!! Thanks!

  32. I should just call and tell you how much I love you, but here I am and still laughing at this post...loving you.

  33. dale in denver3:27 PM

    Who here can hear the term "mom crush" and honestly not think of Catherine? I mean I'm a big Tina fan, but Catherine seems more BFF material to me.

  34. I really want to make these, they sound so yummy. But, I haven't had the time (silly clingy 16 month old...) But now I am so in the mood for good cheese crackers! And none of the goldfish-y stuff we have around here for the kids is doing the trick.

    Anyway. I just wanted to say :P because now no cheese crackers will help this craving!

  35. Snort!! 'Menstrual dumplings' almost woke the nursing toddler!!

    And...these look even more delicious than the cheese crackers recipe from "Charleston Receipts". Will try asap.

  36. Jenny3:12 PM

    I didn't even know it was possible to MAKE crackers. Wow, I think my head is about to explode. Can't wait to try it, the cracker-making that is, not my head exploding. Thanks!

  37. "Menstrual dumplings" makes me laugh and gag at the same time.

    Also, I will add these crackers to my list of reasons why I need a food processor. My daughter brings Cheez-Its in her lunch box every day. Maybe I could convince her to try these?

  38. I printed out the recipe with my own personalized response. If I get a lot of cooperation from my 3-yr-old, I might attempt them today.

  39. This we are definitely going to try, and thank you for posting how to do it without the food processor. I actually have one, but I've never figured out how to use all the different attachments, so the stand mixer will work better for us.

    Catherine, I was so excited for a little while because my husband was applying for a position at Amherst College, and I thought "oh my god I could live in the same town as Catherine!" Alas, it was not to be, the search moved on without him.

  40. Anonymous1:20 PM

    I just made these-- the second batch is still cooking, and they are so yummy. I even had to use dill havarti and grana padano instead of cheddar because that's all I had. They still came out great. Oh, and all my nuts were mixed together in a jar, so I had walnuts, almonds and cashews in there. So, even with all those substitutions they came out golden, cheesy and crispy! Thank you for the recipe Catherine!

  41. Anonymous6:16 PM

    Made these on this rainy afternoon. So good!

  42. dale in denver8:40 AM

    OMG! These are awesomely tasty!

  43. Heather12:02 PM


    I made thse yesterday (log(!) version). They are fantastic--I am eating them for breakfast as I write this. I have a question--they seems a little soft this morning--very delicious, but sort of cookie like. Wondering if I made them too thick? Have you had this probem, or maybe they get a little soft as the sit?

  44. Wow, I missed this, and I know this will be a lifelong favorite, because I have searched high and low for an organic version of good, homemade cheese crackers. I think I must have missed this while readying for a tween spa party, fun was had by all on Saturday, but boy, was I busy prior to! Awesome recipe, thanks.
    My word verification, btw, is "shesse", which I think is cheese, in french, portugese, or perhaps italian???

  45. So yummy! Thanks we all loved them, although they didn't last long enough.

  46. I made these last night and they truly are amazingly good and just like Cheez-its but so much better. Any experience in keeping the dough frozen long term for when you want those "yes-I-just-whipped-these-up" afternoon playdate to cook them fresh?

    and I don't have a food processor, just the world's tiniest food grinder so I ground it all and dumped together in bowl and mixed by hand, worked well.

  47. Anonymous5:39 PM

    hi, i just found your post. may i ask what brand and size of the wheel of that pastry cutter you use for the crackers?

  48. These look like they're fun to make, and not too complicated as you say! Thanks so much for sharing the recipe!