Most likely, we will never eat at The French Laundry, nor Ad Hoc. Both are far away from us, and out of our price range. But, thanks to Thomas Keller’s book, Ad Hoc at Home, we can try making something that might be served in one of his restaurants. We’re pretty excited to be trying out his Soup Crackers; we had such a hit with Pappardelle with Mushrooms, and these seemed so simple to make up and perfect to go along with a big bowl of steaming tomato vegetable soup (see tomorrow’s post).
The recipe is quite basic, and well within the grasp of anyone who has baked a few things from scratch. In fact, we think that it’s simple enough that even if you’ve never baked anything from scratch, it’s a good recipe on which to start.
Makes about 5 dozen 1-inch crackers
This recipe calls for kosher salt and you do want to use it; otherwise, cut the amount of salt to 2/3 teaspoon, as kosher salt is less dense than table salt. In fact, after tasting these, we found them a bit salty, and, if we make them again, we’ll probably cut back a bit. Note that we give the amount of flour by weight, which, if you have a scale, makes these even simpler to make.
Procedure in detail:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking sheets.
Mix flour and salt. We did this first, mainly because we needed to let our butter warm to room temperature. Once the flour and salt were mixed, we tossed the butter right on top and let it sit for an hour to warm. Simple, huh? If you need to do the same, you can wait until you start kneading to preheat your oven.
Activate yeast. Now, you can let the tap run until the water is hot enough, but we find it much faster and easier to measure out the water into a bowl, or, as here, a measuring cup, and pop it into the microwave for 10 seconds or so. With our microwave, that seemed just right. The water should feel pretty warm to the touch, but not too warm (err on the cool side to prevent killing the yeast). Stir in the yeast; it won’t all dissolve, so let it sit for a few minutes and stir again. Within 10 minutes of stirring occasionally, the yeast will dissolve.
Make dough. Pour the yeast water over the flour, and, using your fingers, work the mixture into a dough. It will be very soft and sticky at first. Keep working; it’ll come together and become less sticky as the butter gets incorporated.
Knead. Start kneading. The original recipe says to knead it for 10 minutes, but we changed that just a bit to make it easier. Knead for 5 minutes, then give your arms a rest for 5 minutes, then knead again for 5 minutes. That resting period does wonders for you and the dough; it allows the gluten to relax, which is a good thing.
Let rest. Cover the dough and let it rest for 10 minutes. We just popped it back in the bowl and placed one of the baking sheets on top.
Roll out dough. Dust your work surface with a bit of flour and roll out the dough to a thickness of 1/8-inch. The dough is quite soft, so this is really easy. Sprinkle with more flour as needed while you roll.
Cut crackers. Transfer the dough to one of the lined baking sheets, and, using a small biscuit or cookie cutter, cut out crackers. Dip the cutter in flour from time to time to help prevent sticking. Remove the excess dough, leaving the crackers behind. You can re-roll the scraps to make more crackers.
Dock and salt. With the tines of a fork, poke holes through the crackers; this is docking and will hold one side of the cracker to the other, preventing large air pockets from forming. Sprinkle with sea salt.
Bake. Slide the crackers into the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, or until a light golden brown. The original recipe called for a 10-minute baking period; we found 20 worked better for us, but you’ll want to check the crackers often.
Cool. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and let the crackers cool completely on the sheets.
So, it’s a pretty simple cracker recipe, which is good. But, these crackers are a little bit too salty, and they didn’t get that nice crispiness of saltines; instead, they were more like a cross between a cracker and a flat biscuit. These would be better if, instead of sprinkling with salt, you hit them up with just a pinch of Parmesan cheese. It would help them brown, plus, it would give them a slight cheesy flavor. With that, and a slight reduction in the amount of salt in the dough, as discussed above, we would have some outstanding crackers. As it is, we can only give them four stars.