In the morning, right after we get up, we head out for a walk. We almost always get in a full two-mile walk through our neighborhood, even though it can be quite warm in the summer. Now, however, it’s actually a bit on the brisk side, with most morning temperatures hovering right around 50°F. Yes, we know that might not seem brisk to everyone, but it’s enough to get us to put on a sweatshirt.
With these cooler temperatures, we’ve been leaning towards more warming foods, generally soup, for a lunch repast. And, with soup, sometimes it’s nice to have a few crackers to float on top. So, when we recently had some leftover lentil soup for lunch, we just had to make up a batch of soup crackers to go along.
We based these crackers on Thomas Keller’s Soup Crackers, and, while those are really good, we thought we’d make a slight variation on them just for a difference. As it turns out, these Cracked Peppercorn and Parmesan Soup Crackers kept all the goodness of the original crackers, while adding a bit more flavor. Since we’re sure that you’ll want to try these, let’s get scratchin’.
Makes about 5 dozen 1-inch crackers
For crackers, we like to have cracked peppercorns, big enough to see the pieces of pepper, so we adjust the grinder to make a pretty coarse grind. If you don’t have a grinder, you can buy pepper in those little disposable grinders, as we do. We watch for when they’re on sale, say, $1 to $1.50 a bottle, and pick up a couple. Before those were available, we’d crack the peppercorns by hand, pressing them between two spoons. For Parmesan, well, you know that real Parmesan doesn’t come in green shaker cans, right? Good. Finally, use unsalted butter; you might as well have control over the seasoning in the food you’re making, right?
Procedure in detail:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two baking pans with parchment or silicone baking mats.
Rehydrate yeast. We find it easiest to measure the 1/4 cup of water right into a Pyrex measuring cup, pop it in the microwave for 10 to 15 seconds to heat it up, and then add the yeast. When you heat the water, you want it to feel quite warm to the touch. Not hot, because that will kill the yeast, but more than lukewarm. If you’re not sure, you can check the temperature with an instant-read thermometer. Once the water is warmed, stir in the yeast. Stir some more, because it seems to clump and not mix in.
Whisk dry ingredients. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese. With the cheese in there, it’ll be a bit lumpy, but that’s okay. When we make this, we often whisk together the dry ingredients, then drop the lump of butter on top to let it warm to room temperature. About an hour does it.
Add yeast and butter. If you haven’t dropped the lump of butter on top of the flour, do it now, then pour in the yeast.
Mix. We just used our fingers to mix everything together. You could use a spoon, but why? You’ll have to knead this dough in a bit, anyway. At first, the dough will be somewhat sticky, but it will come together into a manageable ball. It’ll still be lumpy from the cheese, but don’t worry about that.
Knead. All together, knead the dough for 10 minutes. We like to break it up into two sessions: knead 5 minutes, let rest 5 minutes, then knead 5 minutes more. That rest in the middle really helps the gluten to develop and the dough to relax. You’ll notice a significant change in the texture after the dough has rested. At the end of the kneading, there will still be noticeable Parmesan cheese bits distributed throughout the dough, which is what you want.
Rest. Let the dough rest for 5 to 10 minutes. With such a short waiting period, we don’t even bother to cover the dough, but you can if you want. This resting helps the dough relax and it’ll be easier to roll out.
Roll dough. Break out that rolling pin and roll the dough to a thickness of 1/8-inch. If you need to, you can lightly dust the dough with a bit of flour. We didn’t need any additional flour; the kneading and the butter kept it from being sticky.
Cut crackers. You can cut any shape you want. We happen to have a hexagonal cutter that’s about an inch across. We can place it adjacent to the previously-cut cracker to avoid waste.
Dock crackers. Once you’ve cut out as many crackers as you can, press a skewer through the middle, or press the tines of a fork through each cracker. This will “dock” the top of the cracker to the bottom and prevent big air pockets from forming. Transfer to prepared baking sheets, leaving an inch of space between crackers.
Bake. Slide the sheets into the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through, or until the crackers are a nice golden brown and crisp throughout.
Cool. Place baking sheets on a rack and allow crackers to cool completely before removing.
Great crackers! These have a nice Parmesan flavor, followed up with a peppery bite. Neither flavor is overpowering; instead, this recipe makes for a really nice cracker to go along with a soup, or even as a snack. They were good enough that we ate the entire batch at lunch, along with a bowl of soup and a salad. In fact, they paired very nicely with a freshly-made Caesar salad, matching the pepper and cheese in the salad exactly. While we really liked the original version of the soup crackers, we think that these are even better, so five stars. Try them yourself and let us know if you agree.