Going Metric – The One Centimeter Rule & Crackers

October 21st, 2009 / Comments 8

When the ingredients list on the side of the box of any prepared food is longer than a centimeter (half an inch) I don’t buy it. This pronouncement was the beginning of a grocery store game for my sons when they were too young to “sound out” words like disodium inosinate or monoglycerides. Rather than dealing with arbitrary decisions like, “No,” imposed by a tyrant, (me), the ingredients list was undeniable. My sons are grown now and my grandchildren play the game and I still check the length of ingredients lists.

The cracker aisle at the market is a special challenge. The ingredients list for simple, no frills saltine crackers is longer than three centimeters (one inch) and includes partially hydrogenated cotton seed oil and high fructose corn syrup. Not what I want to serve with soup made with carrots, onions and dill from my garden and milk from a nearby dairy.

According to the Farmers’ Almanac, hardtack, the predecessor to crackers, originated in New England in the 18th century. It is a simple cracker made from flour and water. Baked hard and dry and stored properly, it lasts forever, or at least long enough to be a dietary mainstay on long sea voyages.

Legend has it that crackers were the creation of Massachusetts’s baker, Josiah Bent. He combined a common kitchen mishap, over-baking a batch of biscuits, with Yankee ingenuity.  Inspired by the sound they made when chewed, he introduced the crisp biscuit as a cracker.  More than two hundred years later, the G. H. Bent Company in Milton, Massachusetts is still baking hard tack with just two ingredients, wheat flour and water.

Alas, the cracker has changed radically since it simple beginnings. There are whole grain, gluten free, low fat, no fat, salt free, cheese, herb, poppy seed, sesame seed, naturally flavored, and artificially flavored crackers waiting in the cracker aisle hoping for a ride in your shopping trolly.

rye cheese twigs Going Metric   The One Centimeter Rule & Crackers

You can turn away from the fancy boxes and follow my centimeter rule if you make crackers rather than buy crackers made by faraway food corporations. You can say no to crackers shipped hundreds of miles, in excessive packaging, supplemented with un-pronounceable ingredients and preservatives and sold at prices that rival designer chocolates. Homemade crackers are delicious, simple to make, and won’t make a shocking dent in your food budget.

Crackers can be seasoned and shaped to suit the occasion. Served with local cheese they are an elegant snack. Homemade crackers spread with butter and jam will be welcomed with a smile. Rye cheese sticks and a glass of wine say welcome to friends. I have two cracker recipes that I modify to suit my needs. Here’s how I do it.

Saltine Crackers

I use a whisk to blend together 2 cups / 225 g of all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon / 5 g  baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon / 2 g  salt in a mixing bowl.  I stir 1/3 cup / 80 ml of grape seed oil and 2/3 cup /160 ml of warm water into the flour mixture to make soft but not sticky dough.

I put one quarter of the dough onto a cookie sheet that has been lightly oiled and use a small rolling pin to roll the dough into a large square.  I use a pastry brush to paint on a thin glaze of beaten egg white, sprinkle the dough with a small amount of salt and then prick the dough with a fork to keep the crackers from rising.  The crackers are ready to be baked for ten minutes in an oven that has been preheated to 400 degrees Fahrenheit/ 200 degrees Celsius.   Cool and re-oil the baking sheet between batches.

Rye Cheese Twigs

I combine 1/2 cup / 60 g rye flour, one cup / 120 g whole-wheat flour, 1 teaspoon /4 g salt, a pinch of cayenne, and 2 tablespoons / 24 g  sesame seeds in a bowl.  I use the large holes on a box grater to shred one stick / 120 g cold, unsalted butter into the flour mixture and then use my fingers to blend the flour and butter until the mixture looks like coarse sand.  I stir in three-quarters of a cup / 180 g of shredded cheddar cheese and slowly add enough ice water, about 1/2 cup / 120 ml to make a stiff dough.

The dough is divided into quarters, wrapped in foil and chilled in the freezer for half an hour before I roll it out, on a well-floured surface, to make 1/4 inch / 6 mm thick, 6 by 12 inches / 15 by 30 cm rectangle.  I cut the rectangle into twenty-four 6 inches / 15 cm long strips. The strips are put onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper before I stretch and roll them to a twig shaped cylinders that are 12 inches / 30cm long.

The twigs are baked for ten minutes in an oven that has been preheated to 400 degrees Farhenheit / 200 degrees Celsius turned over and baked for three minutes more.

Notes: As a member of the world community of cooks, I have decided to begin to include  metric measurements in my posts.

Wish me luck – this is new territory for me.

Crackers must be completely cooled before being stored in an airtight container. These recipes are just a start.  Substitute whole-wheat flour, semolina, spelt or buck wheat flour, add seeds, spices, to suit your fancy. The ingredients lists on boxes in the cracker aisle may be inspiration for ways to vary these recipes.  Send me a note – share your success. Remember Josiah Bent!

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Saltine List

  • 2 c /225 g  all-purpose flour
  • 1 t / 5 g baking powder
  • 1/2 t / 2 g salt
  • 1/3 C / 80 ml  grape seed oil

Rye Cheese Twigs List

  • 1/2 C / 60 g rye flour
  • 1 c / 120 g whole-wheat flour
  • 1 t / 4 g salt
  • pinch of cayenne
  • 2 T /  24 g sesame seeds
  • 1 stick / 120 g unsalted butter
  • 3/4 c/ 180 g cheddar cheese
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• 8 Responses to “Going Metric – The One Centimeter Rule & Crackers”

  • Kacy says:

    Hi, Carol,

    Why grape seed oil? Does it have important properties that are not found in olive or canola oils?

    Thanks. These look great!

    • Carol says:

      Grape seed is even healthier than olive oil and when bought in bulk is often much less expensive. As a painter, I am drawn to its lovely color. All that being said, you can certainly use olive or canola oil instead.

  • peasepudding says:

    Delicious looking crackers, something I keep meaning to make but never get round to it! Your Rye Twigs made me think of M&S Twigelts which i haven’t eaten for years since I now live in NZ so I might just have to give them a go. Thanks

  • Lucia says:

    Thank you for this post. I have been trying to reduce our processed food intake and had not even thought of crackers. I am going to make this recipe today!

  • Janice says:

    Love your 1cm rule, so clever. Your recipes look good, I love crackers and as my DH works for a cheese company, we always have lots of cheese!

  • Choclette says:

    Good for you – I’m all for the 1 cm rule and the crackers look far better than most of the ones you can buy.

  • I wish you luck with the Metric system… ;-) Check out the Culiverter widget in my blog, many blogs have it, maybe you’d find it interesting.

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