The “IT” Factor

Shapely Baked White Cheddar Crackers [Homemade Cheez-Its!]

I wasn’t lying in my earlier posts when I claimed to use my tooth-shaped cookie cutter at every possible opportunity.  Lo and behold, I was blessed with another occasion to exercise my dental bakeware!
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Today, my dental school classmates face Day #2 of the state licensing exam, and, in a show of savory solidarity, I wanted to make a dental version of the classic Cheez-It.  I think so-called “copy cat” recipes are fun, especially when they recreate nostalgic childhood favorites [see my other copy cat adventures here, here, and here].

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Between my frequent Food Network viewing and time-killing internet scans, I’ve seen a lot of different recipes for homemade cheese crackers.  The one I ultimately decided to try was this one, by In Katrina’s Kitchen; I really liked the simplicity of the recipe and ingredients, and the pictures looked perfect!

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In a rare showing of Carolyn Follows Directions, I adhered to the recipe ingredients completely — with ONE exception:   I made the executive decision to sprinkle some kosher salt over the crackers just before baking because that’s my thing.  I did also make some technique changes, and, oh yeah, I made the dough into TEETH-IT CRACKERS!!!  ‘Tis the season.

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The baked crackers were light and crisp, as promised, and packed a cheesy punch.  Granted, I made the cookies into a larger shape than the standard cheese cracker, but I only have one size of tooth-cookie cutter (because it’s probably the only one on the planet), so the eating experience is not identical to fresh-out-the-box Cheez-It snacking.  However, the experience is still a good one!
The toothpick holes are essential.  Why?  They help the crackers crisp more evenly and prevent doughy centers by increasing the surface area exposed to the oven heat.  Is this really the reason for the holes?  Couldn’t tell ya, but it sounds reasonable, right?!  Just be sure to wiggle the toothpick around a bit to make sure that your hole stays nicely defined during baking.

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Future iterations of these crackers – because, yes, I WILL be making these again – may feature some cheese and spice experimentation — perhaps, swiss cheese with a pinch of nutmeg & cayenne, or a parmesan-cheddar mix with some fresh basil, or maybe a fun havarti-dill batch.  I might even go so far as to go meta with this whole copy cat thing and try an extra sharp yellow cheddar, cut into 1.5″ squares, sandwiching a creamy peanut butter filling (any other Lance Toasted Cheese Peanut Butter cracker kids out there?).  You can expect this post to be updated with any and all successful trials of Carolyn’s Cracker Crackdown.

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Shapely Baked White Cheddar Crackers

Yield:  ~2 dozen, 3″ crackers                                              Adapted from:  In Katrina’s Kitchen
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 tablespoon vegetable shortening, at room temp
1 cup all purpose flour
Scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, grated as finely as your grater can handle
2 tablespoons water, placed in freezer for 10 minutes
Kosher salt, for sprinkling
Cream together the butter and shortening until uniform in consistency (I used my stand mixer & paddle attachment, but a hand mixer & some elbow grease should work just fine).  Beat in half of the grated cheese for 2-3 minutes.  In a large measuring cup or separate bowl, toss together the flour, salt, and remaining half of the grated cheese.  Turn mixer to low, and gradually add the flour-cheese mixture, stopping mixer once all flour has been added to the bowl (may still be a bit flour-streaky).  Turn mixer back to low, and gradually add the cold water, mixing only until dough starts to clump together (you can add slightly more water if your dough isn’t clumping at this point).  Scrape dough out onto a large sheet of plastic wrap, and gently knead the dough into a single clump,  handling as minimally as possible, and flatten it into a disk.  Wrap dough tightly with plastic wrap, and chill 30 minutes to overnight [NOTE:  if you have pungent things in your fridge, place the wrapped dough inside the freezer bag as a protective flavor barrier].
Remove dough from fridge 90 minutes prior to rolling.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees farenheit, and line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.  Roll dough out to ~1/8″ thickness between two sheets of plastic wrap, and use your desired cookie cutter to cut out your shapes.  Place cut-outs on prepped baking sheet, allowing ~1″ between crackers.  Take a toothpick, and make ~evenly-spaced holes in the body of whatever shape you have, wiggling the toothpick around to exaggerate the hole size.  Place sheet of crackers in the freezer for 5 minutes.  Sprinkle crackers with a tiny bit of kosher salt.  Bake for 12-14 minutes (depending on your shape and actual thickness), rotating sheet halfway through, until you can see the grated cheese pieces, not so much the crackers themselves, turning golden brown — be careful not to burn them, especially if your shapes have any sharp points, which tend to bake more quickly!  Let cool on sheets for 5 minutes, then remove to wire racks for complete cooling.  Store cooled crackers in airtight containers at room temp.

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