Sunday, March 27, 2011

Day 118.5 - Homemade Cheez-It Crackers (USA)

I'm quite certain that Andy Rooney (60 Minutes) has never done a satirical commentary on Cheez-It Baked Snacks, but if he did, this is how I imagine it would go:

"Have you ever wondered what's really in a Cheez-It? I mean, sure, the box says they're baked cheese snacks, and the quote on the back of the box under this giant wheel of bright orange cheddar says "wholly" cheese",  but what's really in them? And what do they mean by "wholly"?  

Then he'd continue for another 3 minutes, holding the box for the camera, maybe eating one or two crackers, talking all about truth in advertising, junk food, or the cost of food when he was a kid. He'd make you laugh, and he'd make you think. For the record, I think Andy Rooney is the man -- one of the few remaining old school newsmen of his time and a colleague of my wonderful grandfather, John Gude, with whom he worked in radio and television, long before Fox "news" infiltrated the airwaves.

Like the venerable Mr. Rooney, a recent trip down the cracker and cookie isle of my local grocery store got me to wondering what really is in a Cheez-It? After all, the familiar red, yellow and orange box has been a staple in our pantry forever and makes regular appearances in lunch boxes. What would a long car trip be without a box of Cheez-Its? And besides, the seagulls on the Martha's Vineyard ferry seem to dig them too. Uhhhh....well, upon closer inspection, it turns out that Cheez-It crackers have 21+ ingredients, including MSG. Now, I'm not above eating or feeding my kids store bought anything, but at $3.50 per box, surely I could do better?

So, here's the straight-up, additive, preservative, MSG and food coloring free version, using a grand total of  only 6 ingredients - 5 if you want to omit the cayenne for a milder flavor - which I don't think you ever should, but that's just me.

Homemade Cheez-It Crackers (Adapted from a recipe I found on the cool thethinchef blog)

2 cups all-purpose flour
8 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
14 ounces grated cheddar cheese
1-1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. cayenne powder
1/2 tsp. turmeric powder, for color
10 Tbsp. chilled ice water

In the work bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, butter, cheese, salt, cayenne and turmeric. Pulse until mixture becomes crumbly and gravely looking (about the size of peas).
One tablespoon at a time, add the water and continue pulsing until the dough comes together (you may not need to use all the water).

Divide the dough into two, and wrap in plastic wrap to form two disks.
Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.

Place dough between two pieces of waxed paper - dough is sticky!
Roll to 1/8-inch thickness. This takes a little time, as the dough is thick, but try to get it as close to 1/8-thick as possible. Carefully flip dough in parchment over, and gently peel off the top layer. Using a pizza cutter (I used a fluted pie wheel), trim dough into rectangles, then cut into 2-inch squares. Carefully transfer squares onto baking sheets, using a spatula if needed. Using a toothpick, prick each square in the center (you can omit this step, but if you want them to look like the real deal...)

Bake for 22-25 minutes, until crackers are just slightly turning light brown, and are crisp. Quickly cool and taste for proper crispiness. If they aren't crisp enough, bake for another few minutes. The first batch I made were not quite crispy enough, so I'm inclined to opt for the slightly longer baking time.
Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
If crackers get soggy in storage, they can be re-crisped in a preheated 400F oven for 3-5 minutes.


Debby said...

YUM, Sarah...what a great idea! So much for the 10 lbs. before bathing suit weather!

witchywoman said...

I was just talking to my husband the week before I discovered your blog that I wanted to try my hand at making don't have ESP among your many talents, do you???

sadie said...

Make these, Laurrie!! I was thinking it would be cool to make them with a mixture of parm cheese to give them a little zing!