Assorted crackers and ramblings

I’ve never attempted making crackers or crispbreads before. If I’m honest I’ve always been a fan of those ‘Biscuits for Cheese’ boxes, the ones from Carrs or Jacobs with assorted crackers, that you only ever seem to buy at Christmas. I’ve never felt the need to try and replicate or better them as I’m scoffing down the last crumbs of my fourth water biscuit. A few weeks ago however I thought I’d have a go myself. I knew I’d never recreate the classic Cream Cracker (not that it’s ever been one of my favourites) so I thought I’d try something a little spicier. I had a fridge full of washed rind cheeses from a Pong order that I thought might go nicely. Every so often, when I get tied of melting cheese at The Cheese Truck I order a bunch from Pong Cheeses.co.uk (who are really great by the way), scoff the lot and call it research.

I made four different crackers: cumin seed, fennel seed, plain with sea salt and wholemeal with sea salt. This recipe has a number of variations and you can create even more yourself but playing around with the types of flour and the seeds and spices. I think fennel seed and chilli flakes is a nice combination and for my wholemeal crackers I used a 50/50 mix of white and wholemeal flours. It’s a really easy recipe so play around with small batches experiment. If someone could play with different combinations of white and rye flour I’d be really interested to know the results.

Assorted Crackers

Makes roughly 24 2 inch crackers

125g Plain flour (or wholemeal flour or 50/50 white and wholemeal)

1/2 tsp Salt

1/2 tsp Baking powder

3 tsp cumin, fennel, poppy, celery or caraway seeds (any that take your fancy…or a combination of them…or none)

25ml olive oil

45ml water

Sea salt or extra seeds for topping (optional)

Preheat your oven to 160°C/140°C fan/gas 3. Begin by sifting together the flour, salt and baking powder  in a large bowl. Next mix in the spices or seeds if you’re using them.

In a jug or bowl whisk together the water and olive oil until roughly emulsified or at least mixed a bit.

Gradually pour the wet mix into the flour and mix until a slightly sticky dough is formed. You may need all the water, you may not, that will depend on your flour e.g. wholemeal and rye flours will need more.

Knead the dough for 5 minutes and leave to rest for 15-20 minutes.

Generously flour a work surface and with a rolling pin roll out the dough until its roughly 2-3mm thick.

Lightly grease a baking tray and carefully transfer onto it the thin sheet of dough.

Stretch out any creases in the dough and prick all over with a fork. If you want to top the crackers with sea salt or extra seeds brush the dough light with a wet pastry brush and sprinkle over the topping.

Using a pizza wheel cut the sheet of dough into the shapes and sizes you desire. I cut some into diamonds and some into squares and rectangles, it’s up to you. It’s important to move the dough onto the tray as one whole piece and cut it on the tray. Because the dough is so thin if you cut it first and them move the individual pieces they stretch, warp and tear and you can end up with melted-clock, Dalí-esque crackers (see the photo below).

Bake the crackers for around 20-25mins until they are crisp and slightly golden. While you let the crackers cool on a wire rack take your cheese out of the fridge to come up to room temperate. Devour.

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Fennel seed (top left), cumin seed (bottom left), wholemeal with sea salt (middle bottom) and Salvador Dalí plain sea salt (bottom right) crackers

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Blue cheese biscuits

I’ve been lax with my baking recently, I’ve been neglecting flour and yeast in favour of curds and whey. Hopefully this post will restore the balance (at least a little). I like baking with what I’ve got to hand and lately that means cheese! I’ve never seen an over-abundance of cheese as a bad thing; however when the crackers have run out this is great little recipe for using up blue cheese. My Mum makes these at Christmas, when there is always large hunk of Stilton in the fridge.

You’ll need to use a semi-firm or crumbly blue for this, so no Gorgonzola Dulce or Cambozolas. I used the creamy Blue Monday in mine. This is made up in Yorkshire by Shepherds Purse for Alex James of Blur fame. Its nice and creamy (would be a good introduction for people not keen on blue cheese) but for these biscuits something with a bit more punch is necessary like a good Stilton or the incredible Stichelton made in Nottinghamshire by Joe Schneider.

These cheesy little morsels make great snacks with drinks and I can firmly recommend you try one with a Dirty Martini (or two).

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Girlfriend approved!

Girlfriend approved!

Blue cheese, poppy seed and walnut biscuits

Makes about 20 2 inch biscuits 

100g plain flour

85g unsalter butter, cold

100g strong blue cheese, plus extra for topping (optional)

1 tbsp poppy seeds

50g walnuts, chopped

pinch of salt

Start by cutting the cold butter and cheese into small chunks. Mix together the flour, salt, walnuts and poppy seeds and begin to rub in the butter and cheese with your fingers as if making pastry.

Make sure you get all the butter rubbed into the flour (it can be hard to tell with all the cheese and nuts in there feel around with your fingers). When its all rubbed in you should have a smooth, firm dough.

Roll the dough into a log shape with a diameter of around 2 inches/4cm. Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for 1 hour until it has set.

Pre-heat your oven to 190°C/170°C fan/gas 5. Take the log out the fridge, unwrap and slice into thin rounds between 3-5mm thick.

Place on a baking sheet, if you want to you can top each disc with a little blob of cheese like my Mum does. Bake in the pre-heated oven for around 10-12 minutes until they are golden brown and the cheese topping is bubbling. Remove and cool on a wire rack. Enjoy with drinks and friends.

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Yuletide Cookies

Ok, so I started this blog because I was doing so much baking on my days off and wanted to write about it. So I set the thing up, buy a domain name, install all the widgets and fiddle with the settings, ready to go. Problem is since then I’ve seem to have spent all my free time making chutneys instead of baking. Not that I don’t like making chutney, I even like the vinegar smell that permeats the house for days after. In fact it’s opened my eyes to the whole world of  preserving, one that I’d been blind to before, I now worry that I’ll have to stop myself from turning everything I find to a relish or marmalade. Anyway it doesn’t give baking blogger much to blog about so I’m retrieving a recipe from a few weeks back.

It was still light at 4 o’clock, the house didn’t smell like pine, the Christmas season was still a little way off and I had an urge to bake cookies.  Little did I know on that November day that I would stumble upon something so evocative of Christmas. I’d been reading Chad Robertson and Elisabeth Prueitt’s lovely book Tartine and this recipe evolved out of their orange-oatmeal-currant cookies. My take is admittedly very similar but with, I think, a far more British choice of ingredients. I mean who in the UK ever used light corn syrup in anything? So armed with one green and one crimson tin of Lyle’s I ended up with these delicious little treats.

It must be the combination of the mixed spice with the orange and the fruit that gives these soft, chewy cookies such a Christmasy taste. Perfect sat in front of the tree with a cup of tea (or even better a glass of mulled wine). This batch makes about 12 big 4 inch cookies and because of the oats they will last, sealed, for about 2 weeks (not that they’ll last that long, my house mates devoured them all in a couple of days). The currants are soaked in tea in this recipe to give them a nice plumpness; I used one I happened to have that really goes well with the other flavours of the cookie. It’s a black leaf tea blended with orange peel and cloves, think mulled wine flavours in a tea, it goes really well but any black tea would do. If you’re making your own Christmas cake these would also work really well with the boozy soaked fruits that go into that :p

yuletide cookies

Makes 12 large 4 inch cookies

Currants      100g

Winter tea/Yule tea/black tea

Plain flour      145g

Bicarbonate of soda      1/4 tsp

Ground mixed spice      3/4 tsp

Unsalted butter, softened      112g

Golden caster sugar     125g

1 large egg

Vanilla extract      1/2 tsp

Golden syrup      1 heaped tbsp

Treacle      1/2 tbsp

Salt      1/4 tsp

Zest of 1 large orange

Porrige oats       75g

Begin by brewing a good strong cup of tea and combine it with the currants in a small bowl. Cover and set aside for about 20 minutes to half an hour until the fruit is plump and juicy. Then drain well and set aside.

Preheat your oven to 170ºC and line two baking trays with baking paper.

Sift together the salt, mixed spice, bicarb and flour and set that to one side also.

Now beat together the caster sugar and butter until it is light and fluffy and has taken on a slightly paler colour. Then beat in the egg, golden syrup, treacle and orange zest until combined. Stir in the flour mixture along with the currants and oats to form a soft dough.

Once you have your dough take about a dessert spoon amount and roll it into a ball. Repeat until all the dough have been rolled and place the balls onto the lined baking trays. They should be a good 2-3 inches apart because they will spread quite a bit in the oven.

Bake for around 10-12 minutes until the centres have lost that wet sheen of the raw dough but before the edges start to go a dark brown. They will still be very soft but they will be cooked. Let them cool on the trays to set before moving them to a wire rack to fully cool.

These really are delicious and I think actually better on the second or third day after the oats have absorbed a little moisture and soften a bit. Enjoy and Merry Christmas!