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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Cheesy Chilli Muffins

A little while ago I took a trip to Gringa Dairy, a converted railway arch down in  Peckham, where owner Kristen hand-makes authentic Mexican style cheese. A woman of boundless enthusiasm, Kristen makes three cheese Queso Fresco, Queso Chihuahua and the intricately tied Queso Oaxaca. All three are beautiful, delicious cheeses and we actually use her Queso Chihuahua at The Cheese Truck. We talked about Mexican food and she kindly gave me a jar of Gran Luchito chilli paste. When opened, this tiny little jar gave off the most incredible smoky, dried raisin and tobacco aromas.  This stuff is seriously delicious, I just had to bake with it.

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The cheese making room inside Gringa Dairy, Peckham

When I think of baking and chillies together the first thing my mind is drawn to is cornbread. I love cornbread. There is something wonderfully savoury about the flavour of cornmeal that, having quite the opposite of a sweet-tooth, I adore. Cornbread always reminds me a particular holiday as a small child. We’d gone to an old fashioned dinner show; the show was Wild West themed and so we sat in a big, dusty hippodrome and I had my first taste of cornbread.

This recipe isn’t actually for cornbread however, although it is cornbread inspired, and as most things in my life at the moment involve cheese this recipe is no exception. I’d use a good strong cheddar for this recipe, the nicest you can afford, otherwise the muffins won’t have that pleasing cheddar tang. Devour these warm, as they come out of the oven, with butter or a little cream cheese. Buen provecho!

Gran Luchito and Cheddar Muffins

Makes 12 muffins

175g plain flour

115g fine cornmeal (polenta)

1/8 tsp salt

1 tbsp baking powder

85g unsalted butter (melted and cooled)

2 medium eggs

250ml buttermilk

1 tbsp honey or Gran Luchito Smoked Chilli Honey

140g mature cheddar cheese (grated), plus extra for topping

20g Gran Luchito Chilli Paste

Preheat your oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6. Begin by sifting together the flour, salt, baking powder and cornmeal in a large bowl.

Next whisk together the eggs, melted butter, honey and buttermilk.

Gentle combine the wet and dry ingredients and add in the grated cheese. The key with muffins is not to over-mix the batter, try to combine everything in less than twelve strokes. It should look a bit rough and lumpy but this helps give the muffins their characteristic, uneven texture.

Finally, take the chilli paste and, using a knife, ripple it through batter. You want streaks of chilli running through the batter so again don’t mix too thoroughly.

Grease a muffin try or line it with muffin cases and evenly distribute the batter between the 12 cases and top with the extra grated cheddar.

Bake in the preheated oven for around 20-25mins until the muffins are risen, golden and the cheese have melted.

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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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Cheesy Apologies

It’s been a busy month. I just wanted to apologise for not posting anything here in a long time.  So for anyone who was worried I’d fallen into an abyss/been hit by a bus/cycled into by distracted hipsters, here is a short update on what I’ve been doing instead of blogging.

I’ve been working on a new project, here in London, all centred around cheese! I met a guy who wanted to start a new business selling, grilling and promoting British artisan cheeses. I learn’t a little bit about cheese making while I was at SAF so I really interested in getting involved. Who wouldn’t wanna work with delicious cheeses? For the past two months we’ve been talking ideas and refining menu items. We spent one day trialling grilled cheese recipes the other week (imagine  eating grilled cheese sandwiches for an entire day!) we’ve also been out meeting potential suppliers including the amazing charcuterie of Black Hand Food in Hackney Wick.  To start with we’re going to be going around London selling a range of grilled cheese sandwiches. We had our first outing as ‘The Cheese Truck’ last Sunday at Maltby Street market in Bermondsey. It was great fun and it’s just the start, we’ll be there again next Sunday too if you fancy a melty treat.

I promise though that new baking-related posts will be coming to this blog shortly, man cannot live by cheese alone.

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Grilling sandwiches at Maltby Street Market

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Hams curing at Black Hand Food. Thanks to Hugo for showing us around his palace of meat.

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Our flagship Cheddar, Ogleshield and onion sandwich