Going crackers: Making your own has its rewards
Chef Bruce Naftaly came to Nancy Leson’s house to give her a lesson. Making crackers at home isn’t difficult, and you can freeze batches of unbaked crackers directly on a baking sheet and then bake them fresh for company.
Seattle Times food writer
CRACKERS ARE always in my kitchen: Croccantini from La Panzanella (I like the rosemary version), Wheat Thins (or “Wheat Fats” as we call them) and Premium Saltines (what would Campbell's tomato soup be without ’em?).
But these days, if I’m feeling homey, I make my own.
For that, I thank Bruce Naftaly, owner of the late, great Le Gourmand — closed in 2012 after nearly 30 years in Ballard. I’ve long admired his poppy seed crackers, a menu staple served with rabbit-liver pate. Not only because they were homemade, but because Naftaly grew poppies in his restaurant garden and harvested the seeds for his crackers long before the word locavore came into our lexicon.
The chef — who’s been keeping busy teaching cooking classes — showed up at my house for a private lesson bearing antiques from his Le Gourmand kitchen: a French charlotte mold used to stamp out the crackers, and a 19th-century Japanese sembei iron to prettily imprint each with a chrysanthemum.
I’ve since made do shaping crackers with the rim of a juice glass (you might use a cookie cutter) and pricking each with the tines of a fork (which, like the iron, keeps the crackers from puffing as they bake).
“I don’t remember where the recipe came from,” Naftaly said, rolling dough with admittedly less finesse than his wife, Sara, his longtime pastry chef, who plans to someday soon have a bakeshop of her own. Acknowledging his wife would insist he take care not to overwork the dough, he shrugs: “It’s a cracker, for God’s sake! It’s not supposed to be a flaky pie crust.”
I’ve since had fun tweaking his recipe. I’ve brushed my cracker dough with olive oil and sprinkled each with coarse salt and cracked pepper before baking. I’ve used a knife to cut the dough into rectangles instead of shaping it into rounds. And I’ve blatantly disregarded Naftaly’s instructions about not rerolling the dough scraps. Waste not, want not, right?
I’ve substituted chopped herbs for the poppy seeds and, at his suggestion, frozen batches of unbaked crackers directly on a baking sheet, bringing them to room temperature before baking them “fresh” for company.
And now, with spring in the air, I think it’s time to plant some poppies.
Le Gourmand Poppy Seed Crackers
Makes about 4 dozen
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt (or table salt)
2 teaspoons poppy seeds
4 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the poppy seeds and use a whisk to distribute.
3. Cut the butter into small dice, add to the dry ingredients and, using the tips of your fingers in a pinching motion, work the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse cornmeal.
4. Add 4 tablespoons of ice water and knead the mixture until it comes together in the bowl, adding more water as necessary, a tablespoon at a time, to form a smooth dough ball.
5. Divide the ball in half. Set one half aside and cover with plastic wrap. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the first ball to a thickness of 1 / 8 inch. Cut into rounds with a 2-inch cookie cutter and place them, 1 inch apart, on ungreased baking sheets. Repeat the process with the second dough ball.
6. Prick each cracker three times with the tines of a fork just before baking, then bake 16-18 minutes — or until lightly browned. Cool before serving.
Nancy Leson is The Seattle Times’ food writer. Reach her at email@example.com. Ken Lambert is a Times staff photographer.