My husband the pollster tells me that those snap online polls that pop up on news websites after political debates are pretty much worthless as a gauge of public opinion. That’s because the people taking part in the poll are self-selecting, and there’s no way to know if they represent the public as a whole. Also, campaigns can hijack an online poll by directing their supporters to take it. Some diehards will even delete the cookies in their web browsers so they can take the poll again and again!
But I’m running a food blog, not running for president. My time is tight and blogging is getting harder and harder to do with a nearly three-year-old, a seven-and-a-half month old, and a full-time job. So when I was trying to decide if the next recipe should be my favorite challah, our go-to pizza, or homemade Cheez-Its®, I took the question to Facebook and asked my friends for their opinion.
The clear winner was Cheez-Its®, although folks made it clear they like the looks of the pizzas we’ve been posting to Instagram. I’ll get to all of them, I swear, and I’ll also share the cupcakes and frostings from the build-your-own cupcake bar we made for Lilli’s birthday party. Sometime before Lilli gets to middle school, at this rate.
I first made these crackers when Lilli wasn’t quite two. It was that golden era when she still ate everything she was served, and gobbled up things like broccoli and mushrooms. It was that naïve time in my life where I actually believed she’d be better off if she only ate things I had personally cooked and baked myself. No puffs for her, and certainly no Goldfish. Obviously she had no interest in these crackers, and, as it turned out, any cheese cracker served to her. No Goldfish, Penguins, or Bunnies. Serves me right for being a Sanctimommy. (Second kids are very different; Bea gets puffs, frozen waffles, and, as of tonight, Nutella.)
The recipe comes is from Classic Snacks Made from Scratch by Casey Barber, which is where I got the Nutter Butter recipe. This one is much simpler, and comes together very quickly in a food processor, although there is a little bit of effort transferring the crackers to the cooling rack. I like this recipe because the ingredient list is very short, far shorter than on a box of Cheez-Its®. And even though it does call for two tablespoons of vegetable shortening, using Earth Balance instead of say, Crisco, just feels better.
Barber makes a big deal of warning that the crackers’ high fat content makes them easy to burn. But I’ve had some come out on the darker side, and I swear they were even better. Sometime in the past year the Cheez-Its® people decided that was truth and marketed a dark brown version of the cracker for a limited time.
The second time I made these crackers I ended up not having the time to bake them immediately. Instead of chilling the dough for an hour, it sat in the fridge for about five days. No harm came to the crackers. They were thicker and seemed to rise a bit more in the oven.
I’ve photographed this recipe twice, something of a record for me at this point. But obviously I have no idea where any of those pictures are. Sorry about that. If you want the crackers’ signature pinked edges, Barber suggests using a fluted pastry cutter. I don’t own one, but my pizza wheel did the job. If you don’t have a pizza wheel, just use a sharp knife.
Cheez-Its® from Classic Snacks Made from Scratch by Casey Barber
1 (8-ounce) block extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, coarsely shredded
1 ounce finely grated Parmesan cheese (about ¼ cup)
2 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into ½ – inch cubes
2 Tablespoons vegetable shortening, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (4 ¼ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons ice-cold water
Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, blend the cheeses, butter, shortening, and salt on medium-low speed, OR pulse in the bowl of a food processor until soft and homogenous. Add the flour and pulse or mix on low to combine; the dough will be dry and pebbly.
Slowly add the water (through the feed tube, if using a food processor) and continue to pulse/mix as the dough coalesces into a mass. Depending on the brand of cheese used and the humidity level at the time, you might need a small dribble of water or the full 2 tablespoons. Pat the dough into a disc, wrap tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 375F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat liners.
Divide the dough into 2 pieces on a floured surface and roll each into a very thin (1/8 inch or less) 10 by 12-inch rectangle. Using a fluted pastry cutter or pizza cutter, cut the rectangles into 1-inch squares, then transfer to the baking sheets. Use a toothpick or the tip of a chopstick to punch a hole in the center of each square.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until puffed and browning at the edges. Watch carefully, as the high fat content of the crackers make it a fine line between golden delicious and burnt. Immediately move the baked crackers onto wire racks to cool.
Store your Cheez-Its at room temperature for up to a week.