BRIARCLIFF, MANOR, N.Y. -- There are three things I can always count on when I go away on a girls weekend – and when I say girls I use the term loosely as my friends are all close to or over 50 – there’s going to be a lot of eating, drinking, and laughing! And that’s just what happened when I went away with a group of eight to Stratton Mountain to stay at a friend’s ski house.
So, now that I am finally over my hangover, I can talk about the food. Let’s just say no one came on the trip empty handed. Joan brought every type of chocolate covered caramel and nut imaginable. Sandy came with brownies and candied pecans, and Katie baked chocolate chip cookies that I’m still dreaming about.
But what I can't get out of my head is Ruth’s cheddar cheese crackers. If there was ever an embodiment of the word “savory,” this cracker is it. It is perfectly salty, tangy and crunchy, and even has a bit of heat from a hint of Cayenne pepper.
Needless to say, I had to have the recipe. When I asked Ruth for the scoop, she said she got it from a colleague at the New Castle Art Center, who in turn found it in the Tartine cookbook, from the famed owners of the eponymous San Francisco bakery and café.
Ruth explained the way the crackers are made is by combining flour, salt, cayenne pepper, black pepper, sharp cheddar cheese, butter and walnuts. Then you shape the mixture into a log that you firm up in the freezer for a couple of hours. The next step is to take out the chilled cheddar log and cut into 1/8 to 1/4 inch slices, which are then ready to bake in the oven until golden brown.
According to Ruth, “The first time I made these, they were a little too thick for my liking, so now I cut them thinner and they come out a bit crisper.” She also said, “They can be very ‘buttery’ and may need to be placed on a paper towel when they come out of the oven.”
I finally had a chance to make them yesterday and they turned out perfectly. There were a couple of tips I’d like to add. I decided to put the walnuts in the food processor to finely chop them. The smaller nut size makes the cheddar log less likely to crumble when being sliced. I also read that it well worth it to use high quality cheese so I bought some Cabot sharp cheddar and shredded it in the food processor.
One other thing, these crackers go really well with red wine!
From the Tartine Cookbook
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 1/3 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup walnuts, finely chopped
1. In a small mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt, cayenne pepper, and black pepper. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or with a wooden spoon or your hands in a large bowl), combine the cheese and butter and beat on medium speed until combined. Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until incorporated. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Mix in the walnuts on low speed. The dough should be fairly stiff, with small chunks of cheese and walnut visible.
2. Transfer the dough to parchment paper, waxed paper, or plastic wrap and shape into a log about 1 inch in diameter. Wrap well and freeze until hard, about 2 hours. Or, gather the dough into a ball, flatten into a disk, wrap well in plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator until firm but still pliable, about 1 hour.
3. Preheat the oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick liner.
4. Unwrap the log and cut crosswise into slices 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Arrange the crackers on the prepared pan, spacing them about 1 inch apart.
5. Bake the crackers until golden brown on the edges and lighter in the center, 7 to 10 minutes, depending on size and thickness. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.
Laura Joseph Mogil is a freelance writer and publicist residing in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. You can read her blog at www.inspiredchef.net.