It’s the quarter-finals under the Great White Tent, and the pressure is mounting. For the signature bake, each contestant had to make 48 identical crackers or crisp breads. They had to be evenly baked and crisp enough to pass Paul Hollywood’s snap test. He claimed he would test every single cracker for a snap when broken.
I don’t know if he followed through on all 240 crackers, but most of the bakers achieved the snap he was looking for. Only Cathryn’s crackers were inconsistent enough to warrant Paul’s criticism.
For my crackers, I dug back into the recipe file where I keep most of my mom’s old recipes, written in my childish handwriting on lined file cards stained with splatters of who-knows-what from bakes of long ago. I remembered a cracker she used to make, not very often but enough that I could picture it—a wafer-thin pastry seasoned with cheese and dotted through with sesame seeds.
I pulled out the recipe card and compared the ingredients to a few other cracker recipes I found online. It looked like it would work, but would it achieve the crispy snap that Paul was looking for? I’d soon find out.
A simple dough of flour, salt and sugar, melted butter and a beaten egg yolk is seasoned with sharp cheddar cheese, sesame seeds, a little bit of ginger and a splash of Worcestershire sauce. I was taking a cue from GBBO baker Brendan and making a throwback to the ‘70s!
Since another baker, Danny, mentioned that she was using desiccated parmesan cheese (the kind that comes in the plastic green shaker) because fresh cheese was too moist, I looked for the finest grated cheddar I could find. Even then, I put it in my mini blender/chopper and whirled it a bit to make it finer still. The other key, I believe, is tossing the cheese with the flour to dry it out a bit before adding the liquid.
Even so, my dough was very greasy. I placed it between two pieces of wax paper so I’d be able to roll it out as thin as possible without it sticking to the rolling pin. The recipe calls for cutting the 1/8-inch-thick dough into 1-inch by 3-inch strips, so I rolled it into a 12-inch square and then marked one edge in 1-inch increments. Using a pizza cutter, I cut the 1-inch strips and then divided them into 3-inch segments. I was then able to use a narrow spatula to transfer the crackers onto an ungreased cookie sheet.
The recipe says to bake for 10-15 minutes. I didn’t want to take any chances that they’d bake unevenly, so after 5 minutes I turned the baking sheet 180 degrees. At 10 minutes I turned it a quarter turn and set the timer for another 3 minutes. I think they were in the oven the full 15 minutes, with multiple turns toward the last few minutes. In the end, they were fairly evenly baked with just a few edges slightly browner than the others.
I would have kept them on the baking sheet a little longer to ensure maximum crispness, but I was afraid I’d have trouble getting them off. The first few came up easily, but the last few stuck a little, so I experienced some breakage. Still, I was able to salvage 48 almost whole crackers that gave a satisfying, albeit delicate, snap when broken.
The taste, I thought, was hearty and flavorful, a savory cheese cracker that held its own with a spread of hummus on top. Though I didn’t grow up in the American South, or in Britain, I imagine they are a bit like the cheese straws that are popular in both those regions, served as an appetizer at cocktail parties.
Now that I’ve dusted off this old recipe, I think I’ll keep it toward the front of my recipe file, to remind myself to make it more often. Perhaps for my next cocktail party…
Cheesy Sesame Crackers
- 1 c. sifted flour
- ½ t. salt
- ½ t. ginger
- ½ t. sugar
- 1 c. finely grated, sharp process American cheese
- ¼ c. toasted sesame seeds
- 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
- 1 T. water
- 1/3 c. butter, melted and cooled
- ½ t. Worcestershire sauce
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Sift flour, salt, ginger and sugar together in a large mixing bowl. Stir in cheese and sesame seeds. In a small mixing bowl, combine remaining ingredients, stirring until well-combined. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir until dough forms a ball.
- Roll out dough between two large pieces of wax paper into a 12-inch square about 1/8-inch thick. Remove top piece of wax paper, and use a pizza cutter to cut dough into 1×3-inch strips.
- Transfer strips to an ungreased baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes, turning baking sheet every 5 minutes to ensure even browning. When crackers are just beginning to brown around the edges, remove from oven and transfer to cooling racks. When cool, store in an airtight container. Makes about 48 crackers.