Pasta Machine? More like cracker machine
Making crackers is frustrating. In fact, making anything with a rolling pin is pretty damn vexing, but crackers especially so. Good crackers require two things: really thin dough and perfectly uniform dough. The thinness helps make crackers crispy, rather than chewy or, worse, brick-like (tooth-shattering). The uniformity of the dough is related: thin crackers will burn to a cinder while their thick brethren are slowly baking into breadish mediocrity. If there’s any saving grace to bad crackers its that you didn’t spend much time making them, but that’s hardly a consolation.
I am fairly experienced with rolling pins since I make a lot of flattened breads, but I have never liked using them. It seems like my pin is always getting stuck to the dough, tearing it and ruining my shape. I also find it difficult to roll to a consistent thickness, especially when rolling very thin. I know you can buy little rings to attach to the end of your rolling pin that help control thickness but they sound like more trouble than they’re worth. And why use a rolling pin at all, when we have our friend, Signore Norpro:
Pasta has many of the same requirements as crackers in terms of shaping, so a pasta machine is a natural for making crackers. My working dough recipe is the Lavash Crackers from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, consisting of:
- 6 3/4 oz AP Flour
- 1/2 t salt
- 1/2 t instant yeast
- 1 T honey (I am just reporting this for accuracy’s sake; I omitted the honey)
- 1 T veg oil
- 3-4 oz water
Very simple. After all, it’s just bread! To make the dough, you proceed as you might imagine, mixing all the ingredients and kneading until the texture is right. Then let the dough rest so the gluten can relax. And you can relax too.
After an hour or less of resting I used my handy-dandy pasta machine to lay down a silkysmooth sheet.
I then divided each sheet into large rectangles then covered them with toppings before sliding them onto my pizza stone in a 400° oven. A lesson I learned with the first batch was that you have to remember to dock the dough (prick it all over with a fork), lest you get this:
Not that puffy crackers are a bad thing, but a one-ply cracker is almost too thin. For the next batches I almost always remembered to dock, whick gave a much more uniformly flat look.
Still pretty big sheets. To actually eat them, I used a knife to break the crackers into chaotic shards. I ended up with quite a few varieties. Here’s a family photo:
Top row from left to right: Vindaloo, Sea Salt, Chili Powder, Aleppo Pepper. Bottom row: seeds, sesame-soy, garlic-dill.
Besides the lesson about docking above, I learned two things about dealing with toppings. For these crackers I rolled out the dough unflavored and then sprinkled the toppings on before baking. This resulted in toppings that weren’t very well integrated into the dough. In the case of the seeded cracker this meant my carefully placed caraway, poppy, nigella, and sesame seeds almost all rolled off the cracker during the cracking process, never to be tasted and enjoyed. Next time I will try to integrate the flavorings into the dough before rolling.
The other lesson is one about salt: you need a lot of it. Salt is the reason we can taste other flavors; in this batch of crackers the most flavorful ones were dill-garlic, loaded with garlic salt, and the soy sesame, soy sauce having plenty of sodium. The vindaloo and chili-pepper crackers had very subtle flavors since I failed to add salt with the spices.
I am excited to make crackers again. The pasta machine really took the effort out of rolling them, and they can be thrown together very quickly as a result of not really needing to rise. I have a lot of ideas for other flavorings to try, especially if the flavorings can be integrated into the dough. I also want to play with other flours and incorporate some whole grains.