Even when I could eat gluten, I was never that big a fan of crackers.
Oh sure, the occasional saltine with a swig of ginger ale when I wasn’t feeling well satisfied a need. But no one really enjoys those moments, do they? When I lived in London, a Jacob’s cream cracker could sometimes captivate me with its soft crumb and buttery love. The last few of the gluten years I discovered flatbread crackers, particularly the whisper-thin croccantini made by La Panzanella.
But most crackers seemed to me nothing more than a receptacle for cheese. (And really, what could be wrong with that?) Most commercial crackers were either too greasy for my taste (most of them), too crisp, or too bland. I wanted a cracker that didn’t snap off on my teeth so immediately that I forgot it was there, but I also wanted a cracker with some taste to it, some serious heft. I never really found the ones I wanted. Seriously, having to go without crackers just didn’t seem like a loss.
Last year, I started to miss those flatbread crackers enough that we developed a recipe for them. You’ll find them in the cookbook in the fall. (And they come with a surprise.) If I really want those thin flat crackers with air pockets, I just mix up a batch, fire up the oven, and throw a sheet tray on the pizza stone. Done.
But more and more, I started longing for a cracker that was full of taste. A bite of food good enough that I didn’t need to fling cheese upon it to mask the lack of flavor.
May I present to you: quinoa crackers with sesame seeds.
You see, recently, a number of who have written to me asking for the recipe for quinoa crackers from my book. I scratched my head for a bit, because I didn’t remember them. Oh right! In one passage, I talked about a gluten-free dinner I made for my parents in celebration, a dinner that included homemade quinoa crackers.
Yeah, those were bad.
At the end of this month, I will have lived gluten-free for 5 years. There’s no need for me to list all the ways my life has changed since then. (Oh, that’s right. You can read about it on this blog.) More joy, more learning, more love, and more laughter than I ever dreamed possible — those are the biggest gifts. But I really feel like I became a baker after I gave up gluten.
I thought I was a good baker in those years before. I was. But I followed recipes, religiously. I never understood the structure of a muffin or why butter made a better cookie than oil or how to listen to a pie in the oven to tell when it is done. I didn’t bake by weight.
(Yesterday, while standing at the kitchen counter with me, Lu grabbed our kitchen scale, put a bowl on top of it, and put two mushrooms, a head of garlic, and three teaspoons of sugar into it, all the while looking intently at the panel where the numbers show. She has started baking.)
And so, I love the first bite of a loaf of bread warm out of the oven. But I honestly love the mixing and listening, the figuring out and the shuffle of pans even more.
All this to say that you really don’t want the crackers I came up with five years ago. These, I think, you’ll want.
They have flax seeds and sesame seeds (or sunflower seeds, depending on your taste), ground up into a meal, to add flavor.
You make the dough in the food processor, so there’s not much to do, really. You throw things together and let them whirl.
The dough is a bit rough and crumbly when it’s done. Rustic. That’s the word to keep in mind. (Don’t you love how “rustic” has become code word for raggedy edges, imperfect, but still delicious? That’s a pretty good word for my life right now. Perhaps yours too?) But when you roll it out — and I highly recommend you roll it out on a Silpat, right on the baking sheet, as I did above — it smooths into something much more presentable.
(The toddler help is optional.)
I figured out, after several batches, that a combination of butter and olive oil makes these crackers what I wanted: full of flavor but still a bit crisp. They don’t shatter on the teeth, but they don’t bend, either. With all butter, the crackers were too soft, which made them fragile in the fingers. (See that crack up there? That’s why.) With all oil, they were too crisp, a little brittle, like old bones in the cold. Combine the two, and you have this cracker.
(Feel free to play with the template, however. You might like a different texture on the tongue.)
One of the secrets to this cracker is cooked quinoa. Since I love the nutty taste of quinoa, I wanted that flavor to wind its way into every bite. That’s why you’ll see cooked quinoa, quinoa flour, and quinoa flakes in this recipe. It’s a quinoa party! However, some people find quinoa a little bitter. If that’s you, then replace the quinoa flour with some superfine brown rice flour instead.
These are about the healthiest crackers you can imagine: three kinds of quinoa, flax seeds, sesame seeds, and olive oil. They just look healthy, don’t they? Don’t be scared, however. They’re not those whole grain crisp bread crackers that my friend Sharon ate when she was on a diet.
My dear friends Molly and Tita tasted different batches of these, on different days, knowing they were experimental gluten-free crackers. They both went back for another cracker, and then another. “Wow, these are really good,” Molly said, and then grabbed one more.
See this photograph below? Those are the only raggedy broken crackers I had left to photograph yesterday morning. Danny and Lu ate the rest. There was no cheese involved.
I think I might finally be a cracker fan.
I love these with flaxseed, but eat too many and you might feel a little too healthy. In some batches, I ground up sunflower seeds instead, since Danny and I both love the taste of sunflower seeds on our salads. The next time I make these, I’ll probably choose the middle way and include flax seeds, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds.
I’ll never be done experimenting.
4 tablespoons flaxseed (or sunflower seeds, if you prefer)
4 tablespoons sesame seeds
3 ounces (1/2 cup packed) cooked quinoa
2 ounces (1/2 cup, minus 1 tablespoons) quinoa flour (or, you could substitute 2 ounces superfine brown rice flour)
2 ounces (1/2 cup, plus 1 tablespoon) quinoa flakes
3 ounces (1/2 cup) potato starch
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon guar gum
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 ounces butter, softened
2 ounces olive oil
2 to 5 tablespoons ice-cold water (optional)
Preparing to make the crackers. Preheat the oven to 400°. Pull out a sheet tray and line it with a Silpat or a sheet of parchment paper.
Preparing the seeds. Put the flaxseed and sesame seeds (or sunflower seeds, or all three, depending on your taste) into the food processor. Pulse it until they have broken down but before they become butter.
Mixing in the dry ingredients. Add the cooked quinoa, quinoa flour, quinoa flakes, potato starch, baking powder, xanthan gum, guar gum, and salt to the food processor. Let it run for a couple of minutes, so everything has a chance to mix and dance, and the flours to become blended well.
Finishing the dough. Add the softened butter to the mix. Spin the food processor around. Slowly, drizzle in the oil, with the food processor running. At this point, the dough should be clumping together quite well, but not yet one big ball. If the dough feels at all too dry, add the water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Turn off the food processor.
Rolling out the dough. Put the clumps of dough onto the baking sheet. Smoosh the dough together into a vague lump and carefully, gently, roll it out the approximate length and width of the baking sheet. If you want, at this point, you can top the crackers with additional sesame seeds.
Baking the crackers. Bake the crackers until they are browned and firm to the touch, but not too brown or firm to the touch. (that’s about 20 minutes in our oven.) Take them out of the oven and let them cool on the baking sheet.
Transfer the cracker (which should be one big sheet, or at least several) to a cutting board. When the cracker has completely cooled, cut it into the size of cracker you want. And so the cracker becomes crackers.
Makes about 20 crackers, depending on your knife.