For the most part, over the last four weeks, I’ve been turning to old faithfuls in my kitchen: lasagne, bread doughs,and hot cross buns. Now hasn’t really felt like the time for experimenting. Without an excess of ingredients, I’m going to stick with what I know. So, when faced with the choice of having a crack at Portuguese custard tarts for the first time, unsure of its success, or a coffee and walnut cake, which I have made a dozen times with reliable results, it’s not exactly Sophie’s choice. Experimenting will wait.
The one exception has been these crackers. And they are so simple, they barely feel like experimenting. I started making them about three weeks ago, and now they are a staple in our home – especially on Friday nights. When we first began socially distancing, days quickly began to blur into one, time became amorphous and frustrating. There were no regular appointments or commitments to hang our week on. So, we decided to try to introduce what we lacked: a routine and a sense of occasion. So now, every Friday, we log onto our laptops and chat to my sister and her partner, some 200 miles away from me right now. We call it cocktail hour, and we play games and write quizzes – and we eat these crackers. The crackers are thin, but sturdy enough to act as a vehicle for cheese, or be dunked into your favourite dip, but are delightful eaten alone, like posh crisps. They feel sufficiently elegant to have alongside a cocktail, even if you’re just sitting on the sofa in your pyjamas.
There are lots of different ways to make crackers: stamping them out, oatcake style, or making a sturdier dough and running it through a pasta machine until thin and pliable, but this recipe is the easiest I’ve tried: once the dough is mixed, it will be gloopy and loose. You then turn it out onto a silicone mat, and spread it to the edges of the tray using a pastry brush, until it forms a thin and even covering. I make these on a silicone mat, but if you don’t have one, greaseproof paper will do fine – just be careful not to tear through the paper while spreading, as the batter is quite wet. They’re quick to pull together, and it’s surprisingly therapeutic daubing away at the mixture on the sheet until you have an even layer. They’re oven baked, so not greasy, and the CRACK when you smash them up, hot from the oven, is about as satisfying as life gets right now.
Here I’ve used nigella seeds as my fine seeds, and a mixture of pumpkin and sunflower seeds for my topping. I’ve also mixed ½ a teaspoon of cayenne powder through before painting it onto the tray. But like all my recipes at the moment, these crackers are designed to work around you, and whatever you’ve in your cupboards. It will work with just about any flour you find lurking at the back of your shelves: spelt, rye, wholemeal, plain, white, khorasan, or pretty much anything else. When it comes to the flavouring, the world’s your oyster: I’ve made them with curry powder, dried herbs, parmesan, freshly ground black pepper, and seaweed powder: all have been totally different, and all have been hits. The basic rule of thumb is two tablespoons of fine seeds mixed through the batter, and two tablespoons of chunky seeds sprinkled on to. Try stirring through crispy dried onion, cumin and fennel seeds, crushed coriander seeds, sesame seeds, poppyseeds, garlic or onion salt, caraway or flax seeds. Sub in half of the olive oil with flavoured oils like chilli oil, truffle, walnut or sesame oil.
Because this is designed to be a flexible recipe, I have given loose cooking times: if I use plain flour, and get the layer thin and even, it takes exactly 20 minutes, but if there are lumps or waves, you’ll need an extra ten minutes to dry it out: when it’s ready it will be evenly golden, crisp, and lifting away from the tray.
Makes: a big bowl of crackers
Takes: 5 minutes
Bakes: 20-30 minutes
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons fine seeds, eg. nigella seeds
¼ teaspoon fine salt
½ teaspoon cayenne powder
2 tablespoons chunky seeds, eg. pumpkin seeds
- Line a tray roughly 30×34 cm with a silicone mat or baking paper and preheat the oven to 180°C.
- Stir together the flour and water to form a paste. Now stir through the olive oil, the fine seeds, the salt, and any seasoning.
- Spoon the batter onto the middle of the silicone mat or baking paper and, using a pastry brush, spread the mixture to the very edges of the tray, trying to create as even a layer as possible. Sprinkle with the chunky seeds, and bake for 20-30 minutes, until the crackers are golden brown, crisp, and beginning to lift from the tray.
- Leave to cool for a few minutes until the crackers are cool enough to handle. Break into pieces and enjoy.