Over the past few years, N. and I have made it our business to conclude the week with a happy hour – we load some cheeses and crackers on a plate, sometimes some sliced cured meat, sometimes a few dried figs – and pour something cold and alcoholic into a frosty glass. Through this process, I’ve learned that N. loves black pepper. We bought a wedge of cheese crusted in black pepper once as an experiment, and I think since then it has been on every shopping list, every week, for about the last two years. More recently, we started picking up variety packs of crackers – the crushed wheat rounds, the chalky water crackers, the rectangles spiked with vegetable bits – and in one variety-pack, a black pepper water cracker. This sleeve always, always disappears first. N. doubles up on the pepper – peppered cheese on peppered cracker. And should there be peppered salami? The kid is in paradise.
Because we always run out of the black pepper cracker first, I knew when I saw this month’s Twelve Loaves theme of crackers, crisps, or flatbreads that I wanted to recreate them. I poked around and considered, decided to add some fresh thyme for a little more interest, and ended up with these. At first I called them water crackers, but decided to amend for the sake of accuracy. A real water cracker, traditionally speaking, contains only flour and water (and sometimes some salt or leavening agent). No fat. Yet fat is what, so often, imparts flavor. Here, a few glugs of oil result in a cracker that crackles in thin, flaked layers, almost like a very crisp pastry crust.
A few notes: first, these are not for the weak-of-tongue. The black pepper flavor is quite aggressive, and though a smear of creamy cheese will certainly cool things down, it can’t disguise the sharp spice of the bits of cracked pepper. Second, as with most crackers, the greatest trick here is getting them thin enough. I’ve recommended ⅛ inch at the thickest, but even thinner than that is better. They swell up only slightly as they bake, and a thick cracker is, alas, a decidedly not-crisp cracker. Those that I didn’t get quite thin enough tasted stale already barely cooled from the oven, simply because they didn’t snap and crumble adequately between the teeth. For us, the thinnest, most golden specimens stayed crisp and fresh tasting for a mere two days afterward, even stored in a firmly flattened zip-top bag. That means, unless you have a pepper fiend around your house, you are best served by making these for a gathering (the spice suggests a Halloween party might be a good venue), or throwing together a half recipe, or maybe even freezing half the dough until you need another batch. I haven’t tried that with this particular cracker, but I have done so with great success with Joy the Baker’s Sharp Cheddar Cheese Crackers, so I have every confidence these will be equally suited for the deep freeze.
Serving recommendations: topped with any sort of cheese, of course. But they would be equally good with cured meat of some sort, or a scoop of egg salad, or maybe even some hummus. While they were hot, I found myself compulsively snatching one and then another from the cooling rack, suggesting they are even acceptable bare. I do think, though, that a glass of something sparkling to wash them down is not to be discounted.
Thyme and Black Pepper Crackers
Adapted from Chowhound
Makes 4-5 dozen 2½ inch crackers
Time needed: about an hour
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
⅔ cup warm water
⅓ cup olive oil
- Preheat the oven to 400F and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
- In a food processor, pulse the flour, baking powder, salt, and thyme until combined. Use a spice grinder or similar small bladed tool to crush up the peppercorns until some are coarsely chopped and some are a fine powder. Add this pebbly pepper dust into the food processor and run until the pepper is evenly distributed through the flour mixture.
- Measure out the warm water and the oil into the same vessel. With the food processor still on, drizzle in the water and oil and let the machine run until the ingredients form a smooth, slightly sticky dough. First small hunks will clump together, then quite suddenly a mass will form and run in circles around the belly of the processor.
- Lightly flour a board and a rolling pin, and turn out half the dough. Sprinkle a little flour atop the dough as well. Roll out until very thin – at maximum ⅛ inch, but 1/16 inch is better for crisp crackers. Be sure to get the edges as thin as the middle. If you fear the dough is getting sticky, flip it over and turn it 180 degrees, then sprinkle with a little flour and roll again.
- Cut the thin, even layer of dough into shapes of your choosing. We like rounds, and I used a glass with a diameter of 2½ inches. Prick rounds with a fork three or four times, then transport dough rounds to the prepared cookie sheets. Place them in a single layer, but they can sit very close together because they will not spread out. I easily fit 2 dozen on a single cookie sheet. Repeat for the remaining half of the dough.
- Bake 12-14 minutes, until golden on top and quite dry. Cool completely before topping with cheese, salami, hummus, or whatever’s your favorite.
- These can be stored in an airtight container or zip-top bag for a few days, but because they are freshly made and contain no preservatives, they will get stale faster than the average boxed cracker.
Our host this month is Camilla from Culinary Aventures with Camilla, and our theme is Crackers, Crisps, and Flatbreads. For more bread recipes, visit the #TwelveLoaves Pinterest board, or check out last month’s mouthwatering selection of #TwelveLoaves enter last month’s #TwelveLoaves Seeded Breads!
- Cheddar Cheese Crackers from Karen’s Kitchen Stories
- Lemon Oregano Pita Bread from Kudos Kitchen By Renee
- Pane Carasau from Culinary Adventures with Camilla
- Parmesan-Thyme Cream Crackers from A Baker’s House
- Piadina (Italian Flat Bread) from Cake Duchess
- Pretzel Crackers from All Roads Lead to the Kitchen
- Quick Raspberry Flatbread from Cheap Ethnic Eatz
- Rye Crispbread from The Bread She Bakes
- Senbei – Japanese Rice Crackers from A Shaggy Dough Story
- Three Seed Crackers from Hostess At Heart
- Thyme and Black Pepper Crackers from blackberry eating in late september
If you’d like to bake along with us this month, share your Crackers, Crisps, and Flatbreads using hashtag #TwelveLoaves!