Even though rolling and baking trays and trays of dry biscuits isn’t my idea of kitchen bliss, I’m trying to make friends with crackers.
Why? Because I’ve been entirely underwhelmed with the crackers I can buy. It’s not that lavosh and water crackers don’t have a place, but in my catering jobs they only seem to bring banal along.
So I’ve made myself deft at two types of cracker. The first are what Darina Allen calls her ‘Cheese Crackers‘ (meaning for cheese, not with cheese in them). They are very thin, firm and great for soft toppings – a texture for other flavours to mount.
The second are Kim Boyce’s Bird Crackers and they’re entirely different from Darina’s. They celebrate themselves as much as what they support. They have a delicate crumb and a mysterious savour that makes them seem full of cheese, which they aren’t. I think this is some trick made possible by their surprise ingredients of barley flour and cooked eggs yolks. You can nibble on them solo, just enjoying their themness, or pair them with toppings, hard or soft, like manchego or the smoked eggplant puree I made last Friday night.
Kim Boyce’s Bird Crackers
- 2 eggs
- 1 1/2 cups barley flour
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 30ml (2tbsp) powdered sugar
- 15ml (1tbsp) baking powder
- 2tsp fine sea salt (Kim uses kosher salt, but I can’t find it anywhere… any leads?)
- 30ml (2tbsp) sesame seeds
- 1 tbsp poppy seeds
- 4 ounces (115g) unsalted (or salted, I did) organic butter, at room temperature
- 3/4 cup full cream organic milk
- 1 egg for egg wash
- 1 tbsp sesame seeds for sprinkling
- 1 tbsp poppy seeds for sprinkling
- sea salt flakes or Murry River Salt Flakes, to taste
First, hard boil the eggs, but take note of the cool method that Kim Boyce uses. I’ll never hard boil differently than this again:
Bring the two fridge temperature eggs to a boil in a small saucepan of water. As soon as the water reaches a steady boil, turn it off, cover, and leave the eggs to sit for 18minutes. After this time has elapsed, cool the eggs off in some running cold water or iced water until they are peelable.
Eat or discard the whites and set the yolks aside. Preheat the oven to 230C (450F), butter two large baking trays and position the racks in your oven to the upper and lower thirds.
Sift the flours, powdered sugar, baking powder and fine sea salt through a sieve into a large bowl, whisk the flours together in the bowl, along with the sesame seeds and poppy seeds.
With the tips of your fingers or a wide tonged fork, rub the butter into the flour until all the pieces are the size of peas or smaller.
On a fine microplane or other grater, grate the egg yolks onto the flour and mix them through with a fork, break up any chunks of yolk that may have slipped through.
Making a well in the center of the flour, add all the milk and stir the flour into the centre with a fork until it is all just combined.
With a dough scrape or tough spatula, scoop out the dough onto a well floured rolling surface. Turn it and pat it together until it is cohesive, but don’t over do it. The beauty of this dough is its delicate bind.
Flour your rolling pin and roll the dough out until it is less than half a cm thick (Kim uses the impossible measure of 3/16inch).
With a long bladed knife, cut the dough into squares or rectangles, around about 5cm (2 inches) wide. Don’t worry about the rough edges, these are part of the crackers’ character.
Whisk the egg for the egg wash in a good sized bowl until it is well combined, with no mucousy whites remaining at all. Brush the wash all over the dough twice (you want it thick and this process should almost use up the whole egg).
Now, sprinkle the sesame seeds, poppy seeds and as much sea salt as you like over the egg wash.
Carefully lift each cracker up with a pastry spatula or knife and lay them on the trays. No need to space them very much.
Bake them for 10 minutes, changing the trays over and reversing them if you need to, to keep the baking even. Keep an eye on the bases of the crackers, you don’t want them overbrowning. In fact, the whole cracker tastes best if it’s not highly coloured. Only allow the edges to get golden (as well as the entire base of the cracker) if possible.