Cheese, in cracker
I don't know why my parents didn't disown me as a child.
Together with my aunts, uncles, and cousins, we went on some of the most beautiful and fun vacations when I was growing up. And, while my brother and cousins were enthusiastic to explore Disney World, Williamsburg, and every other entertaining and totally awesome place we went, I bitched and moaned like an ungrateful little cod, and said that I would rather hang out by the hotel pool all day, practicing my pretend-Olympic dives, then sit on one of the chaise lounges reading Tiger Beat (Ralph Macchio!) and eating packet after packet of crackers with cheese or peanut butter. That, to me, was the ideal vacation. A pool with a diving board, magazines, and cheese and crackers.
Honestly, those ideal vacation requirements haven't changed all that much, but my tastes have certainly gotten better, especially in the cheese and cracker department. No more Lance packets for me or Captain's Wafers with Chive Cream Cheese. No more orange crackers with orange cheese in a packet of six, waiting to get lodged in my molars. Now, I spring for (and crave quite regularly) the good stuff. Cheese from Carr Valley or Cowgirl Creamery. A wide variety of crackers -- whatever the co-op or Whole Foods has on hand that looks good. And, truth be told, nowadays I forgo the cracker part of the equation because it's just a distraction of a delivery mechanism for what I love most: cheese.
I used to think I was all cool and hip with my cheese and cracker selections here at home, but this recipe totally upped the ante, and how. Here we go:
The first thing I did was combine the water, yeast and sugar, and let it stand while I got the rest of the ingredients ready for the cracker dough. I couldn't get my hands on any fresh yeast, as the book suggests, so I did some research and found that (according to the Bo Friberg, who authored The Professional Pastry Chef) that you can substitute one packet of dry active yeast for the 13g of fresh yeast the recipe in the Alinea cookbook calls for:
Here's the mise en place for the cracker dough:
I added the flour, salt and butter to the bowl, put the bowl on the mixer stand, and, using the dough hook, mixed it for about 4 minutes, at which point the dough came together in a ball:
I covered the bowl with a clean dish towel, put it on the counter above the warm, then-running dishwasher, and let it rest and rise for about a half hour. Then, I put the dough (still in the covered bowl) in the refrigerator overnight.
The next day, I got the dough out of the fridge and let it warm up a little bit before cutting it into quarters, and then rolling and cutting one of those quarters into crackers. I had been moving some things around in the kitchen and couldn't get to my rolling pin, so I rolled the dough with a chilled bottle of Etude Pinot Noir rosé.
Then, I cut the dough (which was about 1/8-1/16" thick) into 1" squares.
I doused them liberally in kosher salt, put them in a 450-degree oven for 5-6 minutes so they could bake and puff up a bit, and let them cool on a wire rack until they got to room temperature. Then, using a sewing needle (you'll see why in a minute), I poked holes in the underside of each one, that would later be filled with cheesy goodness.
I stored these crackers in an airtight container and prepared the cheese sauce. Oh, the cheese sauce. I swear, I'm fine with being allergic to some foods/food groups, but if I had to give up cheese, I would be so incredibly sad. The smell, the taste.... ooooh, my.
I grated the cheddar cheese using the handy-dandy shredder gizmo on my food processor and put it in the blender. I topped it with the warm milk, sugar and salt, and blended the badonkers out of it until it was creamy and smooth. The smell of the cheese melting with the milk and the sugar and salt gave me a total jones for the macaroni and cheese that this woman is known for, and which I love like no other.
I strained the cheese sauce into a bowl from which I filled my syringe to fill the crackers:
You'll note that this is not a standard needle-based syringe. This syringe is one of three newborn baby breastfeeding supplement syringes my friend Holly (who is a lactation consultant) gave me a few weeks ago when my dog hurt his back and couldn't stand up to eat or drink, so I had to give him water with a syringe. No, this is not the same syringe that hydrated my dog, but it's an extra one I held onto because I knew I needed a syringe for this dish and thought this might work perfectly.
And it did:
Grant Achatz, you saucy little minx. These crackers are not only genius, they're delicious and addictive. They're so so cute (which, I know was your driving force in creating them, um, NOT), really easy to make, and completely tasty -- we devoured them in minutes... it would be hard not to. Totally better than Combos (even though I do love those sometimes, especially in airports, holy crapsticks why am I rambling), and rivals my love for spreading some Wispride on a Saltine or Carr Valley Benedictine on a slice of baguette.
Here's the deal: you pop the whole thing into your mouth, bite down and get a satisfying crunch. Then, within seconds comes the ooey, gooey cheese mixing in with the cracker. I love the sharpness of the cheddar cheese with the smoothness of the biscuity cracker. This one is a no-brainer in terms of taste because it's familiar and good, and quite clever.
I think these would be great to serve at a party, because you can make the crackers a day ahead and inject them just before your guests come. Or, you could delegate that task to that one person who habitually shows up to your parties early under the guise of being helpful, but somehow does nothing but distract you, nearly derailing your getting-ready efforts. You know, the person who always begs, "no, let me help," and now with this canape, you could say, "Sure. Fill up this syringe with the cheese sauce I've got over there and go ahead and inject those crackers with the sauce, mmmkay?" And then watch them slowly back out of the kitchen and hide in the closet, slightly in fear but mostly in awe of your mad, awesome culinary skillz.
Up Next: Sea Urchin, vanilla, chili, mint
Resources: Grafton Village Cheese Company aged cheddar cheese, Organic Valley whole milk, Domino sugar, David's kosher salt, Red Star yeast.
Music to Cook By: The Thin Red Line soundtrack; Hans Zimmer. I've been on a movie score/soundtrack kick as of late, and thinking back on some of the best movie scores out there (Ennio Morricone, The Mission is a favorite), and happened upon the soundtrack to The Thin Red Line in my iTunes library. Totally forgot I had it. And while I loved that movie and found it really compelling and powerful, I love the musical score just as much, maybe more.
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