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November 18, 2008

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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...and yes, Morricone's The Mission IS the best.

You have a bright and shiny way of making everything you do sound fun and exciting, to be sure. But I'm wondering: is going to all the crazy step after step trouble to make a cracker, or a slushee salad giving you the same satisfaction as when you would go to the same trouble, but end up with a Thomas Keller agnolotti, or delicious pineapple chop? Just curious. I know the process is entirely different, just wondering about end result satisfaction. p.s. you're awesome.

You are making this whole Alinea thing look way too easy. I think that means you are awesome. I think I'll make these this weekend.

Amazing - this actually looks like something I could do! I just might have to try these out... just gotta get myself a syringe.

(By the way, hi! Read your French Laundry at Home project for a long time but was always a quiet lurker because I came a little late to the party. I'm really excited to be able to follow this project from the beginning!)

You, my dear, are awesome! They look sooooo yummmmy! Did you sip that rose with the crackers? And thanks for the Cowgirl Creamery plug; another great resource on my way up to wine country. Now that would be a fine place to meet up, should you grace the SF Bay Area again with your presence.

I am severely tempted to go buy this cookbook just so I can make these for Thanksgiving snacks. Any advice on where to buy the syringe you used -- or any other syringe appropriate for use this way? Is it as easy as going into a cooking supply store and explaining what I need?

**Carol says: you'd have better luck finding the syringe at Rite Aid or another drugstore. The Alinea book actually recommends using a regular syringe. I didn't have one, so I used this one instead."

i went through a phase, which i got over after about a year of always snacking on a pack of combos in the afternoon while at work...

if these crackers are as awesome as you describe them to be... i think i might be getting back onto the wagon... except this time with an extra labor of having to make fresh "cheese, in cracker" a la Achatz to quench my craving every afternoon...

Oh, I've had my eye on these since I got the books. The name is so clever (yes, I understand it's literal, but with the wink to Cheese 'n Crackers), it's so charming, and cheese sauce... yum.

I would suspect it's .215 grams, not 215 (half a pound) of yeast. :)

These look so much better than a certain other type of cheese cracker that you and I are more than familiar with. *shudder* They look remarkably easy to make, too. I may do this one.

How was the Cincinnati chili?

i think i have to make these for a holiday party this year. they look too cute not to!

that sounds delicious!! and Etude is one of my all time favorite wineries!! i like the idea of using a chilled wine bottle in lieu of a rolling pin.

Cool! I made these too and was surprised at how easy it was, and how well the recipe worked out! Already have this in mind to make again, if I'm ever in need of pre dinner drinks.

Just so I get this straight, was it a quarter of the dough that made about 2 dozen crackers? Was the cheese sauce enough for 8 dozen? I think this may be my first Alinea attempt.

**Carol Says: Yes, there was plenty of cheese sauce leftover. I actually tossed it with some pasta, and it was great.**

Ina's Mac and Cheese recipe looks very similar to Martha's.

**Carol says: I would guess that any bechamel-based mac and cheese would look similar. And, the one I linked to was an adaptation of Ina's -- I think the one in her book is slightly different. That's the recipe I refer to.**

Yum!!! I will have to make these next time I have guests. They don't look too difficult (although you make everything look easy) and they can't help but be amazingly tasty. Plus, the irony/nostalgia factor just puts them over the top. Now I'll patiently wait for sea urchin....

Love the Pinot Noir rolling pin! Makes my wooden one look so...ordinary. The crackers looks great.

mmm, Captain's Wafers. I think this dish should be called "cheesy poofs".

Hi - I, too, am excited about being able to follow this project from the beginning, having arrived late to the French Laundry party.

One side-question: you mentioned in this post that your food processor shreds cheese? I thought this quite a handy feature... I have no idea if mine does or does not (I'd never even considered it for that task - I have a KitchenAid 9 cup variety), but can I ask what kind you have or could you possibly provide a photo of it, um, in action (or is it a special attachment that does the shredding)? I don't mean to sound so food-processor-ignorant, but that was eye-opening news to me.

I only ask because I bought an OXO box grater recently (as recommended by the folks at Cooks Illustrated) to shred cheese for a Macaroni and Cheese recipe (also the one by Cooks Illustrated, because, really, I am a lemming), and while the food turned out great, cleaning the OXO grater was really a pain in the butt (I found it next-to-impossible to clean the inside of the box grater fully...), so if there was ever an alternative to using that grater again for shredding cheese (in the aforementioned case the culprits were Sharp Cheddar and Monterey Jack), I would be more than happy to try it.



**Carol says: It looks like others have answered this, but I have a Cuisinart 9-cup food processor and it came with multiple disks and other inserts (where the blade normally slides in) for shredding, julienne, etc. I usually hand-grate cheese, but I opted for the easy way out this time.**

I was eating some rather good homemade soup today and actually wondered if, even with good soup, it's all just an excuse for the oyster crackers.

Oh my WORD these look good. I only wish I could come up to your doorstep before a party and ask to help and have you hand me the syringe. I'd gleefully go to town (although a few crackers likely wouldn't make it to the plate.... ok, maybe more than a few....)

Reading the first paragraph of your latest post, I had to remind myself that I didn’t write it! I went to a million places with my parents, and was crabby for at least part of every one until Key West, when I declared that I would stay in the hotel. I sat on the balcony facing the pool, ate room service, and reading for a week straight. I believe it was the only trip free of bitching, moaning, and fights.

It's also my favorite vacation, so I stand by my tastes. ;)


He, he. Reminds me of reading Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy for the first time. (in pre-Internet days) As a non-native speaker, you constantly stumble upon words, where you ask yourself: "Is my dictionary stupid, or did he just make this up." ;)

First off- love the rose rolling pin. and achatz is a saucy little minx indeed! :-D That recipe actually seems doable!! oh and one last thing- combos are incredibly and disgustingly delicious... think its cause they are just so damn addictively salty!

Can you make these crackers and cheese ahead of time and then bring them somewhere? Does the cheese sauce in the middle harden up or does it stay slightly gooey?
I don't have the cookbook yet so I can't go look to see what it says. Alinea is on my Christmas list though.

**Carol says: You can make the crackers ahead of time, but I'd wait to fill them until you got where you were going... unless it's a short drive and you're going to eat them right away when you get there. I think they'd last an hour or so. Maybe more. I don't know. If anyone else here has made them or has a better estimation of how long they last when filled, please chime in.**

If you love Ina Garten's macaroni and cheese, you HAVE to try--I can't believe I'm suggesting something for a food goddess as yourself to make!--macaroni and cheese 101 from Martha Stewart.

I just use whatever odds and ends of good cheese we have (typically 5-7 kinds at a time in my house--we love our cheese!) to make up the total quantity needed. Even kids formerly only interested in the Kraft stuff love this version.

*bows out of the way of your culinary greatness*

So, was the final product warm or cold? I would think that these would taste so delicious warm, but that the sauce might be too drippy or the cracker to crumbly when warm.

**Carol says: the crackers are room temp, and the cheese is warm, but not hot. So, the whole thing, together, is slightly above room temp. At least mine were. I would imagine a scorching hot cheese sauce in the middle of a cracker would not be something pleasant for dinner guests to bite down on.**

Forgive my ignorance, but from your photos it looks like the cheese sauce is a bit on the soupy side. Does the sauce absorb into the crackers to the point you don't have to worry about it coming back out of the hole when plated? BTW, they look superlicious!

**Carol says: It's not a really thick sauce, you're right. You just have to be careful not to overfill it. I estimated how much 20cc was, and nailed it on the first try, and the hole is small enough that the cheese really won't drip back out.**

Oh, yes, Ina's Mac N Cheese is the best EVER. And good cheese needs no bread. You and I are on the same wavelength, which means I must trust you and make these crackers for Thanksgiving apps.

I'm sure I'll try straight cheddar to start, but I'm wondering: is there room inside for more than just the cheese? What if the crackers were a little bit bigger and a fruit puree with paired cheese could all fit in? Would it work?

**Carol says: It depends. There's not a ton of room in there. I am traveling right now and don't have the book in front of me, but if I recall correctly, I think the recipe said you could fill it with 20cc of the cheese sauce. So, sure, play around with it and fill it with whatever floats your boat. Just don't overfill it, or it'll start seeping out of the corners or "pores" of the cracker.**

I have a Cuisinart food processor and it comes with different discs...one of which is a shredding disc. My guess would be that you should have these for a 9 cup KitchenAid. Smaller little "choppers" don't have them, but most large ones do!

I wonder why Grant stopped at cheese...seems as if every other cracker should be filled with tomato soup!

**Carol says: Tomato soup... or maybe Nutella? I thought about filling some with something sweet, like a quince jam or Nutella or something. Damn, now I'm hungry.**

What kind of longevity do these crackers have? That is, how long before the cheese sauce inside starts making them soggy?

A comment to Pete: it's likely that your food pro came with a shredding disk, it's part of the standard package.

**Carol says: Jo, I'm only guessing here, but I'd say they would be okay for an hour or so. Maybe longer, but probably not by much. Again, I don't know, because they were too good, so they lasted barely 10 minutes.**

Aha! Thanks for the inspiration. This will be Thanksgiving pre-dinner snack No. 2. (The first is going to be a hybrid El Bulli candied fennel/fennel-infused pineapple thingie ... because the guests expect me to do something "weird" ... perils of being known for a MG fascination ... your friends want you to be Adria/Achatz ... yeah right.) I laughed aloud because you reminded me of those bizarre processed orange cheese (or "cheez") crackers from the '70s. Some things really are best left to the past. :-)

Cheese is definitely my weak spot. I made Ina's Mac and Cheese about a month back, ate the leftovers for a solid week, and never got sick of it. I love aged cheddar, particularly Tillamook from Oregon, but I've also tried to work all manner of blue cheese into any recipe where it might work. Actually I wonder if it would work injected into these crackers, kind of like a blue cheese souffle'. Might have to give it a shot. BTW, I dare you to call Grant Achatz a saucy little minx the next time you see him.

Those look great and I imagine they taste even better. I read through your French Laundry posts as you worked through that book, but I never bought the book itself (I did briefly check it out from my library).

Things will be different this time around. I ordered the Alinea book from Amazon. It comes tomorrow and I cannot wait to see it. Now I will be at least able to attempt some of the easier recipes or at least follow along at home. I think I will start with these!

No... really is a perfect vacation. Ralph included!!

dayum...you made me feel hungry again. Cheese is like my mistress (along with dessert), I can never have enough!

and can't wait till your next dish. Love sea urchin as well, I'll be happy as long as someone give me a plate of those and some chopsticks.

I love the wine bottle rolling pin trick! I'm living in London for the year, and am desperately trying not to spend my entire budget on buying kitchen tools that I already have at home. So, when I made apple pie for an election party with British friends, an empty wine bottle that I had in my room (ubiquitous in university housing, I believe) was the perfect substitute!

This recipe seems totally maneagable! Does the cheese sauce taste weird though, once it's cooled down inside the cracker? I imagine it's the kind of thing that tastes really awesome when it's hot/warm, then gets kind of congealed and icky when it's cooled. Am I totally wrong?

Hi there. Just an FYI, if you like the soundtrack to The Thin Red Line, you'll probably enjoy the soundtrack to Black Hawk Down. Thanks for your blog, I always enjoy reading your new posts!

WOW! Stumbled across your blog on delicious and am truly inspired! I look forward to your future posts. I hope to try a few of these fabulous recipes for my friends when I host supper club in December!!

I. Love. Cheese.

And Ina Garten.

And I totally cannot wait to get my hot little hands on the Alinea book so I can try this recipe!

now if only you could serve each one on one of those red plastic rectangle spreader thingies...

So when did you crack the Etude? One of my favorite wines by the way!

Oh my god, you had to go and post this. I had no problem deciding not to buy the book if only because the bacon gibbet irritates the hell out of me. But yeah, these crackers do sound pretty much like the best thing to eat with drinks outside of Sri Owen's garlic peanuts. (sigh) Another budgetary resolution down the tubes.

I just discovered that this recipe is on the Alinea-Mosaic site, so I think I will be trying this one very soon!

Keep up the good work Carol, and I'm glad I'm able to follow this blog from the beginning

Ina Garten's mac and cheese is seriously the best thing in the whole world.

Totally agreed on the score for the Thin Red Line and The Mission, although if you want to up the ante and combine Terrence Malick and Ennio Morricone, you should seek out the score to Days of Heaven, its seriously the greatest thing of all time ever.

Ina Garten's mac and cheese is seriously the best thing in the whole world.

Totally agreed on the score for the Thin Red Line and The Mission, although if you want to up the ante and combine Terrence Malick and Ennio Morricone, you should seek out the score to Days of Heaven, its seriously the greatest thing of all time ever.

Hi Carol,

I love what you are doing. Do you think it would work to inject some of the olive oil pudding that you raved about into the crackers? It struck me that this may be a good use for extra crackers and pudding. What do you think?


** The pudding might be a little too thick to go through the syringe.... but I say, give it a shot. Let me know how it turns out! **

I made this once for a guest and it was easy and delicious! I would suggest that anyone who enjoys the comforting taste of the mac' and cheese staple prepare this for their friends and family.

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