Worth their salt: Gourmet Soda Crackers

With the approximately 697 varieties of crackers on supermarket shelves, why would you ever, EVER choose to make your own crackers?

Because you can.

Because it’s fun. And because you like spending time in your kitchen surrounded by cookbooks and bowls and timers and butter and flour and your kids, who hang out to lick the bowl and get some face-time with Mom.

And also because, believe it or not – with ALL of those aforementioned 697 varieties of crackers available at the grocery store – your homemade crackers actually taste different: fresh, flavorful, and made with love.

The following crackers have a depth of flavor way beyond most anything you could buy. The secret?

Yeast. And time. An overnight rise in the fridge allows yeast to grow slowly in a cool environment, where it releases organic acids and alcohol that ramp up flavor wonderfully. Not only in crackers, but in pizza crust, rolls, bread… anything yeasty.

So get out your rolling pin, and be prepared to acquire a new skill here: cracker-making.

Store-bought, meet homemade – and may the tastiest cracker win!

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Put the following in a mixing bowl:

1 1/2 cups Italian-Style Flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 tablespoon King Arthur Easy-Roll Dough Improver, optional but helpful
1 teaspoon sugar

Mix till thoroughly combined.

Put 6 tablespoons water, 2 tablespoons butter, and 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a microwave-safe cup, or in a saucepan. Heat gently just to melt the butter. Remove from the heat, and cool to 120°F-130°F. If you don’t have a thermometer, this will feel hotter than lukewarm, but not at all uncomfortably hot; it’ll be cooler than your hottest tap water.

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Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients.

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Beat first at medium speed, to combine; then at high speed, for a total of about 90 seconds, to make a soft dough.

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Notice how rough this is, compared to well-kneaded yeast dough; that’s OK.

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Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl (or measuring cup), cover it, and refrigerate overnight, or for up to 18 hours. It won’t rise much; the bowl or cup can be small.

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See? Not much rise.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator, and allow it to rest for about 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two baking sheets.

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Lightly flour a work surface (a silicone rolling mat works well here), and remove the dough from its rising bowl. It won’t feel like normal yeast dough; it’ll be more clay-like. Shape the dough into a 3” x 5” rectangular block.

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Pre-shaping it like this will help you roll it out evenly.

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Roll it into a rough 13” x 15” rectangle; it’ll be quite thin. Be sure to keep the rolling surface well-floured, to avoid sticking.

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Starting with a shorter side, fold the dough in three…

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…like a business letter.

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Turn it 90°, and roll it out again, this time to an 11” x 19” rectangle, or thereabouts. The dough will shrink when you stop rolling it; your goal is to end up with a rectangle that’s about 10” x 18”.

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Notch the edges of the dough at 2” intervals; this will help you cut nice, straight 2” crackers.

Next, select your topping salt(s).

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With all of the gourmet-type salts out there now, which two did I choose for this recipe? Sarah’s Tuscan sea salt (left), because it combines salt and Italian-style herbs so beautifully; and Yakima applewood smoked sea salt, because I’m a fool for smoky, grill-type flavors.

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Sprinkle the dough with your choice of salt, and gently press it in with the rolling pin.

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Using a rolling pizza wheel (easiest) or a baker’s bench knife, cut the dough into 2” squares. Note: If you’re using a silicone mat, cut very carefully – you don’t want to damage the mat. We like to use an acrylic-blade pizza wheel.

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The crackers on the edges will be a bit misshapen. If you like, trim them straight. I just don’t care about appearances that much to take this extra step; but go for it, if you’re into perfection.

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Transfer the crackers to two lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheets; I’m using one of my favorite tools here, a giant spatula.

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Put the crackers fairly close together, as they’ll shrink as they bake, rather than spread. Prick each one once or twice with the tines of a fork.

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Put the crackers in the oven.

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Bake them for about 10 minutes, till they’re a very light golden brown. Watch them carefully towards the end of the baking time; they can darken very quickly. Notice how nicely they puff up.

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On the left, a cracker I forgot to poke with a fork, prior to baking – a perfect little balloon! On the right, one that was poked; light, flaky layers.

Turn off the oven, and open the door completely. Yes, completely; this isn’t one of those “crack the oven door” times.

Leave the pans of crackers on the oven rack; they’re going to cool down right in the cooling oven, in order to preserve their crispness. Keep your eye on them for the first couple of minutes; if for some reason your oven isn’t cooling off quickly, and the crackers are continuing to brown, pull the rack out partway.

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When the crackers are completely cool, remove them from the oven.

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Stack o’ crackers. Now, don’t you feel a sense of accomplishment?

Wrap any leftovers airtight, to preserve their crispness. I stored some in a plastic zip-top bag for a couple of weeks, to see how they’d keep; fine.

Then I threw them in my glass cracker jar at home. Several weeks after that – at least 3 weeks, I’d reckon – I found a few strays at the bottom of the jar. Just as tasty as ever. These crackers remain fresh-tasting and crisp for a LONG time. Good to the last crumb!

Read, rate, and review (please) our recipe for Gourmet Soda Crackers.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. Carolyn Sue Hall

    Tried the recipe again. Rolled not as thin and made larger crackers.
    It had to sit in refrigerator for three days as we were branding and sorting calves so the taste was a little too “fermented/yeasty” for me but that wasn’t the recipes fault.
    Won’t throw them out!!! turned out perfect

    Reply
  2. Sarah

    Do you have a recipe for gluten free soda crackers? I can’t find them in the store, and I tried making them, but all the gluten free recipes suck. They taste like crunchy pie crust, not soda crackers. I noticed that the “real” soda cracker recipes have yeast, and none of the gluten free recipes I can find calls for it. So perhaps that’s why.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      I’m sorry to say that we do not, but I will certainly pass on the suggestion! Jon@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You should have the option of both ounce and gram measurements on the recipe page. Jon@KAF

  3. nichael

    Here’s a question about a problem I have with most cracker recipes:

    That is, following the directions above, I find that –no matter how careful I am– when I try to transfer the crackers from the mat to the parchment-lined baking-sheet that I usually end up “mangling” quite a few crackers.

    So what I’ve been doing is the following:
    – pre-cut my parchment to fit the baking sheet.
    – then, when I’m ready to do the final “rolling-out” of the dough, I place the dough on the parchment and roll it out there.
    – I then do the final cutting “in place”. I can then pick up the parchment+crackers and place them on the baking sheets.

    Now, this takes a little planning. And it really only works for recipes like the one above (i.e. where the crackers shrink during baking) but the end results seem a lot neater. (Also, by cutting the crackers in place, I’m able to more “efficiently” fill the baking sheet.)

    Does this make sense? Do you foresee any problems with doing things this way?

    Reply
  4. adawnd69

    Could you make these crackers with just kosher salt on top? My family isn’t one to go for “wild and crazy” flavors. (my son once said that about some herbed bread…my little comic!)

    Oh yes, plain kosher salt will work fine!-Jon

    Reply
  5. Grandma Dottie

    You forgot one of the important reasons for making your own crackers. Allergies. I will use flour without additives to make these so my daughter can enjoy the holidays.

    Reply
  6. GSB

    The Easy-Roll Dough Improver is listed as optional, so those of us avoiding soy could just leave it out. But it seems like it must affect (improve) the flavor, since it contains buttermilk and sour cream. And the old saltine crackers were sometimes called buttermilk soda crackers.

    Can you suggest substitutions for this particular product in this recipe so as not to lose all of the flavor effect of the Easy Roll Dough Improver? I’m thinking maybe some fluid buttermilk in place of part of the water (adding it after the heating process) plus maybe a little diastatic malt powder. If this is on the right track, could you suggest quantities?

    And please let me know if something else would work better than the substitution I thought of trying.

    Again, this is primarily due to wanting to avoid soy as well as the perhaps infinitely small amount of aluminum–but perhaps KAF offers a soy free version of the Easy Roll Dough Improver?

    Actually, you don’t use enough of this to really affect flavor; it’s almost strictly to mellow the dough, making it easier to roll. I’d substitute dry milk powder or dry buttermilk powder, in the same quantities called for; that would be your best bet. Good luck – PJH

    Reply

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