Friday, May 16, 2014

Homemade Cheez-Its

Sometimes I walk down the aisles of the grocery store and it never occurs to me I could make the brand-name snacks I see on the shelves. One example? Cheez-Its. Ok, so they won't look or taste exactly like the store-bought brand... we should probably call these cheesy crackers. Either way, this recipe from CinnamonSpiceAndEverythingNice would be a great snack to put out at a dinner party, pack in your kids lunch, snack on at a picnic, or eat mindlessly while you're watching the game on TV. Note: you will need to prepare these a day in advance, since it requires the dough to chill overnight.

So, if you're ready, go to your kitchen and pull out:

* 3/4 Cup of flour
* 1 1/2 teaspoons of instant yeast (note: it is less than an entire pouch)
* 1/8 teaspoon of salt
* 1/8 teaspoon of baking soda
* 1/8 teaspoon of sugar
* 1/8 teaspoon of white vinegar
* 1/4 cup + 3 Tablespoons of water (yeah, I know, it seems a bit specific)
* 1 Tablespoon of butter
* 1 Tablespoon of olive or vegetable oil
* 4 ounces of extra sharp white cheddar cheese (I used an entire bag of pre-shredded cheese, though you could shred it yourself like the original post recommends, if you like)
* Coarse salt
* Black pepper

Start by whisking together the flour, yeast, salt, baking soda, and sugar together.

Bring the water, oil, and butter to a simmer in a small saucepan and stir often until the butter has melted.

Once the butter has melted, remove it from the heat and let it cool.

Add the vinegar to the water/oil/butter and then pour the liquids over the flour/yeast mixture.

Stir the dough until it looks like sticky, lumpy oatmeal.

Pour the sticky, lumpy oatmeal-looking dough into a greased up bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Put the bowl in the fridge overnight and let the yeast work its magic!

The next day, you'll see that your little ball of lumpy goo has turned into a bigger ball of lumpy goo. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, cover a couple cookie sheets with parchment paper, and split the goo in half, putting half on a floured surface.

By pressing down on the dough with your hands, make a 6"x4" rectangle. Split it into thirds by folding over the left side and then the right. This will help make the crackers flakier.

Put flour on your rolling pin and roll it as thin as you can. You'll want to be careful because you can easily tear the dough if it's too thin and being pulled apart.

Once it's completely rolled out, use a knife, a pizza cutter, whatever you like to cut 3" to 4" squares and transfer them with a thin spatula (I used a cupcake frosting spatula) to your cookie sheets.

In the first batch, I poked each square 5 or 6 times with a toothpick but in the second batch, this made no difference whatsoever, so it's up to you to do this step.

In the first batch, I wasn't very generous with my cheese, as you can see (that most certainly changed with the second batch). Pour on as much cheese, coarse salt (table salt works too), and pepper on top of the crackers as you like.

Stick them on the oven for 10-14 minutes or until they're crispy enough to eat. Then work with the other half of the dough you left in the bowl and once you see how your first batch goes, make whatever adjustments you need. You can see the difference between my first batches.

Batch #1

Batch #2
Here's what I did different the second time I made these:

1. I rolled them thinner - the first batch they weren't paper thin, which resulted in them tasting spongy.
2. I added more cheese, obviously.
3. I made sure there wasn't any flour on the tops of the crackers before adding the cheese, salt, and pepper.
4. I didn't poke the crackers with a toothpick.
5. I made them smaller than the first batch.

 It's just a matter of trial and error until they come out to your liking, but that's why I recommend making half of the dough first, baking it, and then seeing how they come out before attempting with the second half.

Also, before you put these in a plastic bag, let them cool completely... otherwise, they'll go from crispy to chewy.

TOTAL COSTS: About $20 (if you don't have any of the ingredients - prices from Vons)
$3.29 for flour
$1.79 for 3-pack of instant yeast (note: it is less than an entire pouch)
$.99 for salt
$1.59 for baking soda
$2.69 for sugar
$3.29 for white vinegar
$.99 for butter
$1.99 for olive oil
$2.99 for extra sharp white cheddar cheese

TOTAL AMOUNT OF TIME: About an hour and a half + overnight
15 minutes to make the dough
Overnight to chill
15 minutes to make first batch of squares
30 minutes to make second batch of squares (much thinner, which resulted in taking more time in peeling them off the table)
14 minutes in the oven per batch

EASY-PEASY SCALE (1 super easy - 5 very difficult): 3 out of 5
They're not difficult to make, they just take some trial and error, as I said. You're not going to make them perfectly the first time so learn from the batch and adjust what you need to fix the second time!

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