Painting of kitchen on stormy night.

Mad Scientist’s Crackers. 8″ x 8″ watercolor pencil and gouache. Sharyn Dimmick.

On the eve of leaving for a five-day sojourn at music camp north of Santa Rosa I was in the kitchen cooking up some snacks. I went to the kitchen armed with Fifteen Spatulas’ recipe for cheese crisps and Bits and Breadcrumbs’ recipe for spicy roasted almonds. I ran into a problem with Joanne’s recipe because it called for eight ounces of cheese. I realized I didn’t know whether she meant to start with an eight ounce package of cheese by weight or to use one cup, a volume measurement, considerably less cheese.  I didn’t want to open a package of cheese — I wanted to use the odds and ends I had lying about, which meant that any measurement at all would be a rough measure. I did take from Joanne’s recipe the instruction to include a cup of crisp rice cereal. I did not, however, want to use 7 Tablespoons of butter and leave the lonely 8th out of the picture. In a fit of after Christmas nutritional penitence. I was willing to use butter and cheese, but I did not want to use a lot of white flour, both for my own health and that of my music friends, so I decided to combine some rye flour, some whole wheat flour and just a tablespoon or two of white flour to make sure I got a crisp result. I took my flour to fat ratio from our famous pie crust recipe: three to one. That meant with one half cup of butter I would need one and a half cups of flour. Since I was adding rice cereal, I scanted the cup slightly. I added salt as directed and substituted hot paprika for cayenne to tone down the spiciness a bit to serve the varying tastes of several people. Then, on a whim, I cut up about a quarter cup of dried tomatoes (just tomatoes that I had dried in my dehydrator) and nuked them with a little water. Our pie crust recipe calls for water and vinegar, so I reasoned that the small amount of tomato liquid would not be a problem.

My cheese selection was the end of a package of white extra sharp cheddar, about an inch-long piece of Cotswold cheese, some leftover blue cheese dip (primarily blue cheese and yogurt) and some fresh grated Parmesan. I would guess that came to about four ounces of cheese or five.

I then floured a cloth and rolling pin with white flour, rolled the cheese cracker dough as thinly as I could and cut it with crinkle-edged round biscuit cutters. I re-rolled the scraps into another batch and then made scrap crackers from the second trimmings by patting them into vague cracker shapes. I baked the trays of crackers in a preheated 350 oven for about fifteen minutes a batch, removing them as soon as I saw browning on the edges, and letting them cool completely on the sheets.

The crackers were delicious.

I then turned the oven down by twenty-five degrees to 325 and nearly managed to follow Betsy’s recipe for the almonds, including her optional orange zest.  The only change I made was to rub some olive oil on the baking sheet since I do not keep cooking spray of any kind. The almonds proved delicious and I did not come home from camp with any left. I will make them again for sure. I might reduce the sugar by a tablespoon — it seemed like I had more sugar-y goo than I strictly needed. I might also try them with lemon zest instead of orange, just for a variation.

I can’t provide you with an exact recipe for the Mad Scientist crackers — it is the method of mad scientists to be inexact and well, not scientific, except in the sense of inquiry: “I wonder what will happen if I do this.” I will provide you with an approximation — mess with it to your heart’s content: as long as you keep the flour to fat to cheese ratio fairly constant, you should get something you like.

Mad Scientist Cheese Crackers

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Toast 1 cup of Rice Krispies for a few minutes on a baking sheet (unless you happen to be opening a brand new box of cereal). Set aside

Measure 1/2 cup whole wheat flour and 1/4 cup rye flour into a one-cup dry measure.

Add unbleached flour until you have a scant cup of mixed flours, something over 7/8 cup and under 1 cup — you know, a cup where you are a little sloppy.

Add 1 tsp kosher salt and 1 tsp paprika

Cut in 1 stick (4 oz) of butter.

Cut some sun-dried tomatoes into small pieces: I used 1/4 cup. If they are home-dried or not packed in oil, cover them with water and nuke them for one minute in the microwave. If you have no microwave, you can hydrate them in plain warm water — it just takes longer.

Add tomatoes to dough.

Add odds and ends of cheese to the dough — I used cheddar, Cotswold, Parmesan and some leftover blue cheese dip, 4 or 5 ounces total, grated.

Add reserved Rice Krispies and mix until just combined.

Flour a cloth or a board. Roll out dough to about 1/8 inch thick (We always think thinner is better). Cut crackers with cookie cutters, biscuit cutters or the edge of a glass. Re-roll scraps into another batch. Push second scraps into vaguely cracker-like shapes. Place crackers on ungreased baking sheets.

Bake for 10-15 minutes until edges are beginning to brown. Let crackers cool completely on sheets and then transfer crackers to an airtight container. If your container is not airtight, your crackers will lose crispness, but you are probably going to eat them fast anyway.