England may be missing many things, but apart from Lucky Charms (marshmallows for breakfast! What's not to love?), Cheez-Its are perhaps my biggest US food craving. Try and find a similar cracker in the UK and you'll find yourself fruitlessly searching the cracker aisle. Nothing comes close to the "more-ish" taste of this bite of cheesy bliss. I thought, apart from those willing to smuggle me some from the land of the free, that I would have to go without the little morsels until I returned to the American lands.
In my search for Super Bowl foods, I stumbled upon this recipe for chili and cheese crackers. "Zesty", the website promised me. "Addictive little lovelies," it promised. The recipe looked simple enough, why not?
Oh, I had no idea what joy I was setting myself up for. Out from my own oven emerged little puffs of cheesy deliciousness, close enough to the original Cheez-It that I had trouble not scarfing down the whole batch before guests arrived to try them for themselves.
Now, although my previous attempts at crackers had been fairly successful in the taste department, they lacked a certain, how do we say, "aesthetic flair". They looked like a crumbly mess. But after a bit of searching, to my accidental delight, I realized that the "holly" cookie cutter (previously used on this year's Christmas cake) was the perfect size and shape for my newfound Cheez-Its. And lo, unto us, a Cheez-It was born.
Now, the original recipe was dead-on. These things can go from delicious to burned char in the oven in no time at all. So watch these puppies. I found that 20 minutes is just about dead on in terms of timing, but of course, this will depend on your own oven. Just keep a wary eye on them, it'll be worth the effort.
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface (approx. 120 grams)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon crushed red chili pepper flakes
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and diced (56.7 grams for those of us on metric)
8 ounces best-quality aged Cheddar cheese, grated (227 grams)
3 to 4 tablespoons cold water
1. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and chilies. Transfer to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the cheese and pulse to combine.
2. Add 3 tablespoons of the water, 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing until the mixture comes together in a ball. Pulse in an additional tablespoon of water if needed to get the dough to hold together. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.
3. Preheat the oven to 350°F (176°C).
4. Roll the dough out to a 1/8-inch thickness directly onto a baking sheet. (If the dough seems sticky, sprinkle the surface ever so lightly with flour.) Try to be as accurate as you can about the thickness of the dough, as the crackers won’t puff up nicely if the dough is too thin, nor will they be crispy enough if the dough is too thick. Using a cookie or biscuit cutter, a sharp knife, or a fluted pasta cutter, trim the dough into ½-inch diamonds (or any shape you prefer, such as holly).
5. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the dough on the parchment-lined sheets, giving them just enough room so that they are not touching. Bake until the crackers are deep golden brown and crunchy, 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of your crackers. Watch the crackers carefully as they go from almost done to a little too done quite quickly.
6. Sprinkle the crackers with a light dusting of sea salt and some cayenne for an extra kick. Transfer the crackers to wire rack and let cool completely before serving.
The crackers can stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week, although they are best the first couple of days.