Cornmeal, Parmesan, and Poppy Seed Crackers: D.I.Y. Delicious by Vanessa Barrington

Cookbook Recipe & Review

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Vanessa Barrington is a chef and food writer who lives in the Bay Area, and we have a special affection for her, as she used to write here at The Kitchn. (See some of her past posts here.) So we were justifiably excited when her new book was released, and we don't think we're biased when we say it's great. Do you love pickles? Yogurt? Granola? Homemade bread? All the delicacies of the homemade pantry? Want more ideas for making them and putting them to good use? Well then, this book is for you.
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In the introduction to D.I.Y. Delicious: Simple Food from Scratch, Vanessa says, "I like knowing that I have the skills to make something I could easily buy." She describes the process of learning how to make yogurt, and how she realized it was so simple. She emphasizes the simplicity of making many cupboard basics like pickles and yogurt, and she shows how the ability to do so leads to feelings of confidence and accomplishment in the kitchen. She says, "Instead of feeling frustrated, stressed, and out of control, I feel resourceful and ready for anything. I feel like I'm taking care of myself and my loved ones."

And yet her recipes for pantry staples don't feel onerous or overwhelming. She covers fermentation, pickling, and culturing with homemade condiments and pickles, as well as salad dressings. She talks about butter and yogurt, beverages like kombucha, and grains, with recipes for breads, crackers, and granola.

This book is a wonderfully illustrated volume; Sara Remington's photos are juicy and colorful, and there are many process photos to help the cook see exactly what to do.

And yet this book is also not overwhelming. It has a small, carefully-edited selection of recipes that all look scrumptious and enticing. We are very much looking forward to cooking out of this book. We also have a post from Vanessa tomorrow, talking a little more about her love of culturing and yogurt.

Find the book: D.I.Y. Delicious: Recipes and Ideas for Simple Food from Scratch by Vanessa Barrington. Published August 2010 by Chronicle Books. $16.47 at Amazon.

Cornmeal, Parmesan, and Poppy Seed Crackers

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You won’t believe how easy it is to make your own crackers and you’ll feel great knowing that you can pronounce all of the ingredients. Crunchy cornmeal combined with the umami savoriness of Parmesan makes these true crowd pleasers. They’re neutral enough to pair well with cheese, but flavorful enough to stand alone. The dough is sturdy and easy to work with. Feel free to experiment by adding spices, herbs, or different types of cheese.

Time Required: about 15 minutes active; 45 minutes passive
Yield: about 14 ounces

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
1 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup lightly packed finely grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons cultured butter or store-bought, softened
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
Salt for topping (use flaky fleur de sel or other fancy salt if you have some; otherwise, kosher is fine)

Put the 1 cup flour, cornmeal, 3/4 cup cool water, the cheese, butter, and kosher salt in a food processor and process until the mixture forms a ball, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the processor, cover with a towel to prevent drying, and let the dough rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. If you have a pizza stone, preheat that as well. If not, a baking sheet will work fine, but there’s no need to preheat it.

Divide the dough into 2 equal portions. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough very thinly and evenly, flipping it over and continuing to roll while adding more flour as needed if the dough sticks. Stop rolling just short of 1/8 inch thick. Sprinkle the dough lightly with the poppy seeds and flaky salt and continue to roll just to embed the salt and seeds into the dough. Cut into strips about 2 inches wide and poke the strips evenly in several places with the tines of a fork. Using both hands, pick up either end of each strip carefully and lay it down on the pizza stone. Bake until the crakers begin to brown and become crisp, keeping in mind that the crackers will continue to crisp up as they cool. If they don’t crisp up properly after they cool slightly, you can put them back in the oven for a few minutes. Total baking time takes about 12 minutes on a stone and 15 to 18 minutes on a baking sheet. You will need to bake in two or three batches.

Let the crackers cool completely and break them into irregular shards of the desired size and shape. Store in an airtight container. Will stay crisp for up to 2 weeks at room temperature.

Related: Crispy, Crunchy, Cheesy: Homemade Cheese Crackers

(Image and recipe courtesy of Chronicle Books)