Real Crackers for Chowder
- 1 pound (4 cups) unbleached bread or all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) butter or lard
- about 2/3 cup cold water
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
By hand or with a food processor, work fat into dry ingredients. Mix in enough water JUST so that the dough can be pinched together. You needn’t fear overworking this dough, but you do need to mix it as dry as physically possible.
Turn the crumbly lump of dough out on the counter and use a long straight rolling pin to crush the dough into coherence. (Work the pin like a seesaw over the dough, pushing down vigorously. Fold in the dry corners of the mass, adding a few molecules of water only if necessary.) Once the dough is a solid homogeneous lump, wrap it in plastic, or put it in an airtight tub, to rest for 45 minutes.
Work with about one third of the dough at a time; keep the portion you’re not handling airtight. Set the rollers of the pasta-rolling machine on the widest setting, and pass one lump of the dough through, working it into a long strip. Fold and repeat several times. Finished strips should look glossy and even, and have plenty of strength and snap. Set the rollers closer together to thin it out a bit more; I go to the third thickest notch for my crackers. Remember that these crackers are supposed to be hefty and sturdy and almost impossible to eat without soaking. Cut into desired shapes (pilot crackers were about the size of a playing card, but round crackers are cute, too) prick all over with a fork, and place close together on cooling racks set on cookie sheets. Toss the trimmings to one side of the airtight container. When you’re done with the lumps of dough, all the leftover bits easily work back together for rerolling.
Bake crackers about 20 minutes; remove from the oven when they are just beginning to color. Turn the oven down to 200 degrees. Flip the crackers over on their racks, and when the oven’s cooled down a bit, pop them back inside, and let them sit for an hour, or as long as it takes for them to become bone-dry. (When they are cool, they should be entirely crisp and hard, with no flexibility whatsoever. Err on the side of over-drying; the flavor deepens and the keeping quality improves.) Turn the oven off, and leave them inside, door ajar, until cool. Store in an airtight container.
Makes 2 or 3 dozen.