HOMEMADE Wheat Thins-EASY and Healthy!

Back in 2008 a friend sent me an article from the LA Times, by professional baker, Peter Reinhart. It was all about making your own whole grain, toasty, nutty, crisp, crackly crackers.

Crackers are easy to make and easy to healthify. When properly made, they make a great substitute for chips and other junky snacks. Whole grain crackers are simply the perfect, guilt-free treat.

They get their satisfying, toasty, nut-like flavor from the deep roasting of the grains' proteins and oils during the baking process.

A thin wheat cracker is made with 100% whole wheat flour -- not to be confused with enriched wheat flour, which is a tricky way of saying white flour.

Crackers can be naturally leavened with yeast, like Armenian lavash crackers, chemically leavened with baking powder or baking soda like many commercial cracker products, or totally unleavened, like matzo or Triscuits®. Whole grain crackers, regardless of the leavening method, have another major factor going for them: fiber, lots and lots of fiber.

Fiber in flour comes from the bran, the thin membrane surrounding the bulky endosperm of all grain, whether wheat, rye, oats, barley or even non-grain seeds such as sunflower, sesame and pumpkin. It adds more substance and chew to crackers, but more importantly, it fills us up, decreases food cravings. It has many other documented health benefits as well.

Some quick tips when making crackers:

1. Do not over-mix the dough -- the longer you mix, the tougher the dough (due to increased gluten development).

2. Roll them evenly and thin (less than one-eighth inch) by using generous amounts of whole grain "dusting flour." Thick crackers have their place (think of graham crackers, the granddaddy of whole grain crackers in America), but thinly rolled crackers bake faster and have more uses, such as with cheeses, dips and as chip-like snacks.

3. These crackers can be garnished to be either sweet or salty/savory. For sweet, make a wash using equal parts water and honey or agave syrup. For savory, use an egg wash, either whole or just the egg white, diluted with an equal amount of water. In either case, brush the rolled dough with the wash and garnish with either sesame or poppy seeds or sprinkle with your favorite seasoning salt.

4. Bake them low and slow so that the crackers dry out without getting brown too early. In a conventional oven, set the oven to just below 300°F. Rotate the pans every 8 minutes to ensure even baking. To get more browning, increase heat to 325°F after they've dried sufficiently to be crisp, 20 to 25 minutes. (Crispness increases as they cool.)

5. After they thoroughly cool, store the crackers in an airtight container, either a tin, jar or re-ealable plastic storage bag. They'll stay fresh and crisp for at least a week (if they last that long, which is doubtful).

6. Either regular whole wheat flour (sometimes sold as "traditional" whole wheat) or the newly popular white whole wheat (which is a lighter colored strain of wheat with a slightly sweeter, less bitter flavor than traditional wheat) work well. King Arthur Flour and Bob's Red Mill are in most grocery stores.

7. Cracker dough can be refrigerated for at least three days before rolling, if you decide not make crackers after the mixing. The flavor actually improves on days 2 and 3.

Reinhart says his thin wheat cracker is his own knockoff of the iconic Kraft Nabisco Wheat Thin®. His recipe follows, which is adapted from his book Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor.


3/4 teaspoon sea salt (or 1 teaspoon kosher salt)

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, plus extra as needed

1/2 cup milk (you can also substitute soy or rice milk as well as buttermilk)

2 tablespoons honey or agave syrup (you can also use brown or white sugar)

1/3 cup olive oil

1 egg

Coarse sea salt for garnish

In a mixing bowl, mix the salt with the flour. In a separate bowl, combine the milk, honey (or agave) and oil. Pour this into the flour mixture and stir with a large spoon until the dough forms a ball and all the flour is absorbed. The dough will be very soft.

Knead the dough for a few minutes on a well-floured surface, adding more flour as needed until the dough forms a smooth ball and feels soft and supple but not sticky, like modeling clay.

Heat the oven to just below 300 degrees. Line three baking pans with baking parchment or a silicone baking pad. Divide the dough into three pieces and form each into a ball. Set two of the dough balls aside and roll out the third. Dust the counter with flour and also the top of the dough, pressing it with your hand to flatten it. Use a straight rolling pin (not a tapered pin) to work the dough to a thin oval or rectangle less than one-eighth-inch thick. Every few seconds lift the dough and dust under it with more flour and dust the top as needed to prevent the dough from sticking to the counter or the pin. If the dough resists and shrinks back, let it rest for a few minutes and move on to one of the remaining dough balls. Repeat the rolling process with each piece of dough.

Combine the egg with one-half cup water to make an egg wash. Brush the top of the dough with egg wash and lightly sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Cut the dough into desired size for crackers with a pizza cutter or with a knife or pastry blade (you can also use a small biscuit cutter). Transfer the crackers to the pans, placing them very close together (they will not rise or spread). Place the pans in the oven (you can bake them all at once or one at a time). Rotate the pans after 8 minutes (if baking multiple pans, switch shelves). After another 8 minutes, rotate again. Bake an additional 6 to 8 minutes until toasted and light golden-brown, 22 to 24 minutes total. If not brown, increase the temperature by 25 degrees and continue baking until the crackers are golden brown and stiff, not flexible. Remove from the oven and leave on the pan until cool and crisp.

NOTE: For sweeter crackers, eliminate the egg wash and sea salt, and instead lightly brush the crackers with equal parts honey (or agave syrup) and water. Continue to bake as described. The crackers can also be baked plain.

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    Alice Osborne
    Weekly Newsletter Contributor since 2006
    Email the author! alice@dvo.com

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