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Tony writes: On New Year’s, the goal is to impress, a lofty end traditionally met through excessive means: expense or time or preparation (or a mix of all 3). But little things can inspire, too. Like crackers. Few nibbles are more pedestrian, but if you make them yourself and throw in some flavorings (herbs, cheese, spice), crackers can become kinda special, an almost elegant way to start a meal. Bake up a batch and then serve as a welcoming nosh for an end-of-year party (or an any-day deal with cocktails).
– Be gentle with the dough: Like a pie dough, the less you handle this one the better (to avoid the crackers becoming tough). The basic formula consists of some sort of flour (white, whole wheat, rye, etc..), a liquid (water, milk, or cream), and a fat (butter or olive oil or both). Leavening (in the form of baking powder or soda) can be added, though it’s not necessary. A stand-mixer is ideal for making the dough, though I call for a food processor; it’s quick and most everyone has one.
– Cut and bake: After pulsing together the dough, divide it up into two balls, roll out each about 1/8-inch thick and then cut into 1-inch pieces. I favor the rustic unevenness of the rectangles below, though you can get out the ruler if you’re more exacting. “Dock” the crackers using a fork (the process prevents the crackers from puffing up too much) and then bake in a medium oven until they brown. Serve immediately or hold for up to a couple of days.
The Recipe: Yields 75 crackers
1. Make the dough: Heat the oven to 400F. In a food processor, pulse 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano, 1/2 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper, 1/4 tsp. kosher salt, and 1/4 tsp. baking powder. Add 1/4 cup unsalted butter (cut in small pieces) and 1 Tbs. olive oil and pulse 2 or 3 times so the butter becomes small, pea-sized pieces. Still pulsing, add 1/2 cup cold water (or milk) so the dough just starts to come together, about 3 or 4 pulses. Flip out onto a piece of plastic wrap, press into a ball, and hold in the refrigerator for 1 hr (and up to 24 hr).
2. Roll and cut the crackers: Divide the dough into 2 pieces. Using a rolling pin and working on a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough so it’s about 1/8-inch thick. Using a pizza cutter or a paring knife, cut the dough into 1-inch crackers and, using a metal spatula, transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Using the tines of a fork and a pricking motion, make a couple sets of holes in each cracker.
3. Bake: Bake on the middle rack of the oven until the crackers brown around the edges, 10 to 12 min. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool to room temp and then serve; or store in an air-tight container for up to 2 days.