My adventures recreating Alinea Restaurant’s food at home

CHEESE, In Cracker

Recipe, pages 358-359.

This is one of the more popular out of the Alinea cookbook. And no wonder, it’s easy for the home cook, and turns out well (every time, if you follow the directions). Comfort food reminiscent of Cheez Whiz® and Saltines. Mmmm. They’re great for parties, but it’s a two-day recipe, so plan accordingly.

Day One

Cracker Dough
Mise en place:

In my Kitchenaid mixer, I combined the warm water, yeast, sugar, and let stand for about five minutes. Until the yeast puffed up a bit on the surface. This activates it, and is called “proofing” the yeast. If nothing bubbles or puffs up, you may have a bad batch.

The act of testing to see if yeast is alive is called proofing.

I added the flour, melted butter and salt to the yeast, and mixed with a dough hook on low speed until it formed a doughball.

Removed from mixer, formed a ball, and set it, covered, in a warm place. Let it rise for about thirty minutes. You’ll notice the dough expands to roughly twice its original size. That’s the yeast doing its magic.

Then refrigerated overnight.

Warm water
Fleischmann’s RapidRise Yeast
C&H cane sugar
Gold Medal AP (all-purpose) flour
Diamond Crystal kosher salt
Challenge unsalted butter, melted
Maldon sea salt to top

Day Two

Cheddar Cheese Sauce
Mise en place:

I combined the milk, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan and brought it to a boil. The milk will foam up, so take it off the heat as soon as it boils.

I put the grated cheese in the blender, then added the hot milk on top. Blended until smooth. Then transferred to a bowl.

California Cheddar and Jack cheeses, grated
Alta-Dena whole milk
Diamond Crystal kosher salt
C&H cane sugar

To Assemble and Serve
I took the dough out from the refrigerator in the morning. I let it warm to almost room temperature, then divided into four portions.

The goal is to roll the cracker dough to just over 1/16 inch thick. You can use a rolling pin, or pasta maker. I like the latter, as it’s much more precise than my heavy-handed dough rolling. So I got out the pasta roller attachment to my Kitchenaid mixer. Tip: flatten the doughball a bit so it will go through the rollers more easily.

Here’s where I did some experimentation. I first cut the squares out from a board, then transfered them to the baking pan. But they got mangled, and were every amorphous shape except squares. Unacceptable!

Okay, next! I ran the cracker dough through again, and placed it directly on the prepared baking sheet. Then cut the squares out with a knife. The knife dragged the shapes out like trapezoids. Hmmm. Unacceptable!

Tried a third time, but used a pizza cutter. This worked best! Here’s where the graphic designer in me comes out — I tried two “layouts,” one with shared trimlines, one with whitespace between each cracker.

Ubergeek CSS:
.crackersTight { border-collapse: collapse; }
.crackersLoose { border-collapse: separate; }

Time to do some quick baking! The kind I like the best. I sprinkled the crackers with Maldon sea salt, then placed the tray in the oven for about six minutes. They puff up very quickly, then brown. It’s like watching a time-lapse scene from Nature’s Half Acre.

The spaced out crackers puffed up a little more easily. There may be a few flat duds, but that’s normal.

My daughter wanted to handle the next portion of the recipe, so I said “get to it!”

She poked a small hole (large enough for the syringe tip to fit) in the bottom of each cracker. We used an old plastic Vons Pharmacy “dosage” syringe to inject the cheese sauce. The kind you get with children’s foul-tasting liquid antibiotics. Took her back “to the day,” she said.

She filled the syringe with the cheese sauce, and injected it into the crackers. She found that too much cheese, or too quickly injected, will crack da cracker.

Pretty easy. But do it just before service. The Cheez Whiz tends to leak out after a bit. We’ll have to figure out a way to plug them up. Agar? Cracker-based spackle?

You can save the empty crackers in an airtight container for several days. Just don’t add the filling to them. I tried saving some completed crackers — mistake. They absorbed the oils from the cheese, and were ultimately soggy and chewy.

Ahh yes, to sit down to the relaxing playoff game with some cheese ‘n crackers and beer. Now that’s my kinda comfort food.

Alternate Servings:
I tried Shropshire Blue cheese with Hawaiian Black Lava sea salt, and the crackers came out just as easily as with the cheddar. My next experiment is a peanut butter sauce. Like the little pretzel squares filled with peanut butter I get at Henry’s Market. Try different cheeses, use your favorites. Anyone have a good recipe?

Salter digital scale
Measuring bowls
Kitchen knife, cutting board
Kitchenaid mixer, with pasta roller attachment
Stainless mixing bowl
Osterizer blender
Kitchen syringe, or pharmacy “doser” syringe
Small and medium saucepans
Wire whisk
Rubber spatula
Plastic wrap
Plastic containers

Yields: 24-36 crackers, with more than half the dough left over

Goes well with: San Diego Charger Victories (Go Bolts!)
Local beers like Stone Pale Ale or Stone Smoked Porter

Next, PORK BELLY, Pickled Vegetables, BBQ Sugar, Polenta.

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