This is the story of two crackers.
One cracker is made from a dough that calls for more water than fat, which in this case is olive oil. A rolling pin will help you form a stretchy and delicate dough, one that might remind you of pizza. Sprinkle a generous amount of fennel, salt and sesame and poppy seeds on these crackers, and use a pizza cutter to cut the dough.
Despite my best efforts, my neatly cut squares became abstract versions of themselves during the transfer to a baking sheet. (Let's call it rustic.) No matter. They were still beautiful and tasty, and they were devoured alongside a cheese plate set out to hold over a full house until dinner.
The second cracker called for just three ingredients: butter, flour and cheese. With so few ingredients, it's important to remember the Barefoot Contessa's commandment: Use the good cheese. I mean the real Parmigiano-Reggiano imported from Italy. (If you don't want to go that route, any hard, salty cheese will do, but the flavor might not be as intense.)
The dough for the water crackers wasn't hard to make, but the cheese cracker dough was even easier. I just pulsed all the ingredients in a food processor, rolled the dough into a log, and put it to rest in the fridge before slicing it. The chilled log of dough was easy to cut into, and the slice-and-bake cookie approach resulted in a more uniform cracker size and shape. This helped the crackers bake evenly.
As the crackers cooked in the oven and the butter melted and the cheese browned, a mesmerizing aroma filled the kitchen. It became clear which cracker would be the favorite. Sorry, water: Butter and cheese win.
For this cracker, it's a good idea to double the recipe and keep one log of dough in the freezer for future homemade happy hours. Have some fresh rosemary or thyme on hand? Feel free to chop up about a tablespoon of it and mix it into the dough. The flecks of herb will look pretty on the crackers speckled with browned cheese, and they'll add another level of flavor.
Both crackers are worth making again and again, but the following recipe for the easy, cheesy crackers is the one I already know by heart.
Ileana Morales Valentine lives in St. Petersburg with her husband. For more of their kitchen stories, visit her blog, ALittleSaffron.com. Say hello at [email protected]