My Aunt Cary made homemade Cheez-Its and then she emailed to tell me that they were really good. And I was intrigued. I’d been meaning to make crackers, mostly because I have an obsession with snack-y foods and crackers fall snuggly under the snack-y category. But Cheez-Its? They hadn’t crossed my mind in over a decade. But, we’d had a torrid love affair in high school and I wanted to remember what they were all about.
Turns out they’re not about much. In a good way. They consist of only 4 ingredients, 5 if you count water. The bright orange, extra sharp cheddar is the star. The toughest part is rolling out the dough, which isn’t too tough. And then the best part, cutting the dough into squares, quickly follows. These crackers are fun and easy and taste good. Just like an uninhibited, preservative-free Cheez-It should.
While grating the block of bright cheddar, I had to ask myself, where does this orange color come from? I mean, cows don’t make bright orange milk. Right? Well, I did a little online sleuthing and found that the orange cheddar hue comes from annatto, derived from the seeds of the achiote tree.
But then, why orange cheese? What’s the motivation? Turns out it harkens back to the 17th century when cows were being fed a diet rich in beta-carotene that turned their milk a richer color and produced bright, marigold-colored cheese. Then, those same farmers began skimming the cream because it made them more money and soon realized that doing so altered the color of the cheese. The natural orange pigment was contained in the heavy cream. So, they faked the high-quality, richly colored cheese by adding coloring to the milk, like saffron and carrot juice and finally annatto. You can read all about it here.
Then, while I ate fistfuls of Cheez-Its, Lu ate butternut squash and sweet potato for the very first time. And we had a bright orange party. It was great. I wish you could have been there.
Makes about 80 crackers
From Brown Eyed Baker
8 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
¼ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 to 3 tablespoons ice water
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix the cheese, butter, and salt on low speed until combined. Add the flour and mix on low until pebbly. Slowly add 2 tablespoons of the water and mix as the dough forms a ball. If needed, add the additional tablespoon of water a little at a time until the dough forms. Pat the dough into a disk, wrap with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Divide the dough into two pieces and roll each into a very thin 10×12-inch rectangle (the dough should be no more than ⅛-inch high). Using a fluted pastry wheel (or pizza cutter or sharp knife), cut into 1-inch squares, then transfer to baking sheets. (I recommend rolling and cutting the dough on the parchment paper so it doesn’t stick to your counter.)
Bake for 15 to 17 minutes, or until puffed and brown at the edges. Immediately move the crackers to wire racks to cool completely. They will keep in an airtight container for at least one week.