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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Homemade Rich Butter (Ritz) Crackers


Ritz crackers.

Sort of...


I loved ritz crackers for a very long time.  Then I grew up and started to pay attention to things like ingredients and nutrition labels.  Well... that was that.

I guess the really high amounts of fat and sodium are what make these famous crackers so delicious, but still... they're really, really, really bad for you.

I've seen DIY recipes for these before, but never really gotten around to trying them out until now.

The last couple weeks has seen our larders particularly flush with cheese and such.  We made a few trips to specialty stores and delis recently, and so have stocked a fair few delectable cheese varieties.

So, I wanted some crackers.  I mean... cheese is good on many things, and I do really enjoy cheese by itself, or with a good wine, but there's something awesome about cheese with crackers.  It's like having a uniformly flavoured, relatively bland, medium of cheese transmission.  And it's fun.

So, rather than run out to the store for the express purpose of buying crackers, I thought I'd give this a try.


So, I began - as always when never having attempted something before - by doing some research.  

There are quite a few people out there who've emulated Ritz, from industrious housewives to professional test kitchens, but for the most part the recipes were very similar.

In fact, the recipe is not at all unlike my mom's recipe for Swedish Jam Cookies.  Minus the sugar of course.  And with a bit more salt.

But when I was making this dough, I was surprised by how similar in look and feel it was to the above-mentioned cookie dough.  This similarity even allowed me to add a few tweaks of my own which were not in any of the recipes I researched.

So, here is what I used, posted - as usual - as a downloadable/printable recipe card.

Remember you can click on it to enlarge it and right-click on it to save it or print it.

So, I won't go into too much detail if you know your standard baking rules... like mix all dry and then add mixed wet... things like that... but I will talk about the things which absolutely should happen.

First, the butter.

There's quite a lot of butter in these (surprise, surprise) BUTTER crackers, so you might be tempted to cut some corners, but it is absolutely integral that the butter be cold, and cut-in to the flour.  Believe me, it makes a difference.

So, the large amount of butter  - roughly 1/3 cup - needs to be really cold and yet also in small enough pieces to be able to be easily cut in.  I use a large chef's knife to cut these, and if the pieces have warmed too much in the interim, then I pop them back into the fridge.  The above pictured plate o' butta was just fresh out of the fridge.

Now, for some stupid reason that I can't even explain, I still haven't ever picked up a pastry cutter.  I think I picked up a super cheap one when I first moved away from my parent's place, but that has long been absent and never been replaced.

Anyway, of course use a pastry cutter or blender if you have one.  Don't be stupid.  But, on the off chance you're like me and just don't have one, you can do what I do and use your fingers.

So, once all the dry ingredients have been whisked together nicely, 

cut that butter in slowly and a little bit at a time.

The trick is to really squish them into the flour.  You'll know it's all done when the dough looks a lot more... crumby.  It also feels softer and velvety.

That's successfully mixed butter dough.

Once it's been moistened with a bit of water (and in this recipe, a bit more oil), the dough will form a nice, yet crumbly, ball.

At this point, I divided the dough up into manageable bits, in this case quarters, and put whatever I'm not using in the fridge.  This is important.

So, working with only one quarter of the dough, I first rolled it out with a rolling pin.

However, every recipe I looked at before making these, said that making them thin enough was an issue, and that you should just make them as thin as possible.

This will actually cause some problems in a bit, but we'll get to that later.  For right now, I'm still thinking this should be as thin as possible, so I pull out the pasta machine.


I roll some dough out as thinly as it can be made, and then use just a simple dry spice jar lid as a 'cutter'.  

These would of course look more authentic if you had an undulating wavy kind of cutter like ritz crackers...  but I didn't... so I used a spice jar lid.  OK?

Anyway, once those are cut, I place them gingerly on a parchment-lined baking sheet, stab them unceremoniously and repeatedly with a fork, and bake them at 400°F.

The holes are there for baking purposes, not aesthetic, so no need to worry overly much about them.  

The recipes all said about 10 minutes, but I found they were done by 5 already.  Possibly because mine were so thin?  I mean look at how thin my first batch was:

Too thin if you ask me.  But there was a whole lot of dough left so I just made the next batches thicker.

The other consistency among all the recipes I looked at, was to brush the crackers with a salt and (melted) butter topping as soon as they're out of the oven.

I used unsalted butter and a 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and found this was still WAY too salty.
If I ever do this again, I'll likely only use a 1/4 or even an 1/8 instead.

So, after coming out of the oven after about 5 minutes of baking only, a generous layer of salted butter gets brushed over them all.

At first, my baking experience told me to carefully set these all to cooling on a wire rack for a few minutes; however, I must say these little dainties are quite durable, and easily stood up to just dumping them all in a bin after baking.  In fact, even after shaking them around and mixing them about in my container, I yet managed to not have a single broken cracker!  Go figure!  

Even your average Ritz box has a sizable cracker moratorium at the bottom of the bag.


Anyway, after learning from this overly thin and overly salty first batch, the next three were easy, and it was just a matter of going through the rote actions.

Making sure to keep in the fridge whatever was not being immediately rolled and cut, I whipped through the remaining batches in less than 20 minutes.  I found that I could also up the batch count to 40 (5 rows of 8)!  They don't really expand much when they cook, so this was safe.

It helped cut down on baking time.

Anyway, after baking, and then brushing over a hundred of these little guys, I was happy to have a relatively large bucket o' ritz on hand.

I wasn't totally sure of how best to store them, as not one of the recipes I read deigns to be concerned with that.  However, I was worried about them getting "soggy" - after having just slathered them with butter.

So, what I did was I intentionally left them uncovered for a couple of days before sealing them up with a lid.  That worked well, and the crackers were astonishingly similar to Ritz crackers.  In texture, consistency, and (most importantly) flavour, they were bang-on.  You couldn't tell the difference.  In fact, given these were un-processed and healthier alternatives, I'd say they were BETTER.  The only issue was appearance.  Obviously these did not have the gorgeous, uniformly golden, baked appearance that do authentic Ritz.

I can live with that though.

And although these are super fatty and kinda salty, they are an excellent treat that I'll be sure to make once in a while!

Don't tell Mr. Christie!