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Crackers? They're a snap!

Easy-to-make whole wheat crackers wear seeds and spices with elan.

May 28, 2008|Peter Reinhart | Special to The Times

I have been teaching how to make the four-seed snapper crackers in baking classes all over the country and in kids cracker workshops. They have less oil than the thin wheat crackers that I also love to bake yet are extremely (and, yes, simultaneously) tender and crisp because the seeds contribute their own natural oils.

Both of these crackers are easy to make at home, even for those who have never baked a loaf of bread in their life. The thin wheat cracker is my own knockoff of the iconic Kraft Nabisco Wheat Thin -- only better (I'm being boastful -- I love those classic Wheat Thins and all their new flavors but love making my own even more). The four-seed snapper cracker is unlike any cracker you can buy anywhere, totally original, which is to say that the big cracker companies have not yet written the final word on how to do a cracker -- there are, I am confident, new frontiers yet to explore.

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food@latimes.com

Peter Reinhart is the author of "Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor."

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Thin wheat crackers

Total time: 1 hour

Servings: Makes about 4 dozen crackers

Note: Adapted from "Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor" by Peter Reinhart. For sweeter crackers, eliminate the egg wash and sea salt, and instead lightly brush the crackers with equal parts honey (or agave syrup) and water. Continue to bake as described. The crackers can also be baked plain.

3/4 teaspoon sea salt (or 1 teaspoon kosher salt)

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, plus extra as needed

1/2 cup whole or low-fat milk (you can also substitute soy or rice milk as well as buttermilk)

2 tablespoons honey or agave syrup (you can also use brown or white sugar)

1/3 cup vegetable oil (canola, corn, soy, peanut, etc.)

1 egg

Coarse sea salt for garnish

1. In a mixing bowl, mix the salt with the flour. In a separate bowl, combine the milk, honey (or agave) and oil. Pour this into the flour mixture and stir with a large spoon until the dough forms a ball and all the flour is absorbed. The dough will be very soft.

2. Knead the dough for a few minutes on a well-floured surface, adding more flour as needed until the dough forms a smooth ball and feels soft and supple but not sticky, like modeling clay.

3. Heat the oven to just below 300 degrees. Line three baking pans with baking parchment or a silicone baking pad. Divide the dough into three pieces and form each into a ball. Set two of the dough balls aside and roll out the third. Dust the counter with flour and also the top of the dough, pressing it with your hand to flatten it. Use a straight rolling pin (not a tapered pin) to work the dough to a thin oval or rectangle less than one-eighth-inch thick. Every few seconds lift the dough and dust under it with more flour and dust the top as needed to prevent the dough from sticking to the counter or the pin. If the dough resists and shrinks back, let it rest for a few minutes and move on to one of the remaining dough balls. Repeat the rolling process with each piece of dough.

4. Combine the egg with one-half cup water to make an egg wash. Brush the top of the dough with egg wash and lightly sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Cut the dough into desired size for crackers with a pizza cutter or with a knife or pastry blade (you can also use a small biscuit cutter). Transfer the crackers to the pans, placing them very close together (they will not rise or spread). Place the pans in the oven (you can bake them all at once or one at a time). Rotate the pans after 8 minutes (if baking multiple pans, switch shelves). After another 8 minutes, rotate again. Bake an additional 6 to 8 minutes until toasted and light golden-brown, 22 to 24 minutes total. If not brown, increase the temperature by 25 degrees and continue baking until the crackers are golden brown and stiff, not flexible. Remove from the oven and leave on the pan until cool and crisp.

Each serving: 32 calories; 1 gram protein; 4 grams carbohydrates; 0 grams fiber; 2 grams fat; 0 saturated fat; 5 mg. cholesterol; 39 mg. sodium.

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Four-seed snapper crackers

Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Servings: Makes 6 to 8 dozen crackers

Note: Adapted from "Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor"

1/4 cup hulled sunflower seeds

1/4 cup hulled pumpkin seeds

1/4 cup flax seeds (red or golden)

1/2 cup "natural" sesame seeds (tan, rather than pure white), plus extra for garnishing (white or black)

2 cups (9 ounces) whole-wheat or whole-rye flour, or a combination of the two

3/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons honey or agave syrup

2 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil such as canola, peanut or corn

1 egg

1. In a blender or coffee grinder, grind the sunflower and pumpkin seeds into a fine powder. Be careful not to blend too long or they will turn into seed butter. Separately, grind the flax seeds into a powder. (The sesame seeds do not need to be ground.)

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