Life is finally returning to normal after vacation. The work week came and went, the bills that piled up in the mail have been paid, the jet lag is gone and I’m back in the kitchen. When I left in late August summer was in full swing but it was fall that greeted me when I stepped off the plane.
I was hoping for one or two more summer recipes to share–something with peaches, maybe or, I dared hope that there would be enough left of my tomatoes to harvest. As expected, despite the net I draped over my tomato plants the deer had a feast while we were away. I didn’t want to trouble the house sitter to babysit the tomatoes, too, and boy, did the deer take advantage of it. There was nothing left but the stems. The plants were picked clean. The discovery was not as disheartening as it has been in the past. I’ve made peace with sharing my home with them. Since it’s mating season now the male deer have staked our yard as their hang-out spot. Hearing or seeing very little human activity in the yard the last few weeks relaxed them into feeling like this place was really theirs and they’ve been parading on the patio and browsing brazenly just outside my kitchen window.
But even without a summer pie or a tomato harvest there are plenty of other things to make me happy in the kitchen. Apples, pears, pumpkin and one of my favorite year-round treats: crackers. If you’ve been visiting me for a while you know my love of homemade crackers. What’s so wonderful about them is that they’re very easy to make. One base recipe can be used for countless flavor combinations. This time I chose to highlight a current obsession: fennel. I’ve been cooking with fennel bulbs and enjoying a seeded baguette (fennel, sesame and poppy seed) with tea all week. Naturally, I wondered if the fennel seeds would pair well with a cheesy cracker. You might have already guessed that the two would go well together but I haven’t always been a fan of fennel’s licorice flavor; it’s only over the last few years that I’ve grown to love it. And this week it seems I can’t get enough. I actually craved it! I added fennel to a pasta dish this week and my husband and I both loved it. But that is for another post.
I share this cracker recipe with as much enthusiasm as I’ll have for the upcoming pasta dish. Who knew cheddar and fennel seed would pair so deliciously together? With just the right amount of the latter the effect is subtle, without the licorice flavor overwhelming your taste buds. The cheese is not overpowering either though I used extra sharp cheddar (the recipe should be flexible enough for an extra ounce of cheese if that is what you would prefer).
These biscuit-like crackers would be perfect served with wine, cheese and fruit. They have a mildly crumbly texture but are sturdy enough not to fall apart when you bite into them. And there is only a handful of ingredients. Your stand mixer will do the work to combine them in just a couple of minutes. All you have to do is roll the dough, chill it, slice and bake. Perfect for a dinner party and your guests will be impressed. I guarantee it.
- ¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 3 ounces sharp cheddar cheese (grated with a Microplane grater for finer shreds)
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon fennel seeds (plus more for sprinkling, optional)
- 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
- Pinch kosher salt (skip this if you use salted butter)
- A pinch or two of freshly ground black pepper
- Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter for about one minute. With the mixer on low speed, add the cheese, salt, pepper and fennel seeds just until combined, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary.
- Then add the flour, the mixer still on low speed, and turn off the mixer once the mixture is in large crumbles, about one minute.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface, press into a ball then roll it into a 9-inch log. Wrap it in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes before slicing and baking.
- When ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350℉. Slice the dough into roughly 3/8-thick rounds and lay them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. You can sprinkle more fennel seeds on top of the rounds if you wish.
- Bake for 20 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through the cooking time, until very lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack and serve at room temperature. You can store these in an airtight container for a couple of days. Makes about 24 rounds.