Dreaming of a food-filled Christmas? An ace in the kitchen, Claire Goodwin is creating an exclusive festive recipe for Standard Issue each week in the lead up to the big day.
I had a fairly smug chufty face when I came up with the alliterative title of this recipe. Small things and all that. It elicited the standard Sid James response from husband head: “I like your Christmas Crackers, fnar fnar,” followed by something a little more Kenneth Williams regarding baubles.
After we both laughed at the playful chauvinism, I continued to stuff many of these crackers into my face with lots of gooey cheese and port. I’ve already gained my Christmas pounds.
I was tasked by the Bake Off production team to make a standout ‘biscuits for cheese’ recipe (did I mention I was on Bake Off this year? No? Ah well, yes, I was in THAT iconic tent. Fucked up on week one, but I did get there.)
I’m sure Mr H and Bezza would have told me this recipe was ‘wrong’, as in the case of my fabled buttercream – cue internal monologue: “No, there are lots of things in this world that are wrong: racism, homophobia, starving children, ebola, adultery. Buttercream that isn’t to your taste is entirely subjective and really not deserving of such a drastic statement” – however, I am sharing this with you as I think it is damn fine.
My Christmas Crackers have a very specific inspiration. I used to live in a little town on the northwest coast called Lytham, also known as posh Blackpool (northern version of Broadstairs juxtaposed with Margate). It has a great little town centre with loads of independent butchers, grocers and fishmongers.
My favourite shop by far was Tom’s Tasty Cheese. Yes. It was actually called that. Tom’s Tasty Cheese, not unsurprisingly, was run by a man called Tom who was older than Noah, with a fabulous moustache, a white lab coat and the whiff of ale and cheese. He was incredibly Lancastrian.
One weekend, my husband and I were having a tapas-type tea and were in search of a bit of cheese to go with the serrano, maybe a cheeky little bit of Manchego or some such middle class delight. We went to see Tom.
Turns out Tom only stocks two types of cheese in his cheese shop. In fact, that is stretching the description a little as he actually only had one type of cheese, of which there were two versions.
His moustache resplendent and his hand waving around one of those circular boring devices to extract cheese samples, Tom described his stock: “I have Lancashire cheese: Tasty and Extra Tasty.” I loved him. And his cheese? Well, it was out of this world.
So, I wanted to make a cracker in celebration of Tom. It is indulgent and spiced but subtle enough not to overpower the cheese. They’re really easy and quick to make. There is little technical prowess required, so give it a whirl. Keep them in an airtight container if you’re making them in advance for Crimbo. You could always make the dough in advance and freeze it also. Easy peasey Lancashire cheesey.
For the spice mix:
1 tbsp sultanas
1 tbsp raisins
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon mixed spice
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon mixed peel
1 tablespoon brandy
Mush these into a fine paste. I did this in a mini chopper but you can do it in a pestle and mortar – just make sure that you finely chop your dried fruit finely first, as otherwise you will have a bit of a job getting it into a paste.
For the cracker mix:
275g plain flour
1 teaspoon salt
1.5 teaspoons golden caster sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
300ml double cream
Dash of water
Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix well with a fork.
Making your crackers:
1. Preheat oven to Gas Mark 4/160⁰C.
2. Tip your spice paste into your dry ingredients and rub it in, as if you are making a crumble mix. You need it lovely and even, and no big lumps of spice in one spot.
3. Add the cream bit by bit, stirring it with a fork. It will start to clump and come together.
4. When you have large clumps of sticky mix, get your hands in and squeeze it into a dough. If you feel the dry ingredients aren’t incorporating well, you can add a dash of water to bring it together, but be careful as you don’t want to take it too far so it is too wet and sticky.
5. Take your dough out of the bowl and knead very lightly on a floured surface until you have a smooth ball. Try not to over knead. You want your crackers to be crumbly and layered on the inside – if you over knead you will stretch out the glutens too far and end up with a piece of cardboard.
7. Cook in the oven for around 10 -12 minutes until they start to go brown (see picture). Flip them over with a fish slice and cook for another 10 – 12 minutes.
8. Take them out of the oven and let cool on a rack. They may still look a bit underdone in the middle. Don’t worry, we are going to dry them out in a minute.
9. Once you have flash baked your crackers and they are golden brown, turn your oven down very low – 80-100⁰C/Gas Mark 1 – and place your crackers back in the oven on your trays. They will need to be in for about 30 minutes to dry out and crisp up. Check them though, as they have a sugar content, so they are likely to over brown if your oven is too high.
11. Serve with (preferably Mr Tom’s) cheese and port.
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Claire is a speech therapist, baker, cake decorator, sometime radio guest and writer. She writes about food, being fat and living with mental health problems @bake_therapist; www.baketherapy.co.uk; www.facebook.com/CakeChemistryUK