Homemade Cheez-It Crackers

Happy Monday – how was your weekend? We had the most gorgeous spring weather, it was amazing! I wanted nothing more than to grab a good book and sit outside on the deck for hours, but we had other plans. We spent Saturday trying to whip our yard into shape: first mow of the season, pruning the plants, new mulch, etc. Being a homeowner is so exciting sometimes, isn’t it? :)

I was hoping to get my herb garden going too, but ran out of time so that’ll have to wait. I’m still deciding what to plant; last year I actually did fewer herbs but tried jalapeños for the first time as well as tomatoes. The jalapeños are a definite repeat, they were incredibly easy to grow and it was so satisfying just to walk out the back door when I needed one for a recipe! The tomatoes didn’t do nearly as well (partially due to my black thumb and partially thanks to the squirrels), but I’m tempted to try again anyway. Maybe cherry tomatoes this year?

Homemade Cheez-It Crackers

I spent yesterday in the kitchen trying new recipes, and have a few I can’t wait to share with you. But before we can get to those, we have to talk about these homemade Cheez-It crackers. They’ve been sitting in my draft folder for over a month, and given how awesome they are, that’s about a month too long! I have to confess, I never liked Cheez-Its growing up. We always had them in the house because my brother was obsessed with them, but they just weren’t my thing. I’m oddly particular about cheesy things – to this day, I still don’t eat cheese as a stand-alone item, it has to be gooey and melted or baked into something. You could put the most gorgeous cheese board in front of me and I wouldn’t touch it. I know, I’m weird.

Homemade Cheez-It Crackers

So even though I wasn’t sure I’d like these, I am obsessed with making homemade versions of store-bought items (wheat thins, moon pies, peppermint patties, and croissants, to name just a few), so I couldn’t help but try. This recipe comes from America’s Test Kitchen, and not only does it call for just a few ingredients that you probably already have on hand, but it’s so simple. When the crackers emerge from the oven, they are buttery, crispy and seriously cheesy! About an hour after I packed them up, I decided I needed just one more, and upon opening the container was hit with the most glorious cheddar cheese aroma. I would have paid to package that scent into a candle… If it’s not already obvious, I loved these crackers.

Who knows, maybe I’d be a fan of the store-bought ones now (it’s been 15+ years since I’ve had them), but since I’ve discovered I can make them at home myself, I’ll probably never find out :)

Homemade Cheez-It Crackers
from America’s Test Kitchen Feed (step-by-step pictures also available here!)

{Note: the annatto seeds are completely optional, they just give the crackers their orange color. I didn’t have any luck finding them locally and ordered mine from Amazon.}

3 tablespoons boiling water
1 tablespoon annatto seeds, coarsely ground
6 oz (1 1/2 cups) finely grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch

In a heatproof bowl, stir together the water and annatto seeds. Allow to steep for 5 minutes, then pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer. Discard the seeds and save the (now orange) liquid. Let the liquid cool to room temperature.

Add the cheese, butter, salt, and pepper to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the mixture comes together and starts to stick to the sides of the bowl, about 30 seconds. Add the flour and cornstarch, beating until incorporated – the mixture should look like coarse sand. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the reserved liquid the annatto seeds steeped in and mix just until the dough starts to come together. (If the dough seems too dry, you can add up to 1 tablespoon of additional plain water to bring it together.) Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and shape into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough into a rectangle with a thickness of 1/16-inch. Using a pastry cutter (or if you don’t have one, a pizza cutter or sharp knife will work) cut the dough into 1-inch wide strips, then cut 1-inch squares from those strips. Transfer the squares to the prepared baking sheets – you can pack them in pretty tightly, they don’t spread much.

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Grab a skewer, and using the flat end, poke a hole in the center of each dough square. Bake the crackers until the edges just begin to turn gold brown, about 18-20 minutes. Allow the crackers to cool completely on the baking sheets. I thought these were best on the day I made them and 1 day later, but they’ll keep in an airtight container for 3 days.