Crackers. I just wanted crackers. With cheese. And to feel less resentful.
Earlier this year, in addition to other food allergies I’ve been managing quite well for over 13 years, I discovered I can no longer eat anything containing gluten. I don’t have the typical Celiac symptoms, like the associated nutrient deficiencies or digestive pain – my hair, skin, nails, and the thin skin under my eyes are all healthy and vibrant, and I rarely have a stomachache. Instead, my entire body explodes with inflammation, head to toe, and it’s been incredibly difficult to lose weight.
A bite of a cookie, a spoonful of couscous, a forkful of pasta, a sliver of pizza, or even a tiny bite of a tiny piece of breaded chicken will launch an attack on my entire body, instantly triggering swollen sinuses, reduced vision and watering eyes from pressure building behind them, fat fingers and knuckles that prevent me from comfortably removing my wedding rings, ankles so puffy that there’s barely definition between my calf and foot, and brain fog so bad that I’ve actually forgotten my zip code at the gas pump. Twice.
That last one scared me a lot.
The inflammation can disappear in as little as three days, and linger for as long as 11 days. As you can imagine, my stomach is also bloated throughout this ordeal. Nothing comfortably fits, and I feel fat and bloated for days.
Just like with my other food allergies, when I stop eating foods that destroy my body (in this case, gluten), my body responds positively.
But there’s that cracker thing, and making them taste great without gluten.
I never settle for “good enough” when it come to working with alternative flours, so I don’t share a lot of gluten-free baking recipes because a lot of them simply don’t work well – they’re grainy, crumbly, look terrible, taste terrible, or are just too complicated and expensive to make. Nut and bean flours aren’t an option for me, and there’s only so much coconut flour a girl can eat.
I’ve had good luck and the most success, however, with cassava flour.
Cassava flour (or yucca flour) is made from dried, ground cassava root, which is a starchy, fibrous tuber with dark, bark-like skin and white flesh. It’s cousin, tapioca flour, is the starch that’s been separated from the same root. A thoughtful combination of both flours produces a reasonably cooperative, gluten-free dough, but the ratios and moisture content in the recipes are important for success.
Cassava needs a little tapioca to help it stick together and add a little chew/less crumble. Too much tapioca will leave a drying sensation in your mouth, and can make the recipe unpleasantly chewy – this is where many online recipes fail miserably by incorporating cups and cups of (poorly-hydrated) tapioca flour.
Just like with any gluten-free flour blend, cassava and tapioca flours need ample moisture and ample time to absorb the moisture. Not enough of either will cause the same drying effect as adding too much tapioca, and will produce a crumbly, gritty dough that’s difficult to work with, similar to the consistency of Moon Sand (the toy, not actual sand from the moon).
Wet batter recipes for cakes, pancakes, and crepes, should rest at least 30 minutes. Pie, cracker, biscuit, and cookie dough should always feel a little moister than if you were using AP flour before the dough heads into the refrigerator for at least an hour to rest.
There’s no standard ratio for the flours and moisture together since the ratios depend on the recipe, however a ballpark flour ratio without the moisture is about 16 parts cassava to 1 or 2 parts tapioca. And don’t be discouraged if your dough doesn’t roll, bed, and move the same way as using AP flour. Cassava will always still be a little crumbly, even with egg mixed in, if you try to pick it up after rolling it, will always break, and will always be a little delicate. Rolling and shaping the dough on parchment works well when it needs to be transferred to a baking surface, and the dough easily presses right back together if it breaks or crumbles along the way.
Gluten-Free Rosemary Cheese Crackers
- 1 cup cassava flour
- 1 tbsp. tapioca flour
- 1/2 tsp. gray sea salt
- 1 tbsp. onion powder
- 1 tbsp. minced fresh rosemary leaves
- 1 cup freshly-grated Gouda cheese
- 8 tbsp. salted butter, divided
- 8 tbsp. chicken stock, divided
- In the bowl of a food processor add cassava, tapioca, salt, onion powder, and rosemary. Cover and pulse 3 to 4 times, or until ingredients are well mixed. Add cheese; pulse an additional 3 to 4 times. Add butter, pulse 10 to 15 times. Mixture should appear crumbly.
- Add 6 tablespoons of the chicken stock, pulse 8 to 10 times or until mixture starts to form a dough but is still crumbly. Remove cover; squeeze together a handful of dough to check for moisture. Dough should feel slightly wet, and should easily stick together. If dough feels dry, add remaining stock and pulse 6 to 8 times to incorporate.
- Transfer dough to a large plastic or reusable bag; form into a slightly flattened ball. Refrigerate at least 1 hour to allow dough to fully hydrate.
- Remove dough from bag; divide in half. Knead one half of dough, allowing hands to gently warm dough and make pliable. Use a bench scraper or spatula to pull sticky dough from kneading surface; do not add cassava or tapioca flour to prevent sticking.
- On a large flat service, such as a table or countertop, place a sheet of parchment, cut to fit a standard baking sheet. Place kneaded dough on parchment, flatten with hands. Place a second sheet of the same size parchment on top of dough; roll dough into a thin rectangle, about 1/16-inch thick, to edges of parchment.
- Preheat oven to 350 F. Using a bench scraper, pizza cutter, or knife, remove excess dough around edges of parchment, and score dough into square, rectangle, or triangle shapes. Dot crackers in several places with the tines of a fork or skewer. Slide parchment onto sheet pan. Place sheet pan in freezer 10 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough.
- Remove pan from freezer, place in oven. Bake 18-20 minutes, or until crackers are golden brown. Remove pan from oven; let stand 10 minutes. Break crackers into shapes along the scored lines; let cool completely before serving. Store in an airtight container up to 3 days. Crisp crackers in oven as needed before serving.
Things to consider:
- I used from-scratch chicken stock in this recipe instead of water for a couple of reasons – it’s gelatinous, so it contributes to the body and texture of the crackers, and it’s savory, so it compliments the cheese and herbs. Water can absolutely be used, as can vegetable broth for a vegetarian version of the recipe, or milk or cream. Store-bought broth can also be used.
- I’ve never tried this recipe as “dairy-free,” but invite you to experiment with lard or palm shortening instead of butter, and cashew cheese instead of Gouda.
- Cheddar, Swiss, and similar textured cheeses can be substituted for Gouda. Cheddar makes them taste like Cheez-It crackers.
- Because the cassava and tapioca flours do not contain gluten, the dough will always be a little delicate, which is why it’s rolled on parchment. Once the crackers are baked, they hold their shape well.
- Crackers will be chewy if under baked. It’s tempting to take them out of the oven before its time, but you’ll end up with a super chewy cracker, so leave them in the oven until they’re golden brown. If you find the crackers in the middle of the sheet pan aren’t as crisp as you’d like, separate them from the crispy crackers, and pop them back into the oven for a few minutes more.
- Not a fan of rosemary? Substitute the same amount of your favorite herbs.
- Gray sea salt dissolves better than any other type of salt I’ve used, which is why I use it in everything. However the same amount of any sea salt or kosher salt will also work in this recipe.