Flippin’ Awesome Whole Wheat Pretzel Crackers

Casey Barber

by Casey Barber on June 3, 2013

I love it when my cookbooks talk to each other. I imagine them sitting on the shelves at night, comparing notes and behaving like they’re at their own private cocktail party. (The food at this party is, of course, incredible.) There’s a psychic energy to my cookbook collection: when I look at the bookshelf, stuffed to the gills with all that knowledge, I can almost feel the information making its way into my brain through osmosis. It truly is a research library, and thanks to two recent additions to the collection—Andrea Slonecker’s Pretzel Making at Home and Ivy Manning’s Crackers & Dips—that I was able to realize a long-deferred dream: making a homemade version of those half pretzel/half Town House crackers.

(Full disclosure: I was a recipe tester for Pretzel Making at Home and can attest to the quality and attention to detail in this ambitious little volume. Home bakers will love adding this one to their repertoire, and if you’ve ever tried a pretzel croissant from New York’s City Bakery and wanted to make your own, the book is worth it for that recipe alone. You may end up eating the entire buttery dozen in a single weekend, though, so caveat emptor)

whole wheat pretzel crackers, via goodfoodstories.com
For any of you who’ve been following along with my Classic Snacks Made from Scratch book tour and interviews, you know I’ve been pretty frank about the recipes that didn’t make the cut for the book, and the one example that comes up time and again is Ritz crackers. It’s not that they were a failure, really; it’s just that without chemical manipulation, I couldn’t crack the code on differentiating their taste and texture from that of Club crackers.

With deadlines bearing down on me, I abandoned my quest to create separate Ritz and Club cracker recipes and instead went forth with Chicken in a Biskit crackers for the book—a good choice in the end, as all the closet Biskit fans have been coming out of the woodwork to share their love for the bouillon-y bites. But the desire for a Ritzy-type cracker still nagged me, and I finally feel like I can tackle the problem in a typically Casey way: by giving it a crunchy pretzel coating, of course.

The secret is in baked soda, a homemade concentrate you can make at home with a run-of-the-mill box of baking soda. When you bake the baking soda in a low-temperature oven, as in the recipe below, you increase its alkaline qualities, which works more quickly and effectively to dissolve the gluten-starch matrix of baked goods like pretzels and give them that signature dark brown crust. (Tip of the hat to food scientist par excellence Harold McGee, who inspired me to use this process and who writes about it in more detail on his site, Curious Cook.)

FYI, you can use baked soda in place of baking soda in the poaching liquid for your pretzel bread—in fact, I recommend it!

whole wheat pretzel crackers, via goodfoodstories.com
Andrea is a hardcore pretzel maker and uses an authentic lye wash on her pretzels—it’s perfectly safe, and gives the darkest finish, though she also recommends using baked soda if you’re not comfortable working with lye. Her whisper-thin rustic pretzel crackers get a spray-bottle soaking with a weak lye solution, whereas Ivy’s nutty and sweet spelt crackers are brushed with a plain baking soda solution. I’ve always got baked soda on hand as a lye substitute but I’m too lazy to find a spray bottle, so a combination of the two techniques hit the jackpot.

A few notes:
Unlike the pretzel bread, where I used high-protein flours to help the loaves maintain their shape, I’m balancing out the tough whole wheat flour in this recipe with low-protein cake flour to give the crackers a softer crunch. These will still have a more sturdy feel than your traditional, processed crackers; if you want to really replicate a store-bought cracker texture, just use 2 cups all-purpose flour.

Want your crackers to have a high-gloss finish? Brush them with a little egg wash (1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water) after you apply the pretzel solution. I didn’t bother with this, but I cut my cracker rounds with a 2-inch fluted cookie cutter and gently streeeetched the dough as I placed it on my baking sheet to approximate the elongated Town House shape. Or, hey, you don’t need to manipulate your crackers at all.

P.S.—they also make an excellent base for a schmancy version of my favorite family snack, the infamous Velveeta- and ketchup-topped Ritz cracker. Sub in a sharp Cheddar like Cabot or Tillamook and spice up your ketchup with a little horseradish or hot sauce, and you’re in business.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Amber | Bluebonnets & Brownies June 3, 2013 at 9:52 am

I still have the baked soda you gave me, and have ALL the plans to use it this week. I want to see what it does to all kinds of baked goods. Thanks for posting the crackers too, because I love those little bad boys, but they’re made with HFCS. :(

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FlakyPastry June 4, 2013 at 10:18 am

This is an Alton Brownian’s dream recipe. Baked soda! Who knew! It’s like “Ritz Crackers: Now even pretzlier!” Can’t wait to make these–thanks Casey!

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Shaina June 5, 2013 at 11:10 am

Information overload. Baked soda? Pretzel crackers? I’ll just stop there. I need to go turn my oven on.

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Tracy June 5, 2013 at 2:11 pm

These look incredible, and I bet they’re just perfect for a nice summer snack with a good brick of cheese and some wine. Yum!!

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Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction June 5, 2013 at 10:26 pm

Ummm… So, I’m frightened. Just the other day I thought about how funny it would be if my cookbooks compared recipes. ‘Oh, your chocolate cake only contains 1 tsp of baking powder. How does that work out?’ You’re just as crazy as me, huh?

Ok, so all craziness aside…. These crackers look ridiculously awesome and I need to make them ASAP. I’m intrigued by the baked soda.

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Casey Barber June 5, 2013 at 11:02 pm

Jen, maybe our brains are trying to connect with each other across the miles! Who needs online chat when you can communicate through telepathy, eh?

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stephchows June 7, 2013 at 11:09 am

OOO YUMM! Anything pretzel is my friend! Don’t think I’m brave enough for the lye but I’m down with baking soda!

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Stephanie June 11, 2013 at 4:25 pm

OMG, so totally have to show these to Thad.

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