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Every year, I participate in a Secret Santa exchange. Every year before this one, I have sent my giftee whichever cookies are in that year’s repertoire, but this year there was a hitch: I drew a giftee who can’t have sweets.

What to do? Simple enough: switch to crackers. I hadn’t made them before because I’ve always considered crackers to be a quick convenience, to be bought for having with cheese or butter and jam when a full meal isn’t called for. With cookie energy that needed repurposing, though, I went scavenging through my cookbooks for non-sugary equivalents that would demonstrate the same degree of care and cheer that I’d like to think my holiday cookies show. Knowing that the recipient likes cheese, I concentrated my search on cheese crackers, and got exceptionally lucky on the very first go.

Now, I will grant you that these cheddar crackers, spiked with chipotle and given extra depth with some whole wheat flour, don’t look all that exciting. The first one or two may not even seem very exciting. Tasty, crispy, and finally a little bit zippy, yes, but exciting? Except…

Except that you will rapidly find yourself compulsively popping one after another until half the batch is gone, because the heat is seductively cumulative and the crunch is thoroughly addictive. If you’re looking for snacks to go along with your New Year’s Eve cocktails, you can’t go wrong with this grown-up version of the goldfish crackers children devour with similarly insatiable greed.

I’m delighted the challenge could be met so easily. I think these crackers are every bit as special as a holiday cookie, and I’m pleased to report that my Secret Santa giftee thought so too!

Spicy Cheddar Crackers
(Adapted from Cheddar Cheese Crackers in Bernard Clayton’s New Complete Book of Breads)
Makes around four dozen teeny nibbles

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon salt, plus extra for sprinkling
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
1 1/2 ounces very sharp Cheddar cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling water
1/2 teaspoon molasses
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Additional room-temperature water as needed

Whisk together all the dry ingredients until the chipotle is evenly distributed, then place in the bowl of a food processor. Add the cheese cubes and pulse until finely ground.

Stir the boiling water, molasses and butter together in a glass measuring cup until the butter has melted. With the processor running, pour the mixture through the feed tube. If the dough doesn’t come together, add more water, a tablespoon at a time. Once the dough forms a ball, process for an additional 20 seconds to knead. Tip the ball onto a sheet of plastic wrap, form into a flat disk, and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 400F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Divide dough into four equal pieces. Leaving the other three wrapped while you work, shape the first piece into a cylinder and then flatten it out on a work surface. Roll out to a rectangle 14-18 inches long and around 6 inches wide, and 1/16 inch thick. Fold into thirds, turn a quarter-turn, and roll back out to a rectangle 1/16 inch thick. Transfer to one-half of one of the prepared baking sheets, and repeat the process with a second piece of dough, setting it on the sheet beside the first.

Dock each sheet of dough thoroughly with a fork, then use a pizza cutter or sharp knife to trim any scraggly edges in order to get a neat rectangle. Cut each sheet lengthwise into quarters, then divide each crosswise into an even number of small inch-long squares or rectangles. Sprinkle with the additional salt.

Bake until well browned and crisp, 10-12 minutes depending on the thickness of the dough. Place the sheet on a rack and cool completely. Repeat with the final two pieces of dough.

The crackers will theoretically stay fresh for weeks in an airtight container, but I really wouldn’t plan on them lasting out a single week.


It occurred to me as I was rolling out the third of the four pieces that this dough is more than resilient enough to stand up to the pasta machine, which would make the rolling out much, much faster.

Should you be so inspired, you could find tiny little fish-shaped cookie cutters and make your very own goldfish for grown-ups.