Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Ice Water Saltines

This recipe is so simple and delicious, it's going to ruin you for regular saltine crackers. I found this recipe in a cookbook by Marion Cunningham called "Lost Recipes" suggesting it's an old technique which has gone by the wayside. Pity!

This unusual treatment for saltines would be delightful if you are stuck with soup or salad for supper, but you forgot or don't have good bread and butter.

When I started, I followed the beginning of the recipe exactly, but that quickly proved very frustrating. First, the recipe called for WAY too much water (8 cups), and soaking the crackers in it for 3 minutes, and then soaking them in a full stick of melted butter. Nonsense. The water soaking alone made Cracker Goo and I didn't get any further then a pan of white paste.

My second attempt a few minutes later, with adaptations, was a very tasty success.

NOTE: This dish comes together very quickly and you must be ready. To begin, assemble 1) a pan of of ice water; 2) a dish of saltine crackers; 3) melted butter; 4) salt and herbs; and 5) paper towels.

1) The original recipe was to fill a small pan with ice water...

2) ... and then place 24 crackers in the ice water, and soak them for 3 minutes. Do NOT do this. You will waste 24 crackers, and the ice water.

3) Instead, I removed the ice so that I had icy cold water, and simply dunked and held each cracker in the cold water for a slow count of ten --- one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand -- to ten for me worked great -- and then removed and soaked on a piece of paper towel.

4) You can use a strainer to remove the cracker, but honestly, once I began to dunk with my fingers, I found I had more control by just holding them under water and removing them. They are too delicate when wet to handle much with tools, and holding them under water let me "feel" when they were ready to take out -- strong enough to still hold, but wet enough to be very moist. Monitor this carefully. Also, choose only crackers which are whole and do not have cracks. That will lead to disaster. Once soaked, let the crackers drain slightly on a paper towel or piece of parchment paper.

5) Meanwhile, heat your oven to 400 degrees. I poured the ice water out of my pan, dried it, and melted a few tablespoons of butter in it (the next time I make this, I'm just going to have a small bowl of icy cold water for dunking, and have the pan already heated with butter in it, waiting for the post-dunk). The recipe called for a full stick of butter for 24 crackers. I thought this was madness and just used a few teaspoons (maybe 3, tops) for 9-10 crackers.

6) Carefully pick up the moist crackers from your towel, and ease them into the buttery pan. You can add more butter to the top as the recipe directed, but I found the butter bubbled up through the holes just fine, and no additions were necessary. Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes, monitoring carefully to assure they don't burn, but do let them get well browned so the crispness returns.

7) These were my crackers after 15 minutes. Perfect. Some of the salt came off in the ice water, and I used unsalted butter, so I sprinkled a bit more. If you used unsalted butter, you may wish to season as I did, but if you used salted butter, it probably won't be necessary. I quickly sprinkled thyme leaves on mine, and as soon I did, the heady aroma of thyme released on the hot cracker. It was a taste sensation, so next time, I'd add the thyme to the butter in the pan, to infuse the cracker.

The crackers were very crisp and delicate, like buttery, salty pastry. They were not fall-apart flaky -- you can easily top them and use them as a crostini or bruschetta, or just serve along side a bowl of tomato soup (basil leaves on the crackers would be fabulous for this).

As for me, I just topped them with some cold shrimp salad and blissfully munched on this tasty, vintage, treat for my own little Tea Party For One.
Your diners will not know these are store-purchased crackers. The transformation is unique, delicious, fast, and easy. Be prepared for your ladies-who-lunch-friends to say "Ooooooooooooooooh, I'm going to try this myself!"


  1. What a fantastic idea! I have that cookbook, but I guess I haven't looked through it carefully enough to notice that one.

  2. When I saw your picture I was reminded of my mother making these when I was little. Usually it was just for a snack, not to eat with anything else, and she never used the water, just buttered each cracker and baked them. They are great!

  3. I will try this for sure. It reminded me a lot of the cracker bread, lavash. Run it under cool water until soft, spread with mayo, etc and then lettuce, meat, cheese, rings of onions. Roll up jelly roll style. Wrap in damp flour sack tea towel and refrigerate a couple hours. Slice the rounds. Makes great roll up style sandwiches. mmmm I love crackers!