For those of you who know me well, you know I am an Ina Garten devotee/fan/worshipper. I own all of her cookbooks, watch repeats of her show, and triple check the DVR to make sure it’s set to record her newest episodes. I admire her cooking and entertaining style, particularly her philosophy of using best-quality ingredients to cook simple and flavorful recipes. There is nothing pretentious about any of her recipes–they are comforting, familiar, and always foolproof (seriously, I have never had one of her recipes fail). I especially admire her talent for taking every recipe she makes and presenting it beautifully using simple white platters, and setting an inviting table with colorful linens and fresh flowers. And! On the most recent episode of her show this season, she talked about how she is planning on writing a book about “Barefoot Contessa Style”. As Ina says: How fabulous is that? Also fabulous are these Parmigiano Thyme Crackers. I’ve had this recipe on my “must make” list for some time, and a few weeks ago I finally tried the recipe as part of a personal project I have to add more appetizer recipes to my cooking repertoire. As with all of Ina’s recipes that I have made, I was not disappointed.
Although these are called crackers, their texture is more like shortbread. They have a lightly crisp exterior with a rich, tender crumb. This is entirely (and deliciously) due to butter. For this recipe, I to chose to use European style butter which has a higher butterfat content (between 82% -86%) than standard American butter, which contains 80% butterfat. The percentage points may seem trivial, but it makes all the difference in the flavor, richness, and flakiness of the finished product. European style butter does come with a higher price tag, so it’s a bit of a splurge, but one that I believe is well worth the extra dollars. It’s the holidays after all! European butter isn’t crucial for the success of this recipe, though, and it will be equally delicious using standard American butter. Also a splurge is Parmigiano-Reggiano, and only the real deal will do. Grana Padano is a less expensive cheese, almost identical in flavor as Parmigiano and an excellent alternative. Like my parsley and pecan crusted salmon ball, Parmigiano and thyme crackers are the perfect make-ahead appetizer. The dough needs to be made ahead so it can firm up in the refrigerator before it can be cut into disks and baked off. You can also make the dough, shape it into the log, and freeze it for up to 6 months. Just defrost the dough in the refrigerator overnight before slicing and baking.
If you’re having guests over for a holiday party, pop these in the oven a few minutes before your friends are due to arrive to welcome them in with the aroma of nutty Parmigiano, fragrant thyme, and rich butter. Then, in true Ina Garten fashion, pour the Prosecco and make a toast.
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics by Ina Garten
To prevent the crackers from spreading as they bake, keep the dough log chilled until your are ready to cut and bake them.
- ¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
- In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter for 1 minute until smooth. With the mixer on low speed, add in the Parmigiano (or Grana Padano), thyme, salt, and pepper and combine until well incorporated. Keeping the mixer on low, add in the flour and combine until the mixture is in large crumbles, about 1 minute. If the dough is too dry and doesn’t hold together when pinched through your fingers, add some cold water, 1 teaspoon at a time until the dough holds together. The dough should not be too wet.
- Transfer the dough onto a lightly floured board, form it into a ball, and then roll it into a 9-inch long log. Wrap the dough log tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours or up to 4 days.
- When you are ready to bake the crackers, preheat the oven to 350° and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Cut the chilled dough log into slices about 3/8-inch thick (just under ½ inch) and place them on the parchment-lined baking sheet spaced about 2 inches apart. Bake for 22 minutes on the middle and lower oven racks, rotating the sheet pans halfway through the baking time. The crackers should take on a light golden color. Cool completely and serve at room temperature.
- Storage: Store the crackers in an airtight container and eat within 3-5 days for the best flavor. The uncooked dough log can also be frozen for up to one month (thaw in the refrigerator before cutting and baking the crackers).