While doing research for my book Sephardic Flavors, I came across a recipe for biscuits (boyikos de keso) prepared with kasseri cheese and red pepper flakes. Since then, I have made them often to serve to guests before a meal, and they have always been a big hit. One day, while reading the New York Times food section, I saw a recipe for a cheese cracker from a Signora Mustilli from Campania. Of course, I had to try it. Her crackers resembled the Sephardic recipe, but were a bit darker because they were double baked, like many sweet biscotti. I entered a phase of biscotti madness, trying many variations. In this recipe, I have added black pepper to a basic Parmesan dough, as I loved the subtle buzz of heat in the Sephardic cheese cracker. (You may cut back on the pepper, but I think you will like it as is.) I have included two variations as well—both delicious, so I could not leave them out. These are perfect crackers to serve with a bowl of olives or a plate of prosciutto and a glass of sparkling wine.
NotesWINE: Open a bottle of Prosecco from Collalbrigo, Bisol, Ruggeri, or Dea. Or, consider a Tocai Friulano—particularly good if you are serving prosciutto as well-or a Soave Classico. If Tocai is your choice, look for Scarbolo, Bastianich, Movia, Antico Broilo, or Venica & Venica. Inama, Corte Sant’Alda, Gini, Pieropan, and Pra are excellent Soave producers.
Make Ahead RecipeYes
One Pot MealYes
OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Cocktail Party
Recipe Courseantipasto/mezze, appetizer, snack
Five Ingredients or LessYes
Taste and Texturecrunchy, hot & spicy, salty
- 1½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- ½ cup (¼ pound) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1-tablespoon slices, plus butter for preparing baking sheets (optional)
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground coarse black pepper
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
In a food processor, combine the flour and Parmesan and process briefly to combine. Add the butter and pepper and pulse until the mixture is crumbly. Add the egg and pulse again until the mixture comes together.
Turn the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Shape into a log about 2 inches in diameter, and then enclose the log in the plastic wrap. Refrigerate the log until firm, at least 3 hours or up to overnight.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter 2 rimmed baking sheets, or line the baking sheets with parchment paper.
Unwrap the dough log and cut crosswise into ¼-inch-thick slices. Arrange the slices on the baking sheets about 1 inch apart. Bake the crackers until firm but still very pale, 15 to 18 minutes. Remove from the oven. They are lovely as they are, and you can simply transfer the crackers to wire racks to cool. But if you want to try the second-bake technique, raise the oven temperature to 500°F. When the oven is ready, return the baking sheets to the oven and bake the crackers until golden brown, about 3 minutes longer.
Transfer the crackers to a wire rack and let cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week, If desired, warm slightly in a 300°F oven before serving.
Biscotti di formaggio e mandorle (Almond Cheese Crackers): In a food processor, combine 1½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour, 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg and process briefly to mix. Add ½ cup (¼ pound) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1-tablespoon slices, and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 1 egg, lightly beaten, and pulse just until the dough starts to come together. Add ½ cup slivered blanched almonds and pulse briefly just to combine. Pat into a log 2 inches in diameter, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, at least 3 hours. Slice and bake as directed but omit the second bake. Makes about 30 crackers.
Biscotti di gorgonzola e noce (Gorgonzola and Walnut Crackers): In a food processor, combine ½ cup (¼ pound) unsalted butter and 6 ounces Gorgonzola cheese, both at room temperature. Pulse to soften and combine. Add 2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour, ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, 1½ teaspoons salt, and 1 or 2 grinds of black pepper and process to combine. Add 1 egg, lightly beaten, and pulse just until the dough starts to come together. Add ½ cup walnuts and pulse briefly to combine. Pat into a log 2 inches in diameter, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, at least 3 hours. Slice and bake as directed but omit the second bake. Makes about 36 crackers.
2006 Joyce Goldstein