I can pretty easily refuse most salty snacks. Chips? Who needs ’em. Fries? Can’t be bothered. Pretzels? They just make me thirsty. But when it comes to Cheez-Its, I am defenseless. As an avid label reader, I should refuse to eat them, because the ingredients list alone (thiamine mononitrate, anyone?) should be enough to scare me away. And while I refuse to buy them myself, if someone puts a box of Cheez-Its in front of me, I will devour its contents before you could ask “What exactly is TBHQ?” or “If oleoresin is used for color, what color is it?”
But lately, my guilt about the ingredients has been getting the best of me. I can’t justify chowing down on something made of things which I mostly can’t pronounce or even buy at the grocery store. Since I love to bake, I figured I’d see if I could make my own, and it turned out that coming up with a recipe for these little crackers wasn’t too difficult, and it was actually pretty fun, too. My favorite part? The orange color that the annatto seeds dyed the baked snacks. Give it a try, and I bet you’ll never go back to the store-bought, junk-filled version of these cheesy crackers again.
Mix the crushed annatto seeds with hot water and let them steep for 5 minutes. The finer the seeds are ground, the more orange in color the crackers will be. Strain and discard the seeds and place the liquid in an ice bath until cool.
Mix the cheese, butter, salt, and pepper in the mixer with a paddle.
Stop mixing when it starts to stick to the sides of the bowl.
Add the flour and cornstarch.
Mix until it is combined and looks like wet sand.
Add two tablespoons of annatto seed soaked water.
Mix it until a dough ball forms (you might need to use an additional tablespoon of water if the dough seems dry).
Transfer the dough to the counter, flatten it into a disk, wrap it in plastic, and put it in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.
Flour the counter and the dough.
Roll the dough to 1/16 of an inch. Try to keep it in a rectangular shape if you can.
Cut the dough into 1-inch squares using a beveled-edge ravioli cutter (if you don’t have one you can also use a pizza cutter or a knife).
Transfer the individual cheese squares to parchment-lined sheet pans.
Using the blunt end of a skewer, poke a hole in the center of each square.
Sprinkle the squares with salt.
Bake the squares at 375 degrees for about 18 minutes.
Be patient and let the crackers cool completely.
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