BraveTart: Homemade Wheat Thins Are Freakishly Close to the Real Thing

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[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]

I've said it before, but despite my line of work as a pastry wizard (or, perhaps, because of it) I've got quite the salt tooth. By the end of the day I've generally nibbled on enough dessert that all I want is something savory and salty, particularly anything that's vaguely healthy to offset all the butter and sugar in my life. To that end, homemade Wheat Thins have now eclipsed Homemade Cheez-Its as my all-time favorite snack to make at home.

What's interesting about homemade Wheat Thins is that they're a thousand times better, with a flavor truer to the original, when made with vegan ingredients. The underlying assumption with most copycat recipes is that store-bought snacks taste better when made with butter. This can sometimes be true, but many of our favorite supermarket treats start with oil, which gives them a very clean flavor as oil's neutrality pushes other flavors and aromas to the fore.

In the case of homemade Wheat Thins, butter browns in the oven to give the crackers a darker, nuttier flavor and color than the real deal. While it sounds delicious in theory, that extra layer of flavor overwhelms the delicate taste of whole grains and malt that gives real Wheat Thins their unique character. But when made with the neutral flavor and aroma of refined coconut oil, these homemade crackers bake up wonderfully light, in every sense of the word.

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Along with whole wheat flour and refined coconut oil, the other key ingredients are toasted wheat germ (to match the grainy texture of real Wheat Thins), turmeric (to replicate their intriguing color and aroma), and barley malt syrup—the secret ingredient that makes a Wheat Thin taste like a Wheat Thin. Hopefully you've made a batch of my homemade bagels and/or malted chocolate chip cookies by now and have a jar of barley malt syrup lying around, but if not it's easy to find wherever bread-making and brewing ingredients are sold, in supermarkets like Kroger, or online (my favorite brand is Eden).

Remember: You can make whole wheat crackers with whatever ingredients are lying around, but if you want to work culinary magic with a copycat recipe you've got to find the right ingredients to cast the spell. For every ingredient you swap or omit, you leave the likeness of Wheat Thins behind and delve into the uncanny valley of taste—strangely close, but weirdly wrong. And seriously, why do that when you could have crackers that taste most decidedly right?

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Once you've committed to sourcing the key ingredients, the dough comes together in about 15 seconds with a food processor. Pulse briefly to combine the dry mix, add a bit of barley malt dissolved in water, and boom: cracker dough.

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I like to roll the dough directly on a sheet of parchment that's been cut to fit the interior of an aluminum half sheet pan—that way the dough can be rolled whisper thin without wrinkling or tearing as it's moved from counter to pan.

To keep the middle of the dough as thin as the edges, it helps to pause rolling about halfway through, dust it with flour, and then flip the dough over on the parchment.

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This ensures the underside of dough is coated in flour so it will spread easily as you roll; otherwise, it tends to bunch in the middle. Not only does that bunching make some crackers too thick, it also means the edges will bake faster than the middle, which is a huge pain. You'd either have soggy crackers in the middle and burned crackers around the edges, or you'd have to remove the crackers around the edge early, then return the tray to the oven to finish the rest.

So, please take your time when rolling and trust me when I say the dough should be super thin, about 1/16th of an inch.

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Once the dough has been thinly rolled, I brush it with a mixture of corn syrup, barley malt, and salt that's been thinned with a little water. This gives my crackers a golden hue and glossy sheen like the original, along with an absolutely addictive burst of salty/sweet flavor from the moment they hit your tongue.

I also like to dock the crackers so they look just like the real deal—an entirely optional and purely cosmetic step. If you don't have a docking tool—one of my favorite baking uni-taskers (my favorite is six bucks from Fox Run)—don't worry about it; the time and effort required to individually dock all the crackers with a bamboo skewer isn't worth the purely aesthetic reward. Finally, using a pizza wheel, I cut the crackers into 1 1/2-inch squares, to account for the fact that they'll shrink by a 1/4-inch in the oven. I recommend a pizza wheel here specifically because a knife presents problems of its own: a dull one will mangle the crackers, while a sharp one will slice through the parchment below, leaving you with a mix of small crackers and paper confetti.

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Next, transfer the crackers to a half sheet pan by lifting two opposite corners of the parchment paper and pulling it taut. If you're not confident about that, grab a pizza peel or else drag the paper onto a cutting board and then slide it onto the half sheet pan from there. Just don't try to transfer the dough whole and then cut it on the baking sheet, as the sheet's rims will prevent the pizza wheel from reaching the sides, leaving lots of crackers joined together around the outer edge.

As a final step, I sprinkle kosher salt on the crackers, for an even more assertive saline pop in each bite.

This order of glazing/docking/cutting/transferring/sprinkling is important. If the dough is docked then glazed, the glaze will pool up in each hole; if the dough is cut then glazed, the brush will peel up the crackers and leave them in sloppy disarray; if the salt is sprinkled too soon, you'll miss out on its sparkling appearance and rough texture, as it may dissolve in the still-wet glaze. So remember: glaze, dock, cut, transfer, and then sprinkle.

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Bake the crackers about 12 minutes in a 350°F, or to a light yellow/gold; if you've ever had a real Wheat Thin you'll know just the color. Because the dough is so incredibly thin, these crackers can overbake in the blink of an eye—especially if your oven runs hot, or if you use a different type of baking sheet than a standard gauge aluminum half sheet pan (my gold standard for baking). It helps to rotate the pan about halfway through baking, which ensures even browning, but it's important to keep a close eye on the crackers as they near the end of their time in the oven. If you think they're too pale, add seconds to the clock, not minutes. These go from lightly browned to burned super fast!

By taking the time to source the right ingredients, handle the dough with care, and keep an eye on the crackers in the oven, this recipe will reward you with a Wheat Thins clone so freakishly close to the original you'll wonder if you're breaking some sort of law. I mean, c'mon.

Just look at 'em.

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