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Cracking the code of the cracker

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The cracker strikes many a pose. The scallop-edged ersatz elegance of the Ritz. The sea-salt-of-the-earth languor of the Lavash. The trim tension of the Wheat Thin. The pale solicitude of the Saltine. The deep brown, deeply dimpled smile of the Wasa. The dry delivery of the Melba Toast. The whole-grain grit of the Rye Crisp. The flamboyant flair of the Croccantini and Torta.

Each of whom preens from the upper shelf, while below the good natured Crisp or Snap chats up the Chip. The Stick and Twist make time with the Pretzel. The Rice Cake, Corn Thin and Oatcake talk amongst themselves.

Many a shopper admires the herb-flecked snap of the Crostini, the buoyant charm of the Oyster Cracker, the innocence of the Cream Cracker, the purity of the Water Cracker, the holy, holey Matzo. Only the shortest shopper considers the Animal Cracker.

Flat-footed Flatbread, flaunting sesame seed or poppy seed or the sprinkle pandemonium called "everything," is known as a bagel wannabe. While the slim-sliced Bagel Chip is mere bagel has-been.

The Corncake, according to its packaging, can serve as biscuit, wafer or cookie. No doubt a desperate attempt to escape the cracker condition: to be tightly typecast by the insensitive, salt-happy snacker.

Leah Eskin is a Tribune special contributor.

leahreskin@aol.com

DIY crackers

Prep: 20 minutes Bake: 6 minutes Makes: 72 crackers

1 1/4 cups flour

1/4 cup fine or medium-grind cornmeal

1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut up

1 tablespoon sugar

3/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons half-and-half

Crumble: Measure flour, cornmeal, cheese, butter and sugar into the food processor. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Pulse to a crumble.

Clump: Drizzle in 2 tablespoons half-and-half. Pulse until mixture clumps into a soft dough. Add additional 1 tablespoon half-and-half if needed.

Roll: Pat dough into 2 disks. Set 1 disk on a sheet of parchment paper. Roll out and trim to a very thin 12-inch by 12-inch square. Slide parchment onto a baking sheet. Use a pizza or pastry wheel to score into 36 two-inch square crackers. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt; press in lightly. Punch in neat rows of holes with a fork.

Bake: Slide into a 400-degree oven; bake until crisp and golden, 6 minutes. Cool, snap apart, munch. Repeat with remaining dough disk. Store in a tin at room temperature.
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