I know, I drooled when I thought about doing this too. No shame.
How amazing are Cheez-Its? They’re like little bites of cheese and salt by the handful. I grew up eating Cheez-Its with my dad. Every Sunday I used to pretend that I understood what was happening on the television screen whether it was basketball, football, or National Geographic.
I still pack Cheez-Its with my lunch almost every day. They’re pretty perfect, especially the fact that there are so many different flavors nowadays! White Cheddar are probably my favorite, but the good old classic Cheez-Its are always fabulous.
I got to thinking, how hard are Cheez-Its to make? It’s pretty hard to pinpoint the flavor, so how do you make them?
Baking crackers is slightly different than baking bread or cakes (the basics of which explained here). The first part of the problem is the texture. Crackers are best when they are crispy. There’s nothing worse than a soggy cracker. That crisp texture is created in the oven. Normal baked products are baked at a temperature that allows for even baking throughout with a small crust forming on top. Crackers are baked at a much higher temperature for a short time so that a crust forms right away. The cracker dough should be pretty thin, so that you don’t have to worry about an under-baked inside.
This high temperature baking process is only half of the story. The other texture important for Cheez-Its is the flaky layers. Similar to the potato chip cookies, Cheez-Its have extra fat that cause gluten shortening and layers of fat and gluten to form. That’s why you always have greasy residue on your hands after holding a Cheez-It. That’s also why the crisp crackers still taste indulgent versus other crackers like Wheat Thins or Saltines. The extra fat in these crackers come from the huge amount of real cheese. Cheese has a ton of fat (but we still love cheese!) creating these fatty, yummy layers in the crackers.
So basically, the key to the texture of a Cheez-It is high temperature and high fat content!
As for the flavor, I found a recipe that got pretty close, but I made some changes of my own.
Adapted from Food 52
2 ½ cups flour, plus more for rolling out the dough
¼ teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1 ½ cups extra sharp white cheddar cheese
1 ½ cups sharp cheddar cheese (you could use 3 cups of the extra sharp cheese, but I liked a slightly milder cheddar with a nuttier profile—it gets you closer to the original)
1 cup vegetable oil
1. In a food processor, pulse the flour, baking powder, salt, paprika, and garlic powder together until just combined. Add the cheddar cheese and pulse 15 to 20 times, or until the cheese is finely chopped. Continue to pulse and add the vegetable oil in a steady stream until the dough comes together.
I do not, unfortunately, own a food processor or a large blender. I only have a small one-serving magic bullet. This was a bit of pain, but if you’re in a similar boat, it can be done. Blend the cheese in small batches so that the cheese becomes very sticky and chopped—you’ll be able to tell the difference. Mix the dry ingredients and blended cheese in a stand mixer until combined, and add the oil as the mixer is running on low until dough forms. Tah dah! Magic.
2. Wrap the dough in plastic, shaping it into a disk. The dough will feel very sticky and will fall apart. (Don’t worry, you didn’t’ do anything wrong!) Freeze the dough disk for 2 hours, or until it just gives when pressed but holds its shape.
3. Preheat oven to 450⁰F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper—if you plan on using all of the dough right away.
4. After freezing the dough, divide in two pieces (one half for each baking sheet). Roll out the dough (one half at a time) in a rectangle shape—as close as you can get it—to a thickness of a little under ¼ inch. Be careful not to make them too thick (chewy crackers) or too thin (burnt). Use a sharp edge (I used a bench scraper) to cut the dough into your size of choice. The recommended is 1×1 inch squares. Transfer the cracker dough to the prepped baking sheets.
OPTIONAL: sprinkle salt or large grain sea salt on top of the crackers prior to baking to get a similar salty taste!
5. Bake the crackers for 7-9 minutes or until edges are beginning to brown. Be careful to watch the crackers rather than the time, because it’s very simple to burn them! Cool the crackers on wire racks, or at least off of the baking sheets. They will continue to bake and as a consequence burn if left to cool on the baking sheet.
6. Store in an airtight container! These crackers will only last a few days because they do not contain preservatives like the real deal. They get soggy and greasy after that. I only bake half of the dough at first and keep the other half in the freezer until I’m ready for more Cheez-Its!