Whenever somebody finds out I'm gluten free, the question of, "How do you live without (fill in delicious food)?" inevitably comes up.
I don't know what it is, but tell somebody you can't eat something, whether it be gluten or dairy or sugar or whatever, and they feel the need to expound to you how much they love what you can't eat.
"Oh my GOD! I could never live without bread! I'm like a bread ADDICT. I like, ate an entire baguette the other day. What about pizza? What about beer? What about cheese?"
"Actually I can eat cheese it doesn't have - "
"- CHEESY GARLIC BREAD! I would DIE..!"
And on and on it goes. Not everybody is like this, but now and then I come across someone who can't understand why I haven't just quietly wrapped myself in a giant glutenous crusty roll, bid farewell to the cruel world, and baked myself in the flames of a Viking Funeral.
Yeah, there are days I seriously weigh the virtues of a half dozen golden, glowing, perfectly formed glazed donuts against days of gastrointestinal distress, but in the end the promise of Toilet Torture Time always wins. I have to step away from the gluten.
Honestly, after three years of living gluten free, though I may miss some foods, rarely do I feel deprived. Like many people with food restrictions, I usually see gluten containing foods as catalysts to pain, so it's not hard for me to overlook them.
Then there are days I actively resent the rest of the world for so flippantly enjoying Cheez-Its.
That's where I was for about a month.
I caught a whiff of some of those cheesy, salty, crispy little squares of all-that-is-good-in-the-world (can you tell I'm writing while hungry?) one day while snacking with a friend, and I'm not going to lie, I felt a flash of genuine sadness. WOULD I NEVER TASTE A CHEEZ-IT AGAIN?!?
From there, it was on. I spent the next few weeks desperately searching for a gluten free equivalent to the Cheez-It.
Some were good, others tasted like stale plywood, but I could not be satisfied. I will say Van's makes a cheesy cracker that is really good, their "Say Cheese!" crackers, and comes relatively close (and by "relatively" I mean it tastes nothing like a Cheez-It, but is tasty enough that it dulled my pain while I finished the box and the next one), but in no way fills the void in my stomach.
Yes, I know, it's a little absurd to be this invested in a cracker, but take enough things out of your diet, and you start inadvertently deciding what is worth pursuing and what just shall not be. Cheez-Its had long been my go-to comfort food for me -- a road trip food, a study food, an office snack, a couch food, and a food we're still finding remnants of in the family Suburban. This one was worth fighting for.
Then I found this recipe online. After a few failed attempts from other recipes I'd found (for real, one made me gag a little and fight back vomit -- sorry to mention vomit in a recipe post), I was definitely skeptical. But when the author mentioned that after making these cheesy crackers, they were so Cheez-It-like that she cried, I knew I had something special.
And O! Great Kitten in the Sky, she was right.
They have that salty, sharp, cheesy kick that no other cheese cracker can match. They have that "can't eat just one" appeal. You hit optimal deliciousness around cracker number five, and each bite just maintains the savory "sweet spot". Sure you get into a taste groove, but it never gets boring. Just like an old friend.
So I'll get to the recipe. After talking about food and Cheez-Its for this long, I know you, my gluten free friends, are probably over my commentary and just WANT THE FUCKING CHEEZ-IT RECIPE.
So here you go, courtesy of Fields of Green:
8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated
4 TBS cold, cubed butter
1/2 tsp salt, plus more to sprinkle over the tops
2 TBS cold water
3/4 cup sweet rice flour*
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp xanthan gum (you can find this at Whole Foods, or you can omit it, but your crackers might be a bit crumbly)
*A note about sweet rice flour:
Sweet rice flour is a God-send for gluten-free baking. It is not actually sweet; it is made from a shorter-grain rice that has more starch and makes baked goods hold together better. I get mine cheap from my local Asian food market.
Pulse all of the dry ingredients together in a food processor until well combined, then add the water and pulse until the dough comes together. Chill the dough well; at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator or 10 minutes in the freezer. Roll the dough out as thin as possible; this is important for a crispy, crunch cracker. Use a pizza cutter to make little squares. Lay the crackers on a non-stick baking sheet and use a fork to poke the tops of each cracker. (This will help them stay flat.) Sprinkle with a bit more salt. Bake at 350 for 7 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake another 7 minutes, or until golden at the edges.
I'm not much of a baker, and after a little bit of tinkering, I was able to get them to turn out pretty damn good. The hardest part was rolling out the dough. At first I tried to get it rolled out SUPER thin, but that made them impossible to cut. So the second time around I opted for slightly thicker crackers, and they were spot on.
I also messed around with the cooking time a little bit. Seven minutes, rotate, then another seven minutes didn't cut it with my crappy oven. I did 10 minutes, rotate, then another 10 minutes. My crackers ended up a little darker around the edges than the ones in the recipe pictures (not to mention they were a little misshapen), but I kind of prefer burnt things so I was happy. My advice would be to keep a eye on them while they bake (or are you not supposed to do that, bakers?).
I ended up baking batches and batches of them so I would have cheesy sustenance during my Christmas/New Year's stay with my husband's family in Belfast, Maine. Negative temperatures and feet of snow pretty much guaranteed that I was going to spending most of my trip eating and being cold. So I made sure I had gluten free psuedo Cheez-Its in abundance.
I hope you like these crackers. When I found the recipe online and discovered it was actually good, I immediately thought of you guys. So many of you have asked about gluten free stuff I've mentioned in my posts, and shared awesome recipes with me, that I knew I couldn't keep this one a secret.
I yelped and danced around my kitchen when I tasted a "real" Cheez-It for the first time in years. I scared my cat. I really, really hope you have a similar experience.
Comfort food is for all.
Do you have a really superb gluten free/restricted diet recipe that gave you back a long lost food? Please share it!
If you could magically make ONE FOOD gluten free, or safe for you to eat that isn't currently, what would it be?
What is your "Cheez-It"?