Whole Wheat Crackers with Cheese and Medlar Jelly
Portion/Yield:Makes about 40 crackers and 4 x 125g jars of medlar jelly
I’m a fool for cheese and crackers, so add something sweet, such as a medlar jelly, and I’m in heaven. Gosh, I don’t know where to begin writing about the crackers or cheese or the jelly.
Let’s begin with the cheese. I did not make the cheese, even though it’s been a life long ambition of mine. OK, I have dabbled a bit with making butter and making soft fresh curd cheese, but I have never got as far as making a rind- washed or hard cheese. One day perhaps I will when I am old and grey (ha, the joke is on me as I am already grey, but there is still enough life in my old bones to give cheese-making a good go at some point!).
That was short and sweet about the cheese, but actually I should give credit to two of the best Suffolk cheese makers I know. I adore Shipcord cheese made by the folk at Rodwell Farm Dairy, Baylham, Suffolk; the cheese is an alpine-style cheese and if you’re lucky enough to get an extra mature piece, then you can taste the salt crystal formations in tiny little pockets captured in the cheese. Delicious! You can tell I have tasted enough of this cheese to know its exact characteristics.
The other one is Baron Bigod cheese, a soft rind-washed cheese from Fen Farm Dairy near Bungay, Suffolk; I am truly excited about this cheese. It’s got a really unique taste and a wonderful texture and is amazingly rich and creamy. I like to leave this cheese at room temperature for at least an hour before serving, so the rich interior of the cheese starts to soften. The contrasting taste of the rind and the creamy centre is very unique – the perfect match for my whole wheat crackers!
Last year, Adrian Eatwell, our good friend and neighbour, brought us some fabulous seasonal treats, medlars. On receiving them they were hard and had to be bletted; bletting the medlars is when you leave them to ripen in a cool, dark place (such as a shed) for about a month, until they become very ripe, and almost squidgy jelly-like – you might think they have gone rotten, but they haven’t (although do turn them every so often as you do not want them to go mouldy, they just need to soften and ripen). It’s a long process, but if you can control your patience, it’s a very rewarding one indeed. I am well pleased with this year’s batch of medlar jelly, although sadly I ran out of jars and could only jar half of the batch. However, the rest is used on the cheese board and served with last Sunday’s roast pork, so it is enjoyed by some very lucky diners indeed.
The wheat crackers are simplicity in their own right, but I find that these crackers work best with the types of cheese we serve. I use half whole wheat flour and half white flour for this recipe; the whole wheat gives the crackers a nutty taste. They last for a long time if you keep them in an airtight container in a cool, dark cupboard. I usually make a double batch of the crackers, as they are not only tasty with cheese but are great to serve with pâtés and rillettes.
Ingredients & Method
For the medlar jelly
- 500g medlars, bletted, washed
- 500g cooking apples, cut in half and cored
- preserving sugar
- juice of 1 lemon
For the whole wheat crackers
- 120g plain whole wheat (wholemeal) flour
- 120g plain white flour, plus extra for sprinkling
- 1 teaspoon Maldon sea salt, plus extra for sprinkling
- ¼ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- 120ml hot water
- 2 tablespoons rapeseed oil
- Shipcord and Baron Bigod cheeses (or local cheeses of your choice from your own region), to serve
First, make the medlar jelly. Place the medlars and apples in a large saucepan and cover with plenty of cold water. Place a plate on top to weigh the fruit down, then cover the pan with a lid and bring to the boil over a high heat. Once the mixture is boiling, remove the lid, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for about 30 minutes or until the mixture is completely softened and pulpy.
Remove from the heat, then pour the hot mixture into a jelly bag suspended over a bowl, or pour into a large sieve lined with muslin cloth placed over a bowl, and let the mixture drip overnight (preferably in the fridge).
The following day, discard the solids and measure the juice into a clean saucepan, then add enough preserving sugar, using the ratio of 10 parts juice to 7 parts preserving sugar. Cook gently, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then increase the heat to high, bring to the boil and boil rapidly for about 30 minutes or until the apple mixture reaches a temperature of 105°C (setting point) on a sugar thermometer, skimming off any scum from the surface. If you don’t have a sugar thermometer, check to see if setting point has been reached by spooning a little of the jelly onto a chilled small plate. Push a finger across the jelly; if the surface wrinkles and it is beginning to set, it has reached setting point. If not, boil it gently for a further 5 minutes or so and test again.
Once the jelly has reached setting point, stir in the lemon juice. Remove the pan from the heat and leave the jelly to cool slightly, then carefully pour it into hot, sterilised jars. Cover with wax discs (wax-side down) and seal. When cold, label, then store in a cool, dry cupboard. The medlar jelly should keep well for a year or so. Once opened, store in the fridge and use within 1 month.
Next, prepare the whole wheat crackers. Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4. Line 2 baking trays with parchment paper and set aside.
Mix the two flours, salt and bicarbonate of soda in a mixing bowl, then make a well in the centre and pour the hot water and rapeseed oil into the well, and use a wooden spoon to bring the mixture together to form a dough. Once combined, divide the mixture in half and wrap one ball in cling film whilst rolling and cutting the other.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the warm dough to about 2mm thickness, then cut the dough into 6 x 5cm oblong shapes. Use a fork to lightly prick them all over and then transfer the crackers to a prepared baking tray, leaving 1cm gaps between each one. Lightly season with extra sea salt. Repeat with the other ball of warm dough.
Bake the crackers in the oven for 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 160°C/Gas Mark 3 and continue baking for a further 15 minutes or until they are completely dry and crisp. Transfer the crackers to a wire cooling rack and leave to cool completely, then store in an airtight container until needed.
Serve the crackers and medlar jelly with Shipcord and Baron Bigod cheeses, or serve with local cheeses of your choice from your own region.