DIY Cheez-Its: Better Than the Real Thing?

Easy and fun, homemade Cheez-Its take the junk out of junk food. Enjoy this step-by step guide and DIY recipe.

RELATED: Check out 100+ recipes like this in our DIY Cookbook, from sour dill pickles to homemade bacon. What will you make next?

I can pretty easily refuse most salty snacks. Chips? Who needs 'em. Fries? Can't be bothered. Pretzels? They just make me thirsty. But when it comes to Cheez-Its, I am defenseless. As an avid label reader, I should refuse to eat them, because the ingredients list alone (thiamine mononitrate, anyone?) should be enough to scare me away. And while I refuse to buy them myself, if someone puts a box of Cheez-Its in front of me, I will devour its contents before you could ask "What exactly is TBHQ?" or "If oleoresin is used for color, what color is it?"

But lately, my guilt about the ingredients has been getting the best of me. I can't justify chowing down on something made of things which I mostly can't pronounce or even buy at the grocery store. Since I love to bake, I figured I'd see if I could make my own, and it turned out that coming up with a recipe for these little crackers wasn't too difficult, and it was actually pretty fun, too. My favorite part? The orange color that the annatto seeds dyed the baked snacks. Give it a try, and I bet you'll never go back to the store-bought, junk-filled version of these cheesy crackers again. --Carolynn Purpura MacKay, test cook

STEP #1: STRAIN AND COOL IT

Mix the crushed annatto seeds with hot water and let them steep for 5 minutes. The finer the seeds are ground, the more orange in color the crackers will be. Strain and discard the seeds and place the liquid in an ice bath until cool.

STEP #2: MIX IT

Mix the cheese, butter, salt, and pepper in the mixer with a paddle.

STEP #3: MONITOR IT

Stop mixing when it starts to stick to the sides of the bowl.

STEP #4: ADD IT

Add the flour and cornstarch.

STEP #5: MIX IT AGAIN

Mix until it is combined and looks like wet sand.

STEP #6: COLOR IT

Add two tablespoons of annatto seed soaked water.

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STEP #7: FORM IT

Mix it until a dough ball forms (you might need to use an additional tablespoon of water if the dough seems dry).

STEP #8: CHILL IT

Transfer the dough to the counter, flatten it into a disk, wrap it in plastic, and put it in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

STEP #9: FLOUR IT

Flour the counter and the dough.

STEP #10: ROLL IT

Roll the dough to 1/16 of an inch. Try to keep it in a rectangular shape if you can.

STEP #11: CUT IT

Cut the dough into 1-inch squares using a beveled-edge ravioli cutter (if you don't have one you can also use a pizza cutter or a knife).

STEP #12: TRANSFER IT

Transfer the individual cheese squares to parchment-lined sheet pans.

STEP #13: POKE IT

Using the blunt end of a skewer, poke a hole in the center of each square.

STEP #14: SPRINKLE IT

Sprinkle the squares with salt.

STEP #15: BAKE IT

Bake the squares at 375 degrees for about 18 minutes.

STEP #16: COOL IT

Be patient and let the crackers cool completely. Dig in and enjoy!

RECIPE: HOMEMADE CHEESE SNACK CRACKERS

Easy to make and stripped of their weird ingredients, these homemade versions of Cheez-Its are sure to be a crunchy, cheesy hit.

WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS
The ingredients list on a box of snack crackers from the store has a litany of items that are unidentifiable and hard to pronounce. This recipe makes wholesome crackers that taste even better than their store-bought counterparts. For ridged edges, use a ravioli cutter (but a knife or pizza cutter will also work).

Makes about 1 quart

The annatto seeds are merely for color and can be omitted.

3 tablespoons boiling water
1 tablespoon annatto seeds (optional), coarsely ground
6 ounces (1½ cups) finely grated sharp cheddar cheese
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
1½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (3¼ ounces) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch

1. Combine water and annatto seeds. Let steep for 5 minutes. Strain and discard seeds. Put annatto seed water in ice bath until cool. Using stand mixer fitted with a paddle, combine cheese, butter, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper until combined and starting to stick to sides of mixing bowl, about 30 seconds. Add flour and cornstarch and mix until combined, about 1 minute. Add 2 tablespoons of annatto seed water and mix until dough ball forms, about 10 seconds. Add remaining 1 tablespoon water if needed. Transfer dough to floured counter and flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic, and refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes.

2. Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Unwrap dough onto well floured counter and roll to 1/16 inch thickness. Cut into 1-inch squares using beveled-edge ravioli cutter. Using the blunt end of a skewer, poke a hole in the center of each square. Transfer to baking sheets. Sprinkle with remaining ½ teaspoon salt. Bake until light golden around edges, about 18 minutes, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking. Let cool completely on baking sheets. (Crackers can be stored in airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days).

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