Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Grown up graham crackers

I find homemade, wholesome versions of classic packaged foods to be quite charming. For example, a homemade Hostess cupcake or homemade macaroni and cheese always delights. Along these lines, I was struck by a random craving for graham crackers last week and set off to see if there was a recipe out there. It was with complete delight that I found a version on 101coobooks from Nancy Silverton's Pastries from the La Brea Bakery (Hardcover) and a take on the same recipe from JenJen of Milk and Cookies. As Heidi so aptly describes, these homemade graham crackers taste just like the real thing – only better: they are buttery and full of honey and vanilla and have just the right texture and crisp.

I was surprised that the recipe did not contain any graham flour that I figured was the reason for its name. Apparently that was originally the case, but the modern day recipe has departed from the original version developed in 1822 in Bound Brook, New Jersey, by Presbyterian minister Reverend Sylvester Graham. The original cracker was conceived as a health food and contained graham flour and considerably less sweeteners than the cookie we know of. In fact, Reverend Graham was the founder of an entire diet known as the Graham Diet that was meant to suppress “unhealthy carnal urges”, of which “Graham Bread” (as it was then known) played a part. For more information, read here.

Back to the sinful variety. The recipe is very straightforward and is guaranteed to put a smile on the face of anyone with whom you share the end result. Be warned, however, it requires a bit of patience. While there’s very little active time, the dough must be chilled twice and the hand-scoring of a line down the middle and pricking of the decorative dots that are so clearly associated with a graham cracker take time. It’s definitely worth the effort, however.

I tried the recipe twice. The first time I followed the baking instructions precisely (and dipped the finished cookie in tempered semi-sweet chocolate to coat half). I rolled the dough a little too thick considering the surprising amount it rose in the oven and also found the 4 x 4.5 inch size to be a little too big. The second time, I used a 3x3 square cookie cutter and took care to roll the dough as thinly as possible. The result was a crisper, more manageable cookie. Watch the baking time – the thin ones cook slightly faster than the 25 minutes called for in the recipe.

I of course had to make a few s’mores – who can eat a graham cracker without the fixins’? (although I promise, plain is just as good!)

Graham Crackers (from Nancy Silverton's Pastries from the La Brea Bakery (Villard, 2000) reprinted from 101cookbooks.
Yield: 10 large crackers (or 24 smaller crackers if you follow my method for cutting the crackers described above)

2 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached pastry flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
7 tablespoons (3 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen
1/3 cup mild-flavored honey, such as clover (CC note: this is an important element: use high-quality honey)
5 tablespoons whole milk
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract

For the topping:

3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Pulse or mix on low to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse on and off on and off, or mix on low, until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal.

In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, milk, and vanilla extract. Add to the flour mixture and pulse on and off a few times or mix on low until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat the dough into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 2 hours or overnight.

To prepare the topping: In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon, and set aside.

Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Sift an even layer of flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. The dough will be sticky, so flour as necessary. Trim the edges of the rectangle to 4 inches wide. Working with the shorter side of the rectangle parallel to the work surface, cut the strip every 4 1/2 inches to make 4 crackers. Gather the scraps together and set aside. Place the crackers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets and sprinkle with the topping. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes. Repeat with the second batch of dough.

Adjust the oven rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Gather the scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and re-roll. Dust the surface with more flour and roll out the dough to get about two or three more crackers.

Mark a vertical line down the middle of each cracker, being careful not to cut through the dough. Using a toothpick or skewer, prick the dough to form two dotted rows about 1/2 inch for each side of the dividing line.

Bake for 25 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the touch, rotating the sheets halfway through to ensure even baking.


Anonymous said...

This tasted as good (or even better) than it looks -- no joke -- this is as sinful as it gets -- but it was worth every last calorie!!

Deborah said...

I can't believe how adorable graham crackers can be!! This sounds like a great recipe - and one I need to try sometime to practice being patient!

Katia Mangham said...

They are beautiful and I'm sure tasty as well. This is the first Grahan carcker recipe I've come across, I shall give it a try.

As always the photos are a delight!

Annemarie said...

I do love graham crackers but they're not as common in the UK as the US. I will happily give these a go. Thanks for the history of the Rev Graham - who knew!

Brilynn said...

Wow! Would I ever love one of those right now!

Peabody said...

Hmmm, I have only ever made Graham crackers with Graham flour. They lood wonderful.

JEP said...


Anonymous said...

Those s'mores look SO delicious!

Jen said...

Wow they look amazing! Heidi's recipe is great and yours looks like a divine interpretation. Great job and love the photos!

Anonymous said...

Oh my...my kids are going to love you (not to mention that I already do! lol) I can't wait to make these!!! Thanks so much for sharing the recipe and your beautiful photos. :)

Anonymous said...
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Patricia Scarpin said...

Thank you so much for sharing this recipe - we don't have Graham crackers here in Brazil, now I can make some!

Anonymous said...

This graham cracker was absolutely delicious. It was wonderfully crisp and had luxuriously well-balanced flavors. Very tasty indeed. Your photo is beautiful and tantalizing!

Sabra said...

Thanks everyone for your comments! This is one of my very favorite new recipes and I don't even love making cookies! Let me know how it goes if you try it out.

Anonymous said...

The recipe looks wonderful.
What about adding chocolate bits or raisins?

Anonymous said...

Absolutely charming, whimsical, lovely. I love the textures in the photo. Need I propose a camping outing to taste some of these?

Bea said...

Great fun to make these crackers. Just lovely, makes me want to try.

eatme_delicious said...

What a gorgeous smore! I really want to try making my own graham crackers now. I think I've seen other recipes that use graham flour. Maybe I'll just try out both kinds!

Piggy said...

I have this recipe from Nancy Silverton's book but I've never thought of trying it until I see how lovely the crackers are in your post. Great pic!

Megan said...

We do alot of camping and eat alot of s'mores. I cant wait to try these and take them camping for some gourmet s'mores.

Deborah Dowd said...

I have never thought of making my own graham crackers! I am with Megan- we camp a lot, and this will kick our s'mores another notch!

JEP said...

Congratulations on your Feb 2008 DMBLGIT win!!

Anonymous said...

Congrats to you on your most well deserved DMBLGIT award! These look amazing.

Anonymous said...

I don't get it...TWO TABLESPOONS of vanilla? I keep seeing reprints of this recipe with many praising it but I've never seen that much vanilla used in a recipe with the rest of the proportions. Are you sure it isn't 2 teaspoons?

Sabra said...

I guess you will have to try it? It's wonderful. Enjoy.

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