Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Homemade graham crackers


There are so many varieties of graham cracker recipes on the web. Some involve rolling out the dough and using a pizza or cookie cutter to make squares.  The recipe I selected is more of an 'icebox' technique, in which the dough is patted out into rectangles, chilled, sliced and baked.  So if you're really anal and get upset if your graham crackers don't look precise and geometric, this recipe probably isn't for you.  However, if you like sturdy, crunchy cookies that don't crumble when you turn them into s'mores or slather them with peanut butter and jelly, this incarnation of the popular snack cookie from 101 Cookbooks might please you.

The Fourth of July is immanent, and while making an apple pie might seem more logical, it is one of those Linda Richman paradoxes that "nothing is as American as apple pie, yet apple pie is not American--discuss."

 I would say, instead, nothing is more American than graham crackers. The pious New Englander Sylvester Graham was a devout vegetarian and health food nut and developed the graham cracker as part of his austere dietary regime which was supposed to promote the health of the body and quell all sexual urges.  Graham was particularly obsessed with eradicating the scourges of meat, sweets, heavily spiced foods, and masturbation.  Needless to say, he probably wouldn't be the first person you'd want cater your barbeque, although you at least wouldn't have to worry what he'd do in the kitchen if you complained about the food.

However, over the years, the unsweetened graham cracker of his original conception (which probably tasted like packing material) was transformed through the wonder of industrial food processing and marketing into a quaint, sweet childhood staple.

Growing up, my first encounters with graham crackers were with the Girl Scouts. Graham crackers were one of those processed foods my mother never bought--for some reason, Ritz, Triscuits, and even Golden Grahams were okay, but graham crackers were not.

I never asked for them, anyway--they seemed to be associated with warm apple juice and Jell-O, the kinds of 'good for you but not good for you' kid snacks foisted upon me when you I really wanted a cupcake or a doughnut.  Later in life, I grew more fond of them, given that their quasi-health food status made it okay to eat them as a 'sandwich' with butter and honey or peanut butter and jelly.

As for s'mores--I have had precious few in my life.  I've never been a big marshmallow fan, and during my one trip to Girl Scout camp, I remember eating the Hershey's chocolate bars and incinerating the marshmallows on purpose until black and crunchy.

I still need to perfect my technique with making graham crackers (I apologize for the rustic appearance of the cookies, as it was my first venture).  I need to make more. So I think I will give s'mores another try. Have slather some peanut butter and on these and raise your glass of milk to Sylvester Graham, a true American original.

Graham Crackers

From 101 Cookbooks, with some slight adaptations

--yields 48 cookies--

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt

7 tablespoons butter, softened

1/3 cup honey
5 tablespoons 2% milk
2 tablespoons vanilla extract

Topping
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon


 Directions'
1. Sift flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.  Add butter. Combine honey, milk, and vanilla in separate bowl and incorporate into the dry.  When it forms a dough ball, transfer onto a floured work surface and pat into a large, square rectangle on a floured table.  Chill 2 hours to overnight.

2.  Split chilled dough into two long rectangles and keep patting out until it forms two long, skinny rectangles.  If your dough was as sticky as mine, this may take awhile.



 3.  Chill again if necessary before slicing into cookies. Score the cookies in half and prick the halves with five pinpoints with a toothpick.  Kind of like dominoes.







 4. Sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar topping (there will be some left over).  Chill another 30-45 minutes before popping into a 350F preheated oven.





5. Bake for 25 minutes, rotating the baking sheets half-way through. Remove from the baking sheets after five minutes and cool completely.

6 comments:

  1. In college, I dated a guy whose aunt held similar views to Mr. Graham, where what a person ate determined their morality. We'd have dinner at her house occasionally; she'd serve something like plain, unseasoned quiche, a whole bunch of radishes, and a long lecture. Boy, were those dinners ever fun. The other thing I remember about her was that she bought all clothing second-hand, including her husband's underwear. After more than 30 years of marriage, she suddenly left him and filed for divorce. He never said so but everyone who knew them assumed it was the happiest surprise of his life.

    Since I heard about Andy Griffith, I've been wanting a Ritz cracker with a chunk of ham on it, and now that I've read your post, I want a graham cracker spread with jelly. Dinner tomorrow night is going to be crunchy, I can tell.

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  2. @flurrious--I am sure after that woman left her husband, the first thing he treated himself to was a large steak and a martini to celebrate...I do wonder why she decided to leave him, given that women like that usually never leave...or die...

    I've always thought that Ritz crackers are one of the few substances that literally can fill in at any meal...butter on a Ritz for breakfast...peanut butter and jelly on a Ritz for lunch...Nutella for an afternoon snack...pepperoni and cheese on a Ritz for dinner...chocolate-covered Ritz for dessert...

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  3. I used butter in the oatmeal cookies. I'd love to make these--the ones here are so stale and gross!

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  4. @The Blond Duck--yay, team butter! I think you'd love these! I want to make another batch at some point and try making a crust for a pie from them, too...

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  5. Great recipe, these have been on my to-do list for a long time.
    I never actually had graham crackers until I started baking. As a kid I didn't even know they existed or what they were, and my house was no stranger to cookies. I knew they were key to cheesecake crusts (but my Mom just bought the crumbs) and I had never had S'mores. I think the closest I ever came were Golden Grahams Cereal (which I wasn't a huge fan of). However, I love them now and when I make graham cracker crusts you can be assured that whatever is left over is going in my mouth. I just love how they kind of melt... mmmmm... :).

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  6. @Adam--I really want to try a totally 'from scratch' graham cracker crust, now! I actually really liked Golden Grahams, which I now realize is basically cookies in milk, although at the time it was considered healthy because it was a bit less sweet than some of the other kids' cereal brands. Actually, come to think of it, it's pretty much cheesecake crust in milk....so that is what I was eating all of those years...

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