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Graham crackers

Stack of graham crackers

Graham crackers are a great snack food. Or, let’s be honest, dessert: despite the name, they are closer to cookies than crackers. They’re easy and fun to make, requiring just enough work (but little skill) to make them interesting. Plus, you can customize them to your liking: by size and by flavor. And best of all, they don’t taste like they have been sitting in a plastic wrapper for six months.

This recipe is based on one from Mark Bittman’s “How to Bake Everything,” with some important changes to make it easier and more predictable in a less-than-ideal kitchen (like mine). It’s very similar to several other graham cracker recipes I’ve come across over the years, with slight variations in the proportions of flours and sweeteners. Getting the “wetness” of the dough right is a challenge with graham crackers: loose enough that you can roll it out into a super-thin layer, but not so wet that it’s a big sticky (or greasy) mess. So be a bit careful messing with the ingredients in this recipe.

Makes about 18 3×6-inch crackers. Time required: 45-60 minutes.

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, cold
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp. honey
  • 1 tbsp. molasses
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda

Cut the butter into 1/4-inch cubes, then stick them back in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Combine the milk, brown sugar, honey, molasses, and vanilla extract in a small bowl and stir until the sugar, honey and molasses are fully dissolved. Set aside. The original recipe calls for mixing in the brown sugar with the other dry ingredients below, but my experience is that the brown sugar often doesn’t fully dissolve and after baking leave brown splotches on the crackers. In many ways sugar acts more like a wet ingredient than a dry one (for example, it melts when heated) so it’s fair game to treat it that way here and mix it in with with other wet ingredients first.

Combine the flours, salt and baking soda in a food processor, and pulse a few times to mix. This is the classic step of mixing the dry ingredients together first to ensure they are evenly distributed. If you don’t have a food processor you can use a large bowl instead, using a fork or pastry tool in the next step to work the butter in. But the food processor makes it much easier.

Add the butter and pulse until it has the consistency of coarse sand. Unlike pastry, in this recipe we’re not looking to have chunks of butter left to create flakiness in the dough; so we’re going to process it further to fully incorporate the butter. Keeping the butter cold prevents it from just melting into a big goopy mess at this stage.

Add in the milk/sugars mixture and pulse until the dough comes together into a ball. Don’t over-process it; we don’t want wet, greasy dough.

Divide the dough in half. Lay out a piece of parchment paper on a flat surface, and place half the dough in the center. Roll out the dough into a rectangle about 9 inches by 15 inches and around 1/8 inch thick. Getting a very consistent thickness is important. This dough will rise just a little bit while baking , so you an make it very thin. You will need to keep your rolling pin well floured while doing this, and you may need to sprinkle a bit more flour on top of the dough as well to stop it from getting sticky while you are rolling it out. Also, you won’t be able to roll it out into a perfect rectangle initially, so feel free to tear off some edges in one place and attach them in the corners to fill it out; this dough is very forgiving that way.

Repeat the rolling-out process with the second half of the dough.

Move the two halves of the dough onto half-sheet baking pans and place them in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F, placing two racks near the center of the oven with at least 5-6 inches of separation between them. Refrigerating the dough will firm it up just enough to allow us to slice them into crackers and poke holes in the top before we bake them.

Remove the baking sheets from the refrigerator. Using a pizza cutter or a bench scraper, slice the dough into 3×5-inch rectangles. Using a dinner fork, poke holes along the center of the rectangles to resemble the 4- or 6-dot pattern on dice. You can, of course, cut the crackers to whatever size you like, and you can decide how even you want the outer edges (I like leaving them a bit rough — I think it adds a sense of home-cooked realism). Poking the holes is decorative (you want your graham crackers to LOOK like graham crackers, of course) but also serves a function: it creates more surface-area near the center of the crackers, preventing them from puffing up as much and helping them to crisp up in the middle. The dough definitely looks ugly at this point, but it will look much better once baked!

Bake at 350 degrees until the edges begin to brown and tapping the center of a cracker doesn’t leave an indentation, about 15-20 minutes. Start checking every couple of minutes when you see the edges start to brown. The amount of time to bake them depends heavily on how thin you’ve rolled out the dough (the thinner the dough, the faster they cook through) and on how crisp you want the crackers to be. Baking at only 350 degrees means that they won’t suddenly burn on you, so you don’t need to watch them constantly.

Remove from oven; let cool on the baking sheets for five minutes, then move to a rack to cool completely. If you leave them to cool completely on the baking sheets, some of the moisture will stay trapped underneath and can make the underside of the crackers soggy.

Serve at room temperature.

Tips and suggestions:

  • These will keep in an airtight container for a few days. The butter and milk, and the lack of preservatives, mean that they don’t keep indefinitely, however.
  • There are lots of potential customizations of this recipes. Traditional variations of graham crackers include cinnamon (add 1-2 teaspoons of cinnamon in with the other dry ingredients) and chocolate (add 1/8 to 1/4 cup of cocoa powder in with the other dry ingredients). You can also sprinkle a bit of sugar on top of the crackers just before baking them. You can also try some other flavor variations by adding various extracts (almond, for example) or culinary herbs like lavender.
  • S’mores. ‘Nuff said.

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