When I brought these to work the other day I got a lot of this: “What would posses you!?” and “Why would you MAKE graham crackers?!” Well, normally I wouldn’t make graham crackers. But I did it for @bukiporter.
See, awhile ago, I holla’d into the Twitterverse and basically said, “Afraid to bake something? I’ll bake it for you and together we’ll see if it was worth it.” And @bukiporter answered my call with a graham cracker recipe recently posted on Smitten Kitchen. Knowing by now that Deb doesn’t post crappy recipes, I had faith that these would at least taste good. But we all have different levels of tolerance for bullshit in the kitchen. Me? I have a low tolerance for bullshit. Bullshit being too many ingredients, weird and/or hard to find ingredients, too many steps in the recipe, too much rigging shit up in my kitchen (which is why I’d rather microwave chocolate than rig up a double boiler, go ahead, judge me), etc. etc.
So off I went…on a graham cracker making adventure.
Honestly, this recipe isn’t that hard. Relatively low on the scale of being time-consuming (even though you have to let the dough chill just about every time you touch it). The ingredients and steps are simple and straight forward. But here’s the thing. If you make these – don’t expect a graham cracker as you know it. You’re not going to get the texture of store-bought graham crackers. You’ll get the taste, but not the texture. They just aren’t as light, airy, thinly crispy, or easy to crumb. You know what I mean? All those things we’ve come to know and define a graham cracker by.
Once you’ve thrown out all your preconceived notions of what a graham cracker should be, you can appreciate these little snacks for what they are. As my friend Jill would probably say, “Well of course sugar boogar! They aren’t franken-food!” And you know what? Jill couldn’t be more right! Part of what I love about cooking is the discovery of how things should taste when they’re made from real ingredients…not chemicals and weird preservatives. I’ll get off that soapbox now before I turn into that person who makes all their own bread and never buys store-bought anything.
Some quick tips and notes before we get to the recipe: I don’t have a food processor OR pastry blender so I used my hand mixer and then my hands for the rest. If you’re doing it this way, be warned, it’s going to take some elbow grease to fully incorporate all the ingredients. Also, don’t underestimate how well you need to incorporate all the ingredients…visible chunks of butter is not ok here. Flour your dough every chance you get. It’s sticky and incredibly difficult to work with if you don’t flour the surface and the dough regularly. Chill the dough every chance you get. This, too, helps with handling the dough.
Finally, like Deb, I must have the world’s hottest oven. I would lower the cooking time from 15 minutes to 11 or 12 minutes depending on the intensity of golden brown you’re looking for. Unless you want a cardboard cracker and then you can cook them as long as you like. I would do a test batch with three or four cookies on the first try so you can see how your oven is working. Adjust from there.
From Smitten Kitchen, adapted from Nancy Silverton’s Pastries from the La Brea Bakery, and 101 Cookbooks.
Makes 10 4 x 4.5-inch graham crackers or 48 2-inch squares
2 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (375 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour (a swap of 1/2 cup with whole wheat flour or 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour works well here, too)
1 cup (176 grams) dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon (6 grams) baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt (4 grams)
7 tablespoons (3 1/2 ounces or 100 grams) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen
1/3 cup (114 grams) mild-flavored honey, such as clover
5 tablespoons (77 grams) milk, full-fat is best
2 tablespoons (27 grams) pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons (43 grams) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon (5 grams) ground cinnamon
Make the dough: Combine the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt 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. 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.
[Alternately, if you don’t have a food processor or electric mixer, you can cut the ingredients together with a pastry blender. Just make sure they’re very well incorporated.]
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. Lay out a large piece of plastic wrap and dust it lightly with flour, then turn the dough out onto it and pat it into a rectangle about 1-inch thick. Wrap it, then chill it until firm, about 2 hours or overnight. Meanwhile, prepare the topping, if using, by combining the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and setting aside.
Roll out the crackers: 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.
Place the crackers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets and sprinkle with the topping. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes in the fridge or 15 to 20 minutes in the freezer. Repeat with the second batch of dough. Finally, gather any scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and re-roll.
Adjust the oven rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat the oven to 350°F.
Decorate the crackers: Mark a vertical line down the middle of each cracker, being careful not to cut through the dough (again, this is for the traditional cracker shape). Using a toothpick or skewer (I like to use the blunt end of a wooden skewer for more dramatic dots), prick the dough to form two dotted rows about 1/2 inch for each side of the dividing line.
Bake for 15 to 25 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the touch, rotating the sheets halfway through to ensure even baking. [The baking time range is long because the original recipe calls for 25 minutes but my new oven — which I suspect runs crazy hot but have yet to confirm with the actual purchase of an oven thermometer — had them done in way less. Be safe, check them sooner. Nobody likes a burnt cracker!]