I'm nostalgic about graham crackers because they remind me of my Grandma Mac. Her full name is Maxine McMurry and she is now 90 years old. She lived just a short drive from our house (when my sister and I were kids) and we would tag along after soccer games when my dad would go by on Saturdays to check up on her, trim hedges, wash cars, or do any handyman work she needed. Heather and I didn't mind at all because she had a huge driveway that was flat as a pancake and smooth as an frozen pond -- perfect for roller skating. This was in striking contrast to our house that was on a steep hill which made skating perilous at best.
Grandma Mac always had snacks and treats for us when we arrived. She had a beautiful cookie jar in the shape of a big red apple which was always filled with oatmeal raisin cookies (I admittedly picked out all the raisins). Around the holidays she would fill old See's candy boxes with with perfect cubes of chocolate fudge, and if we were really lucky she would have a plate full of sweet, graham cracker sandwich cookies in the refrigerator. It was a pretty simple concept, but I've never had it since. She would take cream cheese frosting and slather it between two graham crackers and then let it set up in the fridge. I couldn't get enough.
So I thought of her when I saw this recipe for homemade graham crackers from Nancy Silverton's pastry book. I've cooked a few other winners from Nancy's books in the past; the Classic Grilled Cheese with Marinated Onions and Whole Grain Mustard, and Spiced Caramel Corn, and have quite a few more tagged for the future.
Most people think graham crackers come from the box. Period. But making homemade versions of traditional store-bought staples is worth the effort if you have some extra time or enthusiasm -- in part because the homemade versions always taste better, but also because people LOVE seeing and tasting homemade versions of foods they have only tasted out of a store-bought bag or box. I've done marshmallows and hamburger buns in the past, as well - both a lot of fun.
As far as Nancy Silverton's take on graham crackers goes - this recipe was flawless. I didn't even have to make a special trip to the store because I had every ingredient in my pantry - flour, brown sugar, honey, butter. The dough was easy to work with, and the best part of the whole thing is that the cookies actually taste exactly like graham crackers. They are delicious. I included a recipe for the cream cheese frosting in case you want to make sandwich cookies out of your homemade crackers.
Graham Cracker Recipe
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
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 reroll. 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 tough, rotating the sheets halfway through to ensure even baking.
Yield: 10 large crackers
From Nancy Silverton's Pastries from the La Brea Bakery (Villard, 2000)
Cream Cheese Frosting
1 8-ounce package of cream cheese
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups of powdered sugar, sifted
Beat the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer until creamy. Mix in the cream cheese and beat until light and fluffy. Stir in the vanilla extract and when fully incorporated add the powdered sugar. Mix until smooth and creamy. Place in the refrigerator for an hour before using.
from Nancy Silverton's Pastries from the La Brea Bakery - reprinted with permission