I’ve always thought graham crackers were something you got out of a box. Period. Not that I thought they would be so difficult that they were beyond my skill level, or that they required some kind of strange ingredients, but I really just never thought about it. Let’s face it, they’re pretty readily available already made. And to be honest, I’ve always thought that they were more of a vehicle–a handy, edible way to get toasty, sticky marshmallows from a campfire fork to my mouth with a minimum of mess. Mmmm. S’mores.
Hold that thought. It turns out it’s perfectly possible to bake Graham crackers at home, and you just may be spoiled for box Graham crackers forever. And today you’ll get a recipe with a history lesson thrown in for free.
Graham flour is named after its inventor, Reverend Sylvester Graham. I’m having a great time reading up on him. What a character. He was a controversial nutrition-reform rock star. Butchers and bakers threatened to riot at his speeches in which he denounced meat, milk, and white bread. His supporters, called Grahamites, established boarding houses serving the Graham diet throughout the Northeast. After inventing the flour, Rev. Graham went ahead and invented the “Graham Cracker,” originally marketing it under the name “Dr . Graham’s Honey Biskets” and recommending it as a virtuous anytime-foodstuff to all his followers.
I’m tempted to say that Rev. Graham was a little nutty, with “a passion for temperance and fiber”– now there’s a winning slogan – and not enough people around him willing to tell him some of his ideas were a little whack. (I’m giggling as I read that ” he thought ketchup and mustard caused insanity”" HOW?) Or maybe he was just ahead of his time…and perhaps a wee bit overzealous …in calling for plain, pure, simple foods, whole grains, and an emphasis on fruits and veggies (like most doctors and nutritionists now recommend.) The jury is still out.
Personally, I am less interested in his politics and nutritional beliefs and more interested in a tasty recipe. And if Graham crackers are the delicious unintended consequence of the battle for America’s soul–that’s not so bad, is it? The war will probably rage on. Let’s make some S’mores.
Broiler S’mores!! Assemble S’more on pan and toast under broiler for 2-3 minutes, until marshmallows are browned and chocolate melts.
From what I understand, many commercial graham crackers are, sadly, made with white flour instead of the Graham flour that is Rev. Graham’s deliciously healthy legacy– the part of his philosophy that I can agree with wholeheartedly. In this recipe, we tip our hat to Rev. Graham and use Hodgson Mill Whole Wheat Graham flour. And we satisfy our sweet tooth with a bit of brown sugar and cinnamon that he surely wouldn’t approve of; because whole grain foods shouldn’t taste like a penance for anything.
If you’ve never baked with it before, I’d like to introduce you to a new friend: Graham flour. This flour is milled in a special way so that the rough parts of the wheat—the germ and bran—are ground separately and coarsely, and the endosperm (the part used for white flour) is ground finely. Then they’re all mixed back together. (Super geeks may want to brush up on their botany: the parts of the wheat berry. This special milling process means you get a mix of fine white flour that rises and bakes well, blended with coarser textured germ and bran to give it heft.
Graham flour, and the rest of the Graham cracker ingredients, ready to go.
This is a pretty straightforward recipe, but I did want to share a few observations from my experiences baking it, since I’ve made it several times now. (Purely for research purposes I tell myself.) For example, in one of my experiments, the dough seemed slightly sticky and hard to roll out with a rolling pin; you may have to pat it out like a crumb pie crust, like I did. That works just fine too.You also have one big decision to make regarding the finished texture of your Graham cracker. If you want a crisper, sturdier Graham cracker that can hold a marshmallow, knead the dough 2-3 times in the bowl or on a flat surface with flour, just until it sticks together into a ball. If you’d prefer a more cookie-like Graham cracker–more delicate and crumbly like a shortbread or sugar cookie–don’t work the dough– just pat it out into a rectangle and bake. A cookie-like Graham cracker isn’t a terrible thing, but a S’more on a cookie-like Graham cracker feels just a little too decadent to me.
You can cut it into squares with a wheel, a pizza cutter, a knife—it’s not too picky.
Also, to save on mess and make clean up easier, I rolled out and/or patted the dough right onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. I love parchment paper. It saves on clean up time, it keeps baked goods from sticking to pans, and it makes moving baked goods from oven to cooling rack super easy.You’ll need to be careful to roll this dough out very thin, so that it gets nice and crispy in the middle as well as the edges. 1/8 inch was thinner than I expected. Just keep rolling. Last but not least, I don’t actually know if pricking the dough with a fork helps, but it makes it look more like a graham cracker, so I did it. I have a theory that it’s supposed to help keep the dough from bubbling and buckling as it bakes, like blind-baking a pie crust, but I didn’t try doing without. If anyone does, please let us know in the comments section of this blog post how it turned out.
Like I said, I don’t know if this does anything, but it is fun.
Homemade Graham Crackers
Adapted slightly from Hodgson Mill Homemade Graham Crackers
Makes about 36 3”x3” crackers
4 cups Hodgson Mill Whole Wheat Graham Flour
- 1 cup butter
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1 egg, slightly beaten
- 1/2 cup hot water, approximately
- 1 Tablespoon melted butter Optional topping (either sugar before baking, or both butter & sugar after)
- ½ - 1 Tablespoon Granulated white sugar
- Hodgson Mill Unbleached White Flour, on hand for rolling out dough
1. Preheat oven to 350o F. Cut butter into flour until it resembles coarse sand or cornmeal.
2. Add brown sugar, cinnamon, baking soda, cream of tartar, and egg and begin to mix. Add enough hot water to the mixture to make dough that can be rolled like pastry. If the dough seems to want to fall apart, you may want to work it and knead it just 2-3 times with your hands, either in the bowl or on a board with a little flour, just enough so that it sticks together in a ball. (See my comments above for discussion of kneading vs. no-kneading.)
3. On an ungreasedbaking sheet—I used a big one, a 13 x 18” jelly roll pan which was just about perfect– or a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, roll dough into1/8”-1/4” inch thick rectangle. If the dough is too sticky to roll with a rolling pin, it also works to pat and press the dough out with your fingers dipped in flour.
4. Using a pizza cutter, a wheel or a knife, cut dough into 3-inch squares. (Cut well—they’ll bake back together, but don’t worry; you’ll be able to break them apart when cool.) Prick squares with a fork at regular intervals. Optional: Sprinkle with white sugar for a little sweetness on the top.
5. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, just until barely browned at edges. Cool on rack. Optional: Brush tops of warm cookies with butter and sprinkle with sugar. (Much to the sound of Rev. Graham rolling in his grave.)
Tip: Graham flour, because it’s less adulterated than refined flour and still includes the wheat germ, will go bad more quickly than other more processed flours. (Natural oils in the germ, which most mills leave out of the finished product, can go rancid at room temp). It’s annoying, but it’s really a good thing, since you’re getting more of the original whole grain. If you don’t think you’ll use up your bag within a month or two, think about keeping it in the fridge or freezer.