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Every week, a DIY expert spares us a trip to the grocery store and shows us how to make small batches of great foods at home.
Today, Alana Chernila of Eating From the Ground Up shows us how to make our own graham crackers. Alana is the author of The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making.
In 1829, the Reverend Sylvester Graham created the graham cracker. As the story goes, the graham cracker was the foundation of his whole-grain, vegetarian diet that he claimed would not only increase physical health, but would alleviate desire for alcohol and unhealthy carnal behavior. The crackers, intentionally bland, unsweetened biscuits of graham flour (a variety of whole-wheat flour), were the good Reverend’s response to what he saw as the addition of unhealthy additives and bleached flours in commercial bread products. Graham called his crackers health food, and any parent or preschool teacher will tell you that they have remained a source of virtue and fiber ever since.
Of course, the purity of the graham cracker didn’t last. Recognizing that the image of a healthy treat would help sales, commercial bakeries created the graham cracker of the modern day supermarket aisle, loaded with sugar and a token drop of honey, and containing just enough graham flour to keep the cookie (yup, the new graham cracker is definitely a cookie) brown.
Even so, we will always feel good about the graham cracker. My husband, a preschool teacher, had his first childcare job running a small day care program for the staff kids of a farm. Every day, he’d go up to the farm kitchen and pick up a box of Honey Maids, which he would then spread with peanut butter and serve alongside apple slices. “It was the best snack in the world,” he says. “I felt virtuous, the kids were happy, and the parents were happy.” Few foods provide comfort like the magical graham cracker. To eat one makes us feel loved and cared for, and to feed one to our children makes us feel like we’ve gotten something real into their little bellies.
This homemade version is, perhaps, less virtuous than the Reverend Graham intended, but I’d say the love kneaded into a homemade graham cracker works even better to make us feel like we’re feeding our children real food. The combination of honey and brown sugar gives the cookies a gentle sweetness, and I’ve replaced the graham flour with a combination of whole wheat, rye, and all-purpose flour. I predict they’ll go over well with your children, and the flour combination creates a depth of flavor adults seem to feel pretty excited about too.
This is a simple dough that comes together in a few minutes in a stand mixer—then chills in the fridge for a bit. The key here is to roll the dough as thin as you can, then cut it with whatever tool you prefer. I use a little wooden tool called a jagger that I recovered from my grandmother’s kitchen tools. It creates a slightly ruffled edge, which I love. Serve your graham crackers with nut butter, or (need I even say it?) stack with chocolate and charred homemade marshmallows for your very own s’mores.
Makes 45 to 50 2-by-3-inch crackers
1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (4 1/2 ounces) whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup (1 3/4 ounces) rye flour, plus additional for the counter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 cup (2 ounces) packed dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
4 tablespoons non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening (I use Earth Balance), cut into 1-inch cubes
4 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the all-purpose, whole-wheat, and rye flours with the salt, baking soda, baking powder, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, and brown sugar. Mix for 10 seconds using the paddle attachment, then add the butter and shortening. Mix on medium speed for 30 seconds.
2. Combine the honey and vanilla with 1/4 cup cold water in a liquid measuring cup and stir to combine until the honey is mostly dissolved. With the mixer running on medium- low speed, slowly pour the honey mixture into the bowl, giving the mixture time to absorb the liquid. Continue to mix for another 20 seconds, or until the dough comes together. It will still be slightly crumbly. Push the dough into a ball, wrap it in wax paper, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, and up to 3 days. The dough can be wrapped and frozen at this point.
3. Take the dough out of the refrigerator about 20 minutes before you are ready to bake. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the dough in half, and lay one half between two sheets of wax or parchment paper dusted with rye flour. Roll the dough as thin as you can get it, ideally 1/8 inch. It will still be slightly crumbly, but just press it back together and keep rolling. Use a pizza wheel, jagger, or knife to cut 2-by-3-inch rectangles. Use a spatula to separate the rectangles from the wax paper and set them on a lightly greased baking sheet. The crackers won’t spread, so they can be quite close. Reroll any scraps and repeat—then repeat again with the second half of the dough.
4. In a small bowl, combine the remaining 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon with the granulated sugar. Sprinkle the crackers with the cinnamon mixture and prick the dough several times with a fork. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until just starting to brown at the edges. Cool on a wire rack. The crackers are great out of the oven, but their flavor and texture improves the next day.