Graham Crackers: Eat Them or Go Blind

| July 31, 2009 | 4 Comments
  • 4 Comments

graham crackersI am suddenly turned on by the thought of graham crackers. And that is just the sort of attitude that would make Reverend Graham turn in his grave, since I am undoing all of his good work. Not Billy Graham. He’s still (barely) alive, though he also may not approve. I’m talking Sylvester Graham, the inventor of the eponymous cracker.

The graham cracker was created in tandem with the Graham Diet, which advocated fresh fruits and vegetables, whole wheat, and lots of fiber, and denounced meats, alcohol, and spices. Dairy was to be used sparingly. A forefather of Dr. Kellogg and his cornflake-fueled sanitarium, Graham firmly believed that a bland diet would prevent people from having impure thoughts, therefore preventing masturbation (which Graham believed lead to blindness and insanity).

Yes, that is correct. The graham cracker was originally invented to curb sexual desire. I think that is a lot to ask from a cracker, don’t you?

Small wonder graham crackers play no major role in my adult life, save at the bottom of the occasional pie or cheesecake, but they were an ever-present staple in my household throughout my childhood. It’s enough to make me think my crafty mother was fully aware of this cracker’s mystical, anti-inflammatory powers.

How clever, too, the scoutmasters of this country for popularizing the s’more. Leaving a group of adolescent boys out in the wild seems to be asking for trouble, but stuff them with enough graham crackers and parents can rest assured that the only sticks those boys will be rubbing together will be to make a campfire.

If you uncover any more graham cracker-related conspiracies, please contact me. I need to know.

If the heat of summer has got you all sweaty and lathered, I propose cooling your jets with some homemade graham crackers. For extra measure, substitute saltpeter for cinnamon in the topping as listed in the recipe below.

Graham Crackers

Everyone seems to be in agreement that Nancy Silverton‘s recipe for these beauties is the very last word, so who am I to argue? Here is her recipe, more or less. Mostly more.

Makes about 10 4″ crackers or 20 2″ ones. The math is easy.

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached pastry or all-purpose flour. Unbleached. Dr. Graham loathed bleached flours, so please bear that in mind.
1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen
1/3 cup honey (mildly flavored, like clover)
5 tablespoons whole milk
2 tablespoons vanilla extract

For the topping:
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preparation:

1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, combine the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Pulse just enough to incorporate the ingredients. Add butter and pulse until mixture is the consistency of coarse meal.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, milk, and vanilla extract. Add to the flour mixture and pulse until the dough just comes together. Don’t worry, it’s supposed to be sticky.

3. Turn dough onto a lightly-floured work surface and pat the dough into a rectangle about 1 inch in thickness. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm; anywhere from 2 hours to overnight.

4. Prepare the topping by combining sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Set aside.

5. Divide the dough in half and return the unused half to the refrigerator. Sift an even layer of flour onto your work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle about 1/8″ think. The dough will still be sticky, so flour as needed. Trim the edges of the rectangle to 4″ wide. Working with the short side that should be facing you, cut the strip every 4 1/2″. (I chose to make mine 2″ wide, but that is a personal preference.) Place crackers on a parchment-lined baking sheet, sprinkle with topping, and refrigerate. Repeat rolling and cutting actions with the second half of the dough. If you are frugal and not lazy, gather the remaining dough scraps, re-form, refrigerate and repeat. The crackers should chill to firm for another 30 to 45 minutes.

6. Preheat your oven to 350º F and adjust the oven racks to the upper and lower positions.

7. Make a vertical line through the middle of the crackers, being careful not to cut all the way through the dough. Score them. That’s the better word. Prick the dough in decorative rows. But not too many. Mine look rather like dominoes.

8. Bake for 25 minutes, until browned and slightly firm-to-tough. Rotate baking sheet (or sheets, depending on how many you are making) half way through baking to ensure an even doneness.

9. Let the them and your passions cool, put on a nice Andy Williams album, place a cracker or two in the unhairy palm of your hand and enjoy with a wholesome glass of milk.

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Category: baking and bakeries, food history and celebrities, recipes

About the Author ()

I am terribly fond of martinis, Edward Gorey, and sleeping with many pillows. You are more than welcome to follow me on Twitter: @procopster
  • Tony Bicknell

    I doubt l will make the cookies but the history lesson was the funniest thing l’ve read in a long time. Thanks for helping me to laugh out loud at the end of a Monday work day. TB

  • kbellesis

    Why the Vaseline in your photo….

  • http://michaelprocopio.wordpress.com/ Michael Procopio

    Why the Vaseline, you ask? Well, one answer I can offer you is this:

    In the days before digital photography, people used all sorts of tricks to get the effects they wanted. For example, if a photographer wanted to make an older woman look younger, he or she often smeared the camera lens with Vaseline to give her an attractive, if hazy, softened look. Think Joan Collins in Dynasty. Or Lucille Ball in Mame.

    That’s not the real reason for the Vaseline, of course, but it will have to do, since it is totally against my nature and better judgement to ever explain a visual joke.

  • JE

    Iiii get the joke… :D

    -a reformed prepubescent.