Monday, February 22, 2010

Homemade Graham Crackers

Well. I don't know about you, but I've decided that few things are more frustrating than spending exorbitant amounts of time and dirty dishes making something from scratch and then realizing that, all things considered, you actually prefer the stuff from the can (I'm looking at you, enchilada sauce). But despite the possibility of such a situation, I always get an unnatural charge out of making typically store-bought things from scratch. There's just something nerdily satisfying about finding a way to take familiar things to some other-worldly level that makes you think that perhaps you've never really had the real thing at all (see also: marshmallows, ice cream). Such was the case with these homemade graham crackers.

I started thinking about homemade graham crackers forever ago, and bookmarked it in my mind at a time when my brain was supple and unfettered enough to be trusted to hold long-term thoughts. And then I had a baby, and forgot all about doing something as crazy as making homemade graham crackers. But then toddlerhood came along, and graham crackers became akin to currency, and I suddenly thought to shake the dust off that old idea to try making them from scratch. Also, my latest trip to Miette Patisserie here in San Francisco left me completely unable to shake them.

Have I mentioned how obsessed I am with Miette? Stepping into one of their shops is like being enveloped with design inspiration, everything from the cupcakes to the wallpaper, much in the way that going into an Anthropologie store renders me hypnotized and despising every home furnishing I own, and overcome with the need to replace them exclusively with items from that place. Kitschy lamps! Vintage fabric drapes! Delicate tea cups on display!

And then I remember that I have a tiny bull living in my personal china shop and I've found it pointless to even hang drapes at all and that all potentially breakable items in the entire house live crowded on our fireplace mantle at an un-Little C-friendly height and I cry a little. At least when I go to Miette I can come home with something that is still inspiring, but edible, as to not need precious placement in our house. And one of my recent purchases were their utterly addictive graham crackers.

At seven bucks a pop for a short stack, naturally you'd hope Miette's graham crackers far surpass the store-bought variety that comes in those brown wax-papery sleeves. And lo, they do. The thing is, they're not really like any graham cracker I've ever tried--these are intensely buttery with the most incredible snap, and not at all crumbly or dry. The flavor here is complex with earthy whole wheat flour, dark brown sugar and a touch of honey and cinnamon that reminds you that, oh yes, this is supposed to be a graham cracker.

What's more, I can't think of anything more versatile that's come out of the Piece of Cake kitchen as of late. I wholeheartedly recommend them for ice cream sandwiches and s'mores--they're even more sturdy than the kind you'd buy at the store and hold up well to freezing and long-term storage, a total workhorse cookie, if you will. Of course, they're also perfect for just plain eating with a glass of cold milk or some tea from a pretty little mug, like my single Anthropologie-esque teacup that I keep on lockdown when not in use. Just an idea there for you.

Homemade Graham Crackers
Adapted from Miette Patisserie, San Francisco

The key to getting the crispiest cookies with an awesome "snap" is to roll the dough very thin--try for as close to 1/8 of an inch as you can. This is a very buttery, soft dough--be sure to chill it completely before rolling and then again chilling the cut cookies well before baking them, otherwise they will be maddeningly difficult to work with and will spread during baking.

Makes about 4 dozen 2 1/2-inch cookies

2 cups flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour (I like stone-ground organic flour)
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I like the punch of Vietnamese cinnamon)
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling (optional)

Position an oven rack to the center position and preheat it to 350. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

Whisk together flour, wheat flour, salt and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, cream together the butter and brown sugar, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl, and beat in the honey. Stir in dry ingredients on low speed. Scrape the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap and pat it into a disc, wrap well. Refrigerate until firm but still pliable, about one hour.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll out very thin, about an 1/8-inch thick (you can gather the dough scraps and reroll as necessary). Cut out cookies with a 2 to 3-inch cookie cutter and place on the prepared baking sheets, a dozen per sheet. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar if desired. Chill the cut cookies on the sheets for at least 15 minutes before baking. Bake 14 to 16 minutes until golden. Let the cookies set for a minute before transferring them to a rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for a week or more.

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