Monday, February 2, 2009

The home iteration

It's been a busy week.

I had to travel to Washington, DC, for a business trip that was extended by one full day due to a storm that dumped more than a foot of snow on Northeast Ohio. Not that I'm complaining. Though I missed my pup, it was nice to have the extra day in DC to explore the National Zoo and eat sweet treats from Georgetown Cupcake.

But hanging out with Nile hippos and snacking on red velvet cupcakes has a price and that price, my friends, is a lack of posts. So for those of you who checked in last week looking for some recipes for Super Bowl Sunday (congratulations, Steelers!), I apologize. It's just that sometimes giant pandas get in the way of consistent blogging.

But here I am, never fear, and today I wield something particularly fun and delicious: homemade graham crackers. Graham crackers fall into that category of foods we rarely think to make from scratch. You know, foods like ketchup, regular crackers, homemade cheese, et. al. Personally, I rather enjoy tackling these "staples" and seeing if my at-home version measures up. More often than not, the home iteration is much tastier than the store-bought and, in most cases, said foodstuff isn't very time-consuming or difficult to make at all. Such is the case with graham crackers. It's all about having the right ingredients on hand. Next time you think of it, pick up some graham flour, molasses, dark brown sugar and aluminum-free baking powder. These ingredients have decent shelf lives, and you'll always have what you need on hand should you get a hankering for homemade graham crackers.

For me, graham crackers are the snack food of champions. I eat them plain, with a tall cool glass of skim milk, for breakfast, with peanut butter, with jam (though never with peanut butter and jam; I am somewhat of a PB&J segregationist). Oh, and of course I eat them with a nice square of rich milk chocolate and a roasty toasty marshmallow sandwiched between...homemade graham crackers take the s'more to a rarefied place indeed.

I spent the better part of last week -- when I wasn't observing gorilla behavior and, naturally, attending my important work seminar -- thinking about homemade graham crackers. Thank goodness the snow let up so I could make it home to bake a batch.


Adapted from Alton Brown

As those of you who watch him know, Mr. Brown, though brilliant, relies heavily on measuring ingredients by weight. (Perhaps this is a source of his brilliance.) However beneficial to the art of baking, it is a bit tedious and is only possible with the correct kitchen equipment. I've said it before and I'll say it again: the kitchen scale is your friend. Your very best friend.

Meanwhile, you should see Alton's original recipe. It gives measurements like "1 7/8 oz." My equipment is not sophisticated enough for this level of precision, so I've rounded here and there. The recipe still works very well.

8 1/2 oz. graham flour
2 oz. all-purpose flour
3 oz. dark brown sugar
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. kosher salt
1/8 t. cinnamon
3 oz. unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes and chilled
2 oz. unsulphured molasses
1 1/2 oz. whole milk
1/2 t. vanilla extract

In the bowl of a food processor, combine both flours, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Pulse several times to combine.

Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles cornmeal. Add the molasses, milk and vanilla and process until the mixture forms a ball, about 1 minute. Press the ball into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Unwrap the chilled dough and place it onto a large piece of parchment paper, then top it with a second piece of parchment. Roll out the dough until it is 1/8-inch thick. Slide the rolled dough, still between the parchment, onto a baking sheet. Remove the top sheet of parchment and cut the dough into 2-inch square pieces using a pizza cutter. Trim off any excess. Using a fork, poke holes all over the dough. (You can roll out the scraps again, between two new pieces of parchment, and bake them on a second baking sheet once the first batch is out of the oven.)

Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the edges just begin to darken. Remove from the oven, set the entire pan on a wire rack and let cool completely. 

Once completely cool, gently score the crackers along the lines with a serrated knife, then carefully break into individual crackers. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Makes 24-32 crackers, depending on if you roll out the dough scraps.

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