Who doesn’t love a graham cracker, which pairs so wonderfully with milk, peanut butter, chocolate, and roasted marshmallows? I came across some graham flour from Bob’s Red Mill and had the idea of recreating a wholesome graham cracker recipe, with the same distinct graham cracker flavor that we all know and love, but without the additives that the modern day cracker contains.
In order to come up with my recipe, I went on a mission to find out a comprehensive history of the graham cracker—When was it invented? Why is it called graham cracker? How has the recipe evolved over time? I think you will find my findings very interesting.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, the definition of a graham cracker is: A slightly sweet, usually rectangular cracker made with whole-wheat flour.
Well, at least the food manufacturing companies got the shape of the cracker right.
The graham cracker was created in 1829 by a Presbyterian minister, Sylvester Graham, as part of his dietary reform regimen. The movement was largely in response to the popularity of chemical additives and refined white flour in bakeries during the Industrial Revolution.
The original graham cracker was made with a special type of unsifted whole wheat flour, known as graham flour. The components of the wheat kernel are ground separately—the endosperm is ground finely (which is essentially white flour), and the bran and germ are ground coarsely. Once combined, a course-textured flour is formed that is nutritious and bakes well. A substitute for graham flour would be 1 cup white flour, about 5 tablespoons wheat bran and 1½ teaspoons wheat germ.
Due to the popularity of graham crackers, in 1925 a company known as the National Biscuit Company (now Nabisco) sweetened the cracker with honey and developed methods for its mass production. The Nabisco graham cracker that we find in the grocery store snack isle today contains refined bleached flour, high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils and “artificial flavor” (whatever that means).
My sister Renee, who studied abroad in London, would be happy to know that the American graham cracker equivalent in England is the Digestive, made by a company called McVitie’s. Like graham crackers, digestives are made with coarse wheat flour and boast a long history, remaining a popular snack today. You can find the crackers (or biscuits) in stores that have imported ethnic foods. Beware of the dark chocolate variety—they’re delicious and addictive.
After sorting through the ingredients of homemade graham cracker recipes and commercial varieties, I had come up with a recipe for a true graham cracker that I thought would rival the store-bought kind. I was pleased with the result and encourage you to make them yourself if you ever come across graham flour, because like I mentioned before...who doesn't like a graham cracker?
Homemade Graham Crackers
1 ¾ cup graham flour
½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch chunks
1/3 cup honey
2 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large organic egg
For the topping
3 tablespoons fine natural sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Add the butter and cut it into the flour mixture with a pastry cutter until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, molasses, milk, vanilla and egg. Add to the flour mixture and mix with a wooden spoon until the dough barely comes together. It will be soft and sticky.
3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 2 hours.
4. To make the topping, in a small bowl combine the sugar and cinnamon and set aside.
5. Sift an even layer of flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. The dough will be sticky, so flour as necessary. Trim the edges and cut into individual rectangles (mine were about 3 x 4 inches). Gather the scraps together and use to make additional crackers (you may have to refrigerate for 15 minutes if the dough becomes too soft). Place the crackers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets and sprinkle with the topping. Chill until firm, about 30 minutes.
6. Adjust the oven rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
7. Using a toothpick or large fork, prick the dough to form two dotted rows.
8. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the tough, rotating the sheets halfway through to ensure even baking.