Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Peanut Butter Graham Crackers

Ah, crispy flatbreads! That's pretty much what crackers are. And while some store-bought graham crackers can be oversweetened to the point where they begin to wander into the cookie aisle, the original graham crackers were developed as health food by the early 19th century diet reformer Sylvester Graham.

While today's graham crackers aren't the same as ones promoted by Graham, they're still a relatively healthy option, with lots of fiber from the whole wheat. But that's not why I eat them. As far as I'm concerned, graham crackers are given space in my pantry because they're the perfect vehicle for peanut butter. I'll admit to eating them plain or using them in the occasional pie crust once in a while, but the majority of graham crackers around here disappear under a smear of peanut butter. To me, that's the perfect quick and satisfying snack.

But why stop at putting peanut butter onto the graham crackers? Why not put some in the crackers as well?

Not too long ago, I decided to make some graham crackers, but I couldn't find a recipe that looked good. They all seemed to be too sweet or too austere, or the ingredients just didn't sound appealing. So I created my own recipe. While those were good, I knew that I'd be be back fiddling with the recipe to see what else I could do to make them different.

For this version I added smooth peanut butter, and the flour was a coarsely ground whole wheat flour that came from my local farmer's market. It's similar in texture to graham flour that I've bought before, but depending on the seller, graham flour can mean a number of different things. For the purposes of this recipe, any whole wheat flour should be fine, but white whole wheat would probably be a bit pale.

There's not a massive amount of peanut butter in these, so the effect is subtle in terms of peanut flavor. However, the peanut butter adds a nice richness to the crackers.

I've given instructions using a stand mixer, but this could be done with a sturdy hand mixer, although it's prettty dense at the end. Or mix by hand. It doesn't have to be kneaded, just mixed really well.

For those who've requested it, I'm making an effort at both measuring and weighing the flour.
Peanut Butter Graham Crackers

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup peanut butter
3 1/4 cups (14.25 oz.) whole wheat flour
1/2 cup water
Additional flour, for rolling

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter, sugar and maple syrup with the paddle attachment until the mixture is light. Scrape down the bowl as needed.

Add the salt, baking soda, vanilla, and peanut butter and beat well.

Add the flour in thirds, alternating with the water, beginning and ending with the flour. Beat until well combined and it can form a cohesive ball.

Remove the dough from the bowl, wrap it in plastic (or put it in a plastic bag) and let it rest in the fridge overnight.

When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line three cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Divide the dough into 3 pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll the first piece to a rectangle of about 10x12 inches, then move the dough to the first  parchment-lined cookie sheet..

With a pastry cutter (for a zigzag edge) or a pizza wheel or knife, trim the edges of the dough so that it's straight and square. Cut it lengthwise so you've got two 5x12 pieces, and then make three cuts in the other direction, so you've got 8 pieces that are about 3x5 inches. If you want to be precise, measure. If you like the homemade look, just eyeball the cuts.

There's no need to separate the pieces, you'll break them apart later.

If you want graham crackers that can be easily cracked into smaller pieces, score the pieces, but don't cut all the way through. Last, use a fork to poke holes in each piece. A decorative pattern is nice, or just poke a few holes. Repeat the rolling and cutting with the other pieces of dough.

Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the crackers begin to brown just a little. Let them cool on the cookie sheet before breaking off the ragged edges you trimmed (these are a treat for the baker) and then break them into crackers.

The crackers will be soft when you take them out of the oven, but they should harden to a crackery crispness as they cool.

If they don't harden, you can pop them back into the oven for a few more minutes of baking.

Let them cool and dry out completely before storing them in any sort of closed bag or container. If they're completely dry and crispy, they'll store well for a long time, just like any cracker.

They look good, don't they?

This recipe was also published on Serious Eats.