It’s hard to believe, but after scouring Whole Foods and the Internet I was unable to find a single box of graham crackers that could be considered “FODMAP friendly.” Even gluten free varieties were chock full of potential IBS trigger foods like honey, garfava flour, inulin, and agave. I cannot claim a childhood fondness for the crackers, or point to any specific source for my hankering for these old-school American classics. But as with so many of the projects I have taken on in the past, I had caught the whiff of a challenge and was determined to see it through.
For home bakers wanting to try their hand at homemade renditions of supermarket staples, the foreign sounding ingredients listed on the side of the carton may make the product seem impossible to replicate in ones own kitchen. But as with so many grocery store treats, modern graham crackers can find their roots in a simpler historical classic. Graham crackers were the brainchild of 19th century Presbyterian minister Sylvester Graham. Perhaps taking inspiration from centuries old beliefs in the power of certain foods to enliven sexual appetite, Graham felt that a diet chock-full of bland grain based biscuits and breads would relieve America’s youth of their “unhealthy” urges and enable them to be better citizens and more diligent contributors to the Great American Society. While no scientific evidence has ever surfaced that upholds Graham’s theory, his crackers certainly caught on and have become an American classic.
To me, even more interesting than the genesis of Graham’s “crackers” is the special Graham flour from which they are made. Unlike a traditional whole wheat flour, which is made by finely grinding the entire wheat kernel to form a fine flour, Graham Flour is separated into its composite parts and the endosperm is finely ground as though to produce a traditional white flour and the bran and germ are ground separately into a coarser meal. The ground bran and germ is then recombined with the white flour to form a dually textured whole wheat flour. Aside from his eponymous flour, Grahams initial recipe most likely consisted of very few ingredients and was almost assuredly less sweet than Nabisco’s famous modern spinoff. The recipe below was developed with a blend of white and whole wheat spelt flours to create the textural contrast that makes traditional grahams so interesting and irresistible. While the below listed recipe bears closer resemblance to the modern variety then Graham’s bland biscuits, they are not overly sweet, and with a decipherable list of ingredients these biscuits would hopefully be wholesome enough to entice Sylvester, himself.
Part of the beauty of making your own renditions of grocery store classics is that design and shaping of the cookies is entirely up to you. You can cut the crackers into long rectangles like the traditional variety with an indentation across the centerline so that the crackers can be broken in two halves. Alternatively, if you are planning to use the crackers for s’mores, you may want to cut the mass into ready-made 2″ squares. Smitten Kitchen provided much of the inspiration for this recipe. On her site, Deb gives great direction on the shaping of the grahams and makes a break from the “norm” by using a fluted pastry cutter to create a scalloped edge. Fluted cutters can be found on Amazon, I noted that Ateco also makes a fluted edge square cookie cutter, which would be great for making uniform crackers without the need for any careful measuring.
The more evenly you are able to cut the crackers, the better. Not only will evenly sized crackers look impressive, but they will bake at a more even pace. To make the pinpoint design in the crackers, snip the end off of a toothpick and lightly press evenly spaced indents into the dough. The cinnamon sugar topping is definitely optional, the dough itself is already a tad sweet (I think it is slightly less sweet than commercially made grahams) and the crackers make a beautiful foil for rich dark chocolate and toasted marshmallows. If you are planning to eat the crackers as cookies on their own you may want to include the topping in order to push them into the decidedly “sweet” category.
Wheat Free Graham Crackers
180g (1 1/2 C) White Spelt Flour
60g (1/2 C) Whole Spelt Flour
48g (~1/3 C) Buckwheat Flour
48g (~1/3 C) Oat Flour
1 TSP Baking Soda
1/4 TSP Kosher Salt
176g (1 C) Dark Brown Sugar (Lightly Packed)
100g (7 TBSP) Unsalted Butter, Cut Into Small Cubes and Frozen
114g (1/3 C) Maple Syrup
77g (5 TBSP) Whole Milk
27g (2 TBSP) Vanilla Extract
For The Topping
43g (3 TBSP) Granulated Sugar
5g (1 TSP) Ground Cinnamon
To make the dough, place the flours, baking soda, salt, and brown sugar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse lightly to mix.
In a separate bowl whisk together the maple syrup, milk, and vanilla. Set aside.
Open the lid of the food processor, pull the butter out of the freezer and distribute atop the flour mixture. Return the lid to its upright and locked position and pulse until it resembles a fine gravel. Add the maple mixture to the flour and butter and pulse until the dough just comes together. Gather the dough together into a rough ball, being careful not to overwork it. Place the dough on a piece of plastic film and wrap tightly. Chill the dough for at least two hours or, alternatively, overnight. While the dough chills mix together the sugar and cinnamon for the topping and set aside.
Once the dough has sufficiently chilled and you are ready to begin rolling out the grahams, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a clean work surface (either a cutting board or flat counter space) and set out a pizza cutter, rolling pin, and ruler (the longer the better.) Dust the workspace with a light coating of flour. I typically keep a shaker filled with flour on hand to dust work surfaces when working with cookie and pie doughs, it also comes in handy for lightly coating fish or chicken fillets for pan frying. I personally like to fill a shaker with gluten free flour to minimize any potential FODMAP interaction but if you are not GF feel free to use whatever (white) flour you have on hand. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and separate out 1/3 of the mixture, re-wrap the remaining 2/3 and return it to the fridge.
Lightly dust the rolling pin and roll the dough mass into an evenly shaped rectangle approximately 1/8″ thick. While rolling the dough, periodically flip or turn the rectangle to ensure it is not sticking to the work surface. When you have obtained an even thickness across the entire mass trim off any uneven edges and determine a suitable size for the crackers. (Please see the note above for more insight on determining the right size and shape for your crackers.) Once the grahams have been cut, remove them to parchment lined cookie sheets leaving about 1″ between the squares.
If you wish to decorate the graham crackers with the traditional pinpoint perforated pattern, using a blunted toothpick or wooden skewer lightly indent the cookies in a regular pattern, being careful not to puncture through the bottom of the dough. Lightly dust the tops of the crackers with the cinnamon and sugar mixture and place in the preheated oven to bake for approximately 15 minutes, or until deeply golden. While the first batch bakes, roll, slice, decorate and top the remaining dough and repeat the baking process. Allow the crackers to cool completely on drying racks before packing away in tins or Tupperware.
Its a beautiful thing when you find two ingredients that truly marry well together. Like a good relationship this melding of flavors is a partnership of sorts, where each player complements the other, bringing out the best in its partner without losing any of it’s own shine. Cooking is full of classic flavor pairings, cool mint and creamy chocolate, gamey smokey bacon and pungent sharp onions, vine ripened tomatoes and fresh creamy mozzarella cheese, and a springtime favorite – supple sweet strawberries and tangy woodsy rhubarb.
Every time I think of great pairings a scene from Ratatouille springs to mind, if you don’t know the movie, or don’t know the scene I am referencing, let me try my hand at telling the story. It all starts with a rat with somewhat discerning tastes. This cute friend, who is also the stories protagonist, ventures out with his brother in search of some good ingredients from the local garbage bin. Remy, our rat friend, finds a chanterelle mushroom, a nugget of tomme cheese, some rosemary, and grass dew drops. He treks to the top of a roof to try to roast the mushroom over the exhaust to meld the flavors when he is struck by lightening. He falls from the roof, mushroom in hand, and when he comes to he finds that he has created an amazing cheesy woodsy creation on a stick.
By no means do strawberries and rhubarb remind me of dumpster diving, or, fortunately, of lightening toasted rodents, but Remy’s revelation on how flavors meet to produce a heightened experience for the diner, is one that most good cooks are well familiar with. It’s this simultaneous transformation and showcasing of raw ingredients that drives myself, and so many other cooks, to experiment with flavors in the kitchen. I had seem a recipe for barley scones in “Good to the Grain,” which put a new spin on the idea of partnering jam and scones by sandwiching a tangy layer of between two sweet and buttery rounds of barley based dough. I wanted to adapt the recipe to fit a scheme I had to make a rhubarb jam from some beautiful stalks I found at the market.
As if the duo of Strawberries and Rhubarb aren’t enough to make you want to try these scones, the combination of these two with the sweet nuttiness of Barley Flour truly pushes these scones into rave-worthy territory. Barley flour is simply made from milled barley. It can be substituted 1:1 for 1/3 of the all purpose flour called for in most baking dishes without diminishing the integrity of the dish. It makes a nice alternative to white or even whole wheat flour not only because of its great flavor, but because with fewer calories per cup and far more fiber, it has greater nutritional value as well. Hopefully tasting these scones you will have a ratatouille moment of your own – so go on and give them a try, and if you are suddenly struck by an impulse to add a spark of your own flavor – go for it!
Barley Scones with Strawberries and Rhubarb
For the Scone Dough
1 C Plus 2 TBSP Barley Flour
1 C All Purpose Flour
1/4 C Dark Brown Sugar
2 TSP Baking Powder
1/2 TSP Baking Soda
1 1/4 TSP Kosher Salt
8 TBSP Cold Unsalted Butter Cut into Small Cubes
1/2 C Whole Buttermilk
10 Medium Strawberries Diced
For the Jam
4-5 Stalks Rhubarb, Diced
3/4 Cup Sugar
4-5 Thick Strips of Lemon Peel
2 TBSP Lemon Juice
2 TBSP White Wine
2 TBSP Melted Butter, Cooled Slightly
2 TBSP Sugar
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse dry ingredients until well mixed. Add butter pieces and pulse in 4-5 short (1-2 second) spurts until batter looks sandy. Add buttermilk and egg and pulse until just incorporated. Add strawberries and pulse once or twice for a second each time to distribute.
Turn scone dough out onto a floured surface and divide in half. Pat each half into flat rounds and wrap with plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator to chill while you make the jam (chill for a min of 1 hour.)
To make the jam, place rhubarb, and sugar in a sauté pan and cook over medium heat, stirring, until rhubarb releases its juices, and sugar dissolves. Allow the mixture to come to a low boil, add lemon peel & juice and wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fruit breaks down and the jam is thick, this should take 12-15 mins. Remove from heat and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before moving on to the scone assembly.
To assemble the scones, preheat the oven to 350 degrees, line a cookie pan with a silpat mat or parchment paper and set aside. Remove scone dough from the refrigerator, place on a lightly floured surface and roll each round into a 7 inch circle. Select one round to be the bottom, smear this round with 3-4 TBSP of your homemade jam. Place the other round on top of the jam smeared circle and press just slightly on the top. Brush the top lightly with melted butter, sprinkle with sugar. Cut into 8 equally sized wedges. It is best to rinse the knife with cold water between slices to keep the cuts clean. Place scones on prepared pan, leaving at least two inches between scones. Bake for 22-26 minutes, rotating the tray half way through baking. Once the scones are lightly brown and fairly fragrant remove from oven and place on a drying rack to cool. Allow to cool for 5-10 mins before removing from the tray. These are unbelievably delicious served straight from the oven, but should ideally be eaten the day they are made, this may mean you have to invite others to share, but your friends and family will thank you for it!