Virtuously Coarse and Unrefined

Virtuously Coarse and Unrefined

Graham Crackers 002-001I remember reading about the creation of the ubiquitous graham cracker. It was a Presbyterian pastor by the name of Sylvester Graham, who decided that the reason children were so ill behaved and un-Godly those days was because they were eating too much refined flour. So, around 1829, he (or possibly, was it his wife?) created a snack made from coarsely ground wheat and just a bit of sugar to temper the impulsive behavior of those little heathens. It probably worked, until the Girl Scouts s’mored them out with marshmallows and Hershey bars.

Graham wasn’t the first to blame impulsive behavior on refined flour, however. The French, back in the day, wrote laws against the lower classes eating white bread for the same reason. It was felt that only the upper classes had the ability to handle the lustful vigor that refined flour bestowed.

But me? Freshly ground whole grains is where I live, and they work especially well in crackers. Crackers really show off the natural nuttiness and deeply satisfying crunch that only whole grains can muster. Lord help me! I have this incurable romantic vision of old fashioned ‘biscuits’, you know those ‘digestives’  you find in British tea stores, made from oat or wheat meal… the kind you dunk into coffee or tea? You tend not to binge on them because they are kind of heavy, but so satisfying on an afternoon when you are hungry and want something to comfort you and hold you over until dinner. That’s what I’m talking about. Yeah, I’ll say it right here. I even have a lust for grahams. Not so much what they are today, but what they could be, if they only dared.

I’m always trying to make them–coarse and unrefined, the way that would make our Sylvester G. proud (if pride weren’t a sin). Alas,  they never turn out crispy enough. I’ve tried without success to make a truly crispy-crunchy whole grain cracker for years. And today, it finally happened.  I found a graham cracker recipe by Kim Boyce in her wonderful cookbook Good to the Grain. She turned me onto the secret ingredient, teff flour! You might have heard of it in the Ethiopian bread ‘injera’, but somehow, it really puts the crisp into the cracker. Starting with Kim’s recipe, I made a few changes, leaving out the white flour and replacing half the butter with water; and the final technique that really took the cake was cooking the thinly rolled crackers on pre-heated cast iron. Glory be… I’ve just secured myself a place in heaven–at least during four o’clock tea!Real Graham Crackers 002


  • 1 3/4 graham flour (or freshly ground hard winter wheat)
  • 1/2 cup teff flour
  • 1/2 cup sucanat (or brown sugar)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon unsulphured molasses
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • very finely chopped nuts (optional–but really, when are chopped nuts not a good idea?)

1. Whisk together the dry ingredients (up to an including the spices) in a large bowl.

2. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the melted butter, water, honey, molasses, and milk. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, and stir until well mixed. Shape this into balls the size of a large orange. You can wrap them, then press them into 1-inch thick disks, and refrigerate if you don’t want to cook them right away.

3. Preheat an oven to 350°F. If you have a cast iron griddle, place that into the oven to heat. If not, a cookie sheet will do. Roll one of the balls between two sheets of parchment paper (keeping in mind the shape of your griddle) and roll 1/8 inch thick. If you have too much, just throw it back into the bowl.  Gently remove the top sheet of parchment from the dough, and sprinkle the dough with the chopped nuts, if using.Graham Crackers 004-001

4. Remove the griddle or cookie sheet from the oven. Place the dough and bottom parchment onto the heated surface and bake for about 10 minutes. Remove from oven, and quickly while still warm, slice the sheet into squares or rectangles (I prefer 1 1/2 inch squares.) Once the crackers have cooled a bit, they should crisp up. If they have, you can remove them (keeping them on the parchment) to a cooling rack. Otherwise, put them back in the oven for a few more minutes until they do crisp up, without turning too brown.

5. Store in an airtight container. I don’t know how long they will last, they probably won’t make it through the day at my house.






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