Light, crisp and sweet with a hint of spices to balance them, these graham crackers are surprisingly easy to make and very moreish!
Whenever we visit the States, my mum and I always buy a box of Graham crackers to snack on (and some to bring home to the UK!). They have such a light, airy texture to them and a strong scent of vanilla, it’s very easy to eat a lot of them in one go.
What is the UK equivalent of a graham cracker?
We don’t really have anything that is specifically like a graham cracker in the UK. In cheesecake bases where recipes indicate using graham cracker crumbs, we would typically use digestive biscuits. Digestives are slightly similar in that they are quite plain, wholegrain-y, crisp ‘biscuits’/cookies. They have a very different flavour and texture though so it’s not really the same thing (however they will do in recipes like the cheesecake base mentioned).
What is the ‘graham’ in graham crackers?
Unlike what me and Andy joke about, ‘Graham’ is not just some dude who realllly likes crackers. It refers to the specific type of flour – graham flour- used in the crackers. It’s a fine, whole wheat flour which seems pretty hard to get hold of outside of the US. The flour itself IS named after a dude though – Sylvester Graham – who looooved him some whole grains! I just use a wholemeal pastry flour which has a low protein content to make sure the crackers are tender. You can’t use a wholemeal bread flour here as that will make the dough heavy.
What gives graham crackers their flavour?
In regular graham crackers, the flavour comes from honey, cinnamon and vanilla. I’ve found that the vanilla flavouring used commercially is an artificial vanilla flavouring which is particularly strong. So, if you want to mimic that specific flavour, you’ll need to get some of the clear vanilla imitation flavouring (e.g. this Wilton one). You can use a ‘real’ vanilla extract in the dough but it will taste less like the shop bought ones.
I’ve used golden syrup in these crackers instead of honey as I prefer the flavour and I like the very crisp texture you get in the end. I’ve tested them with a runny, light honey too and that works well (plus is easier to get in some parts of the world).
How are graham crackers made?
A dough is formed from dry ingredients of the whole wheat flour, cinnamon, salt, sugar and raising agents. I like to use baker’s ammonia (ammonium bicarbonate) as the raising agent as it provides the lightest, crispest texture to baked goods like this. However, you can use bicarbonate of soda as I know most people won’t have baker’s ammonia to hand! I add a lil bit of ground cardamom to the dough as well for a slightly spicy, background note.
We rub butter (or vegan butter) into the dry ingredients which coats the flour particles in fat, preventing some gluten formation once the liquids are added. That helps to give a nice ‘short’ (i.e. crumbly, snappy) texture to the crackers and prevents them becoming chewy.
Last of all, the wet ingredients – some syrup, a bit of milk and the vanilla. That’s mixed until we get a soft dough and then chilled so it gets less sticky and easier to roll out.
I like to roll the chilled disk out on a piece of baking paper so that I can get the dough really thin. I score the dough and then bake it straight on the same piece of baking paper. I also dock the dough before baking – I used a chopstick end (a la Bravetart) to get a more authentic look. You can use a fork to dock it though to speed things up! The docking helps the dough rise more evenly and become less puffy when baking. I bake the dough as one huge sheet so that as it spreads, the lines stay straight. If you cut them and bake the crackers as individual squares, the edges spread out and become less clean. This is also why I leave the uneven edges in place as the cracker bakes (plus it provides a buffer for if any of the dough around the edges darkens too much).
Once baked, you can finally snap the huge cracker along the score lines into lil squares! Pop them into an airtight container and they’ll actually stay crisp for ages – a few weeks at least.
- 120g (1 cup) plain white (all-purpose) flour
- 110g (1 cup minus 1 tbsp) wholemeal (whole wheat) pastry flour
- 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) or bakers ammonia
- 1/4 tsp fine table salt
- 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 50g (1/4 cup) granulated sugar
- 2 pods green cardamom
- 70g (5 tbsp) unsalted butter or vegan butter
- 75g (3 1/2 tbsp) golden syrup (see notes)
- 2-3 tbsp milk or non-dairy milk (I use oat milk)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
Make the dough:
- Combine both of the flours, the bicarb (or ammonia), salt, cinnamon and sugar in a medium bowl. Bash the cardamom pods in a pestle and mortar to break them open, push out the seeds and discard the papery skin. Grind the seeds in the pestle and mortar into a fine powder. Add this to the bowl of dry ingredients too. (If you want to make the dough in a food processor, see the recipe notes below)
- Cut the butter into smallish cubes and add to the bowl. Use your fingertips to rub the butter into the dry ingredients until no large lumps of butter remain and the mixture is crubmly. Add the golden syrup, milk (start with 2 tbsp for now) and vanilla extract to the bowl. Use a spoon to stir together to make a moist, soft dough. If it seems too dry, drizzle in a bit more milk and knead it in with your hands.
- Divide the dough in half, form into 2 balls and then flatten into disks. Place into a reusable sandwich bag and chill for at least 30 minutes so the dough can firm up.
Roll, shape & bake:
- Preheat the oven to 160°C fan (320°F) and grab a large cookie sheet/baking tray (I like to use one without a rim for this but a rimmed sheet is fine).
- Cut a piece of baking paper to the size of your baking tray. Place the baking paper on your work surface and dust with some plain flour. Take one disk of dough from the fridge and place onto the baking paper. Dust with more flour. Use a rolling pin to roll it out until the dough is about 2mm thick, dusting with flour as needed to prevent it sticking to the rolling pin.
- Cut into 5cm (2-inch) squares and leave them connected like this. We will bake the dough as one big sheet so that the crackers stay in a neat shape, then break them up once they're baked! Dock the crackers all over with a fork (or the small end of a chopstick if you want a more authentic look).
- Lift the sheet of dough up with the baking paper still underneath it, and lay onto your cookie sheet. Get them into the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the cookie sheet so that the crackers can bake evenly. Lower the oven temperature to 140°C fan (280°F) and bake for a further 10 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and break along the score lines into squares. Allow to cool and then transfer to an airtight container. Repeat with the remaining disk of dough as above.
- They will keep for a couple of weeks like this, if they start to soften just lay on a cookie sheet in an oven at 120°C fan (250°F) and bake for 5-10 minutes until crisp again.
- Make the dough in a food processor: combine the dry ingredients (as in step 1) but place them into the bowl of a food processor. Add the cubed butter and pulse together until no large pieces of butter remain. Add the syrup, milk and vanilla and blend until you get a soft dough.
- You can also use a light, runny honey in place of some/all of the golden syrup (although this won't be vegan).
- I add cardamom to the dough for a bit more of a fragrant flavour. You don't have to do this if you don't like it though.