Wednesday, 24 September 2014
In January this year, I did a road trip with a friend down Highway One, on the west coast of the US. The starting point for our trip was San Francisco and before leaving, we stocked up on snacks at the Ferry Plaza Farmers market down at the waterfront. In addition to the many stands outside selling the most amazing fresh produce (and Blue Bottle coffee), there were permanent stores inside just as incredible - cheeses, meats, and bakeries galore... which is how I found myself at Miette, a San Francisco institution, surrounded by delicate pastries, decadent cakes and countless other dazzling sugary treats. My fellow road-tripper Christina, a New Yorker, but frequent visitor to San Fran and Miette, pointed at a downright homely looking cookie - brown, flat, and round. That, she pronounced emphatically. That is what you want. I looked around at the other more obviously enticing choices - pretty pastel macarons, chocolate sablés glittering with salt crystals, elaborate multi-layer cakes - then at Christina's face, which said trust me and I ordered the graham crackers. I'm so glad I did.
I'd read about graham crackers for years. They were always in American recipes as the biscuit base of a cheesecake, or in children's books as an after school snack. What were they, I wondered? Like a milk arrowroot? A gingernut? A shredded wheatmeal? Or maybe they were savoury, as the name cracker seemed to imply, like a Vita-Wheat or a Salada. (It occurs to me as I write this how oddly-named every country's traditional biscuits/cookies are) It turns out there is no Australian equivalent.
Graham crackers are basically buttery, honey-flavoured cookies made with wholemeal flour. As noted, they're nothing to look at, but their homeliness is their greatest strength. There's something incredibly comforting about this unassuming cookie. They're warm (honey! brown sugar!) and delicious and easy to make, the sort of everyday cookie you can rely on. You know what else is everyday? The sunset. I saw plenty of those that trip, as I ate my way through that box of graham crackers. And both were spectacular.
Adapted from a recipe from Miette by Meg Ray with Leslie Jonath
I used NZ Manuka honey for these, just as I had it in the cupboard and it's deliciously dark and mysterious but any old honey (next time I'm going to try my Tasmanian Golden Bee!) would be fine. I think it couldn't hurt to swap some more of the regular flour for wholemeal too, if you were so inclined.
7 1/2 oz flour
1 1/2 oz wholemeal flour
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt (I like Maldon) or just a pinch of table salt
generous 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 oz firmly packed brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons (or 2 American tablespoons) honey
Sift together both flours, salt and cinnamon into a bowl. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine butter, brown sugar and honey and beat til fluffy, about 5 minutes.
Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture in three additions, beating just until combined after each adition. Wrap dough tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before rolling, or for up to 2 days.
Preheat the oven to 180 deg C (350 F). Line a large baking sheet with baking paper.
Unwrap the dough and place between two sheets of waxed paper. On a clean work surface, roll out to a thickness of about 1/4 inch (just less than 1cm). Using a 3 1/4 inch (about 8cm) round cookie cutter, cut out graham crackers. Place on baking sheet and bake til golden brown, 10-12 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Gather up the dough scraps, reroll, and cut to make more cookies. Bake as above and let cool. Store in airtight container for up to two weeks.