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Nailing Graham Cracker Crusts


Chris Amirault
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To my great pleasure, my wife has been experimenting with banana cream pie lately, and the biggest issue, by far, is getting the graham cracker crust right. When I was thinking -- ok, day-dreaming -- about it this morning, I realized that I've rarely had a graham cracker crust that was nearly as good as it should be.

Surely there are some tips I can glean on this subject from those more expert than I on matters crusty.

Chris Amirault

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I find that the pre-crushed box crumbs are stale, so smashing the crackers yourself (food processor works well) is a good place to start. I like the crumbs a little irregular in shape, but that's a personal thing. A handful of pecans or walnuts crushed up with the crumbs is pretty good. The key, I think, is quality salted butter and a short run (10-12 minutes) in a 325-degree oven. Toasting adds to the flavor immensely. Vary crumb inclusions to complement the pie--a few gingersnaps (or a tiny bit of powdered ginger), chocolate grahams, dried coconut (esp good w/banana cream), or cacao nibs.

Or you could make your own grahams. Here's a good KA recipe: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/graham-crackers-recipe

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I like mine baked enough to carmelize the sugar, I like a bit of snap to it, not crumbly.

Are you saying that caramelizing the sugar prevents it from being crumbly? That makes sense, but I'd never thought of it before. How long do you bake it, and at what temperature, to get results you like?

Matthew Kayahara

Kayahara.ca

@mtkayahara

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The graham cracker crust I use is like the one mentioned previously with sugar and butter and pecans and is pre-baked as well, but what I think helps give it structure as well as the butter and the baking is that I tamp down the crust well with a flat bottomed and straight sided glass.

Edited by Norm Matthews (log)
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I recently made Dorie Greenspan's cheesecake from Baking. The crust is a basic graham cracker & butter version that comes halfway or so up the sides. For graham crackers, I used the recipe from Smitten Kitchen. The crust definitely held together, and it caramelized more intensely than any graham cracker crust I've ever made. I'm not sure whether to attribute that to the graham crackers or to any part of the crust recipe--it was my first time with both variables--but it's my new standard.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I recently made Dorie Greenspan's cheesecake from Baking. The crust is a basic graham cracker & butter version that comes halfway or so up the sides. For graham crackers, I used the recipe from Smitten Kitchen. The crust definitely held together, and it caramelized more intensely than any graham cracker crust I've ever made. I'm not sure whether to attribute that to the graham crackers or to any part of the crust recipe--it was my first time with both variables--but it's my new standard.

I recently made her cheesecake too. But I tweaked her graham crust a bit and used 1 1/4 stick of butter because it won't stick together! I think softened butter did the trick. I also think that her process of freezing it while you're preheating your oven is the main reason this crust holds together well. And proper pre-baking too.:D

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I take a recipe developed by Cook's Illustrated to the extreme. they take a traditional pie crust and use graham crumbs instead of flour when rolling out the dough. To make it more graham crackery, I cut portion of dough needed for one pie by almost half and roll as many crumbs as needed to get it to the proper size for the pie plate. It is definitely more fragile and needs a little chilling before transferring to the pie plate, but the results are great!

Edited by Jeffery C (log)
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I've had the same issues, Chris. My recipe for crust has been from Cooks Illustrated. But this isn't the same as Jeffrey C's. It's just graham crackers, butter, and sugar. Flavor is great. But as you say, no structure. I'm intrigued by the idea of adding egg white.

Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"

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Hmm, I have no experience with this, and am not driven to see the outcome, as I'm not that interested in sweets in general, and the only thing I ever make with graham cracker crust is key lime pie, and I don't care that some of the crust gets lost to the pan, but my general rule of thumb is that egg whites have more eggy (sulfuric) flavor and impart a springy texture, while egg yolk can bind, but provides a creamier texture and a fatty flavor more in tune with the types of filling that usually accompany such a crust, so I might try that first if I wanted a graham crust that held together on its own. Which I'm not sure I want, as to me graham crusts are something that naturally cling to custardy pies and can never be too thick or heavy, because the remainder will just fall off.

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I'm intrigued by the idea of adding egg white.

But if you add egg white, you lose the great pleasure of snacking on the last spoonful of extra crumbs, because in your infinite wisdom, you always prepare at least one cracker's extra worth of crust.

The egg white has never stopped me...

Would not stop me, either. I'll eat raw cookie dough. that has whole egg in it. And I'll add raw egg white to a cocktail.

I live dangerously.

Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"

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Many years ago I read a story about the graham crackers in Maida Heatter's cookie book; someone mentioned making a graham crust with the dough rolled out as pie dough and placed in the pan. Maida Heatter thought she was making the cookies and then grinding them into crumbs for a crumb crust.

So maybe use a make-your-own graham cracker cookie dough as pie crust ....

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Another issue I think I have with my graham cracker crusts is getting the thickness EVEN. I always have parts that are really thin and other parts that are pretty thick. No matt how careful I am, I just can't seven to get it even. This certainly contributes to the structural problems.

Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"

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Another issue I think I have with my graham cracker crusts is getting the thickness EVEN. I always have parts that are really thin and other parts that are pretty thick. No matt how careful I am, I just can't seven to get it even. This certainly contributes to the structural problems.

Somewhere (God only knows where, in the dregs of memory), I recall seeing the tip of using the bottom of a flat cup or glass to push the crumbs into the pie plate/tart tin. I think the demo I saw used a measuring cup, but you could also use a drinking glass, which I do, so long as it has a perfectly flat bottom. All my measuring cups have rims/ridges on the bottom, so they don't work.

Pushing on the glass/cup helps to even out the pressure, and gets the crumbs distributed more evenly. It really, really does work like a charm. I'd suspect even using a small custard cup (like one of those Pyrex bowls) would work as well.

--Roberta--

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Another issue I think I have with my graham cracker crusts is getting the thickness EVEN. I always have parts that are really thin and other parts that are pretty thick. No matt how careful I am, I just can't seven to get it even. This certainly contributes to the structural problems.

Somewhere (God only knows where, in the dregs of memory), I recall seeing the tip of using the bottom of a flat cup or glass to push the crumbs into the pie plate/tart tin. I think the demo I saw used a measuring cup, but you could also use a drinking glass, which I do, so long as it has a perfectly flat bottom. All my measuring cups have rims/ridges on the bottom, so they don't work.

Pushing on the glass/cup helps to even out the pressure, and gets the crumbs distributed more evenly. It really, really does work like a charm. I'd suspect even using a small custard cup (like one of those Pyrex bowls) would work as well.

That is what I do. I use the bottom of my stainless measuring cups. They are perfectly flat and smooth. I still have issues with evenness.

Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"

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I recently made Crack Pie and because I used non-standard sized tins, I found myself a little short on crumb mix. It took a few minutes to redistribute and keep working it thinner without getting gaps, but in the end I made it work, and also found that the crust was more even and held together better than I've done in the past. I wonder, Jeff, if you could spend a few more minutes refining the crust when you pat it in to get more evenness...?

I was surprised that it seemed to keep "coming together" more as I worked it, even though I'd mixed it well in the first place.

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