There they are. Twenty of them. Lined up on the shelf. I wonder how long they have been there? When were they actually made? Could they really survive a nuclear attack?
I am talking, of course, about graham cracker crusts. They are thin, placed in those tinny shells and they do not contribute mightily to your pie. If you want a graham cracker crust, take just a few minutes and make your own.
This recipe from Pie by Ken Haedrich will make you think long and twice about every buying one again. The technique here, of refrigerating before baking, makes sure you get a crust that is solid, not crumbly. It’s really, really good. The addition of just a tiny bit of cinnamon here provides a flavor twist that will make people ask, “What’s in here?”
The brown sugar adds a bit of moisture to make it easier to press the shell together. If necessary, add just a touch of water to increase the adhesion as you press into the pie dish. Ken notes that if your dough really seems very crumbling and is not coming together by hand at all, then put 1 tablespoon of flour into the mix and add 1 teaspoon of water. Your crust should now be quite well behaved.
Pie with a bad crust is bad pie.
Oh, about Sylvester Graham, the Presbyterian minister, who invented the graham cracker in 1829. He was nice guy. A bit straight. The cracker he created was intended to be a health food, designed to reduce carnal lusts. [My pie lust, by the way, can be pretty high.] He used graham flour because he considered white flour to very bad for you.
It’s tough to be certain at this point in time, but I think the good minister would not be pleased with those manufactured shells on your grocery store shelf. He’d probably like this one much better.
If you like your crust really, really thick, then use 2 cups of graham cracker crumbs and 8 tablespoons of butter.
Graham Cracker Crumb Crust
Yield: enough for the bottom on one 9-inch standard pie dish
- 1 ¾ cups graham cracker crumbs
- 2 tablespoons firmly packed light brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Pinch of slat
- 6 tablespoons [¾ stick] unsalted butter
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Combine the graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl. Mix briefly with your fingers. Add the butter and incorporate well, mixing first with a fork, then with your hands, rubbing thoroughly to form evenly dampened crumbs.
Spread the crumbs evenly and loosely in the pan, pressing them into the bottom and up the side. Refrigerate for 5 to 10 minutes
Place on the center oven rack and bake for 7 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack before filling. For ice cream pies and other icebox pies, refrigerate the thoroughly cooked pie shell for 10 minutes before filling.
Source: Pie by Ken Haedrich
Graham cracker crust is a staple for many pies, particularly the summer pies that will soon be enticing us.
Getting a “crust” ready-made from the store is one option, and a bad one. Those ready-made creatures are often too thin, dry, and stale. They are a poor match for that wonderful pie you are about to craft. It is the combination of filling and crust that creates that total pie experience.
After experimentation, I’ve found a great technique for making your own crust. This crust is thick, not thin, and “rough” with various sizes of crumbs. Eating the crust itself is a treat. You make the crumbs by hand, not in that food processor. A range of crumb sizes, bonded with melted butter and perhaps flavored with spices, creates a matrix of textures and flavors that can complement the pie of your choice.
To make the crumbs, break the graham crackers by hand over a bowl, and then press your fingers into the larger fragments until they are broken. You don’t want to create a uniform powder here. Your goal is a mixture: some powder, some small fragments, a larger chunk or two.
Flavorings? The crust is a template you can play with. The basic recipe calls for adding sugar. Beyond that, you can try:
- A teaspoon of chili powder to compliment a chocolate pie
- A tablespoon of cocoa powder to get a “chocolate-flavored” crust
- A teaspoon of cinnamon if you are planning a fruit pie
- The zest of a lemon or lime if you are making a citrus pie
You can experiment with these quantities and with other flavors. Do go gently with that chili powder, though. You want some heat to accent the chocolate, not put your mouth on fire.
Great Graham Cracker Crust
Servings: One thick crust for the bottom layer of a 9-inch pie
- 1 ⅔ cups graham cracker crumbs
- 4 tablespoons sugar
- Other desired flavorings, optional
- 6 tablespoons butter, melted
Heat the oven to 350⁰F.
In a medium blow, combine the graham cracker crumbs and sugar. Stir with a fork to blend. Add any other flavorings and again stir to blend.
Add 4 tablespoons of the melted butter and mix with a spoon or, better, with your hands. Depending on the dryness of the crumbs, you may need to add some or all of the remaining butter. The goal is to have the crumbs damp, not wet, malleable but not clumping into ball. You need a mixture you can gracefully manipulate in the pie shell.
Place the crumb mixture in a 9-inch pie shall. Spread the crumbs evenly across the bottom and the sides. To compress the crumbs, use your hands. Or press down with a pie pan of the same size. Make sure the edges have a solid barrier of crumbs all the way to the top.
Place the shell in the heated oven. Bake for 12 minutes and check for doneness. The cooking time should be 14 minutes, but you don’t want a burnt shell. The crust is done when it is heated through and lightly browned.
Place the shell on a cooling rack and let it come to room temperature before using.
If you wish, you can freeze the crust for up to a month before defrosting and using.
Source: Brian O’Rourke with inspiration from Southern Pies by Nancie McDermott