11 Mar 2013
If you read Coach Smallwood of the Rodale Institute’s recent blog post about the perilous situation for honeybees in North America, perhaps it’s caused you to want to take action personally. He gives a host of ways you can make a difference to honeybees. Enter our first installment of The Honeybee Project in the Kitchen – Recipes using our Erewhon Organic Honey Graham Crackers by beloved cookbook authors. Graham cracker desserts can be an easy way to create homemade treats like the Graham Cracker Blondies below. Also, check out The Honeybee Project in Schools giveaway on facebook and enter your school. The school with the most votes wins a hive and a week of one of our honey-sweetened foods. Each entry also yields a donation of ten cents to the Rodale Institute’s Honeybee Conservancy too. So, sign up your school on facebook and then make a batch of Shauna Sever’s Graham Cracker Blondies. Read on to hear her history with grahams.
My love for graham crackers runs deep. Real deep. I suppose it all started during my childhood, living in a house where graham crackers and peanut butter were considered Major Treat Food. It was a house that was unusual for the early 80s, which is to say one that very rarely, if ever, held such glorious contraband as white bread, soda, or a box of cereal with a cartoon character on it. I still maintain that there was one birthday in early grade school for which I brought graham crackers and peanut butter as my “birthday treat”, though my mother denies it. At any rate, that combination still remains to this day as one of my favorites, alongside a cold glass of milk.
But these days my appreciation for grahams goes beyond their snacky pairing with peanut butter. As I’ve moved through life, they’ve served as the foundation for many of my favorite desserts—s’mores around a bonfire (naturally), caramelized in the oven with brown sugar, and spices for a quick, crunchy treat, ground up in a buttery crust for a mile-high cream pie. And now that I’ve moved into motherhood and have a small person with whom to negotiate on an hourly basis, I’ve come to appreciate the value of graham crackers as currency. Yes, with or without peanut butter, graham crackers have a way of making those epic trips to Target with a 4-year-old slightly less excruciating. To the Reverend Sylvester Graham, for your amazing cracker invention, I salute you.
Something else to note about these humble, crunchy little gems is their unique flavor, and how it can evoke a feeling of comfort no matter how they’re worked into a recipe. It’s that echo of graham flavor (earthy, vaguely wheat-like with a hint of honey, a touch nutty, even?) that makes a treat instantly familiar, even if the crackers aren’t incorporated into the dish in a totally obvious way. Take for example these Graham Cracker Blondies I created on a recent afternoon. I’ve long been playing with the idea of grinding graham crackers finely in a food processor and using them like flour in a bar cookie recipe, hoping for something packed with that aforementioned homey graham flavor, buttery, chewy, and above all, ripe for accepting a variety of add-ins. And lo, after a few test runs, the magic of the humble graham is definitely working here.
A few chocolate chips and toasted walnuts are my supporting players of choice here, but with a blank canvas this good, this recipe is ripe for the riffing with whatever chips, chunks, and bits you’re craving. Even better, using a high-quality graham like Erewhon, and a smattering of raw turbinado sugar instead of regular old white granulated keeps the guilt factor low, while still placing these bars quite high on the treat scale, no peanut butter required. In fact, I’m so confident about this particular use of graham crackers that I’d venture to say that they might get you through a trip to Ikea with a small person. And that’s a big deal.
Graham Cracker Blondies
YIELD: 16 2-inch square bar cookies
18 full sheet Erewhon organic honey graham crackers (2 packages from a 3-package box)
3/4 cup raw turbinado sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350°F. Lightly spray an 8×8-inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line it with an 8-inch wide strip of parchment paper, with a few inches of overhang on two opposite sides of the pan, and lightly spray the parchment.
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, combine the graham crackers, turbinado sugar, baking powder, and salt. Process until finely ground, about 1 minute. Add the walnuts and pulse about 10 times, just enough to break down the nuts into small pieces. Pour the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl.
Place the food processor bowl back on the base. Add the eggs, melted butter, and vanilla extract. Process until the mixture is light in colored and aerated, 1 full minute. Add the egg mixture to the mixing bowl and use a wooden spoon or spatula to mix well (the dough will seem a bit dry at first, but will moisten as you mix and the dry ingredients absorb the wet). Stir in the chocolate chips. Press the dough evenly into the prepared pan. Bake until golden and set, about 30 minutes. Let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Use the parchment “handles” to remove the cookie slab and place on a cutting board. Cut into squares. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
About Shauna Sever
Shauna Sever is author of the cookbooks Marshmallow Madness! and Pure Vanilla. She writes the popular dessert blog Piece of Cake and is a host and reporter for food-related television. Her work has been published in O Magazine, Fine Cooking, Woman’s Day, USA Weekend, Daily Candy, Huffington Post Food, Working Mother Magazine, and more. She also runs Bake Sale Bakery, a dessert catering business in San Francisco, where she lives with her husband and daughter.