Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Baking A Big Graham Cracker Into A Pie Crust (and also putting a pie in it)

Today, we at A Book of Cookrye are writing about a graham cracker pie crust! You've seen lots of people make graham crumb crusts, but have you ever had a pie baked in a pie-sized graham cracker? I know it takes a special kind of person to be more excited about the crust than the pie in it, but we're making a big pie shaped graham cracker and then putting a pie in it!

I know it's a bit monochromatic, but have you ever gotten corners like that on a custard?

Banana Cream Pie in a Graham Cracker Crust

1 c whole wheat flour
½ c all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
⅛ tsp salt
¼ tsp cinnamon
4 tbsp butter
½ tsp vanilla
¼ c brown sugar (preferably dark)
2 tbsp honey
¼ c milk

Sift together both flours, the baking powder, the baking soda, the cinnamon, and the salt. Set aside.
Cream together the butter, brown sugar, honey, and the vanilla. Beat until light.
Alternately add the dry ingredients in three additions, and the milk in two additions. Start and end with the dry.
Refrigerate for at least two hours.
Have ready a pie pan coated with cooking spray (be sure to also spray the rim), and also a baking sheet lined with foil and sprayed (or lined with parchment).
Coat the entire ball of dough well in flour, and also generously sprinkle flour over the rolling surface. Roll the dough out to perhaps just a little thicker than you normally would for a pie crust. Working quickly, roll the dough around your rolling pin and unroll it across the pie pan. This dough is a bit more crumbly and tricky to work with than most pie crusts. You may want to cut the dough sheet into two or three strips which you lay across the pie pan and then press together. At any rate, be ready to do some patching before it's ready to bake. You also might want to roll the dough out on a sheet of wax paper or a gallon bag to simply lift into the pan, even if you usually don't do it that way.
After you have the dough in the pan, cut ½-inch lines throughout the crust (this works better than pricking it with a fork).
Refrigerate the crust about twenty minutes or so before baking- it will help prevent shrinking in the oven.
When it's ready to bake, heat the oven to 350°. Bake the crust for 10-15 minutes (it may take a bit longer.)
Bake for 10-15 minutes or until done. Cool before filling with whatever you like.

If there's any extra dough, you can make it into crackers and bake them alongside the crust. Reroll the dough to about ⅛" thick. Cut crackers of the size you would like. Poke them with a fork about every ½ inch apart.
Place them on the pan. They don't expand lot, so you can put them rather close (leave at least a quarter inch between them).

Source: Maida Heatter's Cookies (1997) via some commenter named Smaug in a thread on Food52
    Banana Cream:
½ c sugar
3 tbsp flour
1 pinch salt
3 eggs
1 c milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 envelope (.25oz) unflavored gelatin
3 ripe bananas

Soften the gelatin in about 2 tbsp of the milk.
Stir together the flour, about half the sugar, and salt in the top of a double boiler. Be sure to break up all lumps. Put the bananas and eggs in a blender and thoroughly blenderize. Add some of the milk if needed to help the blender go. Stir the bananas and the milk into the sugar.
Put it over hot water and cook, stirring constantly, until it thickens. Add the gelatin right when you take it off the stove, stirring until it melts and mixes in.
Put the bananas in a blender and pour in enough of the custard to help the blender work. Blenderize until smooth. Pour the contents of the blender back into the rest of the custard, along with the vanilla. Taste for sweetness, adding the remaining sugar as needed. Be sure to stir well.
Cool to lukewarm. Then pour into the pie crust.

adapted from a pecan pie recipe in the Goshen [Indiana] Daily Democrat (1898) via Food Timeline

We actually got this idea from Maida Heatter's chocolate cookbook, which we love so much that we asked an artist friend to make a cover that says THE HOLY BIBLE. In the note above a recipe, she says that a friend made her graham cracker recipe for a pie. Maida Heatter misunderstood this as making a batch of graham cracker dough and rolling it out into a pie crust, tried it herself, and liked the results. Anyway, we don't have our copy of the book in our possession, but we do have the internet at our fingertips. We found a few people who liked all of Maida Heatter's recipes so much that they blogged their way through her recipes (which sounds like a delicious time to me), but none of them made the graham crackers. Fortunately someone posted her recipe in a cooking forum thread. Or at least, posted a recipe. As we don't have the cookbook at hand, we can't verify that it is Maida Heatter's. Anyway, we've been staring at the browning bananas and wondering how good it would be to encase a banana pie in a big graham cracker instead of a pulverized crust.

The original recipe made a lot of graham crackers, so we're cutting it in half. (Was Maida Heatter making crackers for an entire summer camp's worth of smores?) As we do not live in a big house packed full of people, we often cut recipes down to a half or a quarter, which means we have used the one-eighth measuring cup a lot more than we expected. Like the icemaker you may have in your freezer, you don't think you would use it until you have one.

You may have noticed that even when you're not having regional disasters knock out utilities for days, grocery prices have been very strange of late. Everything's gotten more expensive, but there have been some strange price irregularities. We usually get the cheapest imitation vanilla for baking and reserve the good stuff for things that don't go into the oven. Using the cheap vanilla imitations in baked goods doesn't make as much a difference as you might think- we read that most of the compounds that make real vanilla so delicious evaporate away while baking anyway (though all those lovely things evaporating out of your batter or cookie dough will waft out of the oven and make the kitchen smell delightful). You lose no flavorfulness if you use the artificial vanilla in the cake and the more-expensive genuine article in the icing. However, the above-shown bottle was the cheapest vanilla on the shelf when we went on our most recent grocery expedition.

As shown above, we've got the flour mixed and ready to go. Or at least, it's all in one cup. With a dishwasher at hand, I'm getting blissfully used to measuring out all my ingredients before I start cooking. It is such a luxury to have everything standing in a row on the counter, ready to go- and not have to hand-wash a stack of little bowls and tubs after

This recipe seems to be pretty straightforward. Once you've got your butter and sugar beaten together in one bowl and your flour and other things mixed in another, you just sort of dump the two bowls together. Oh, and a small amount of milk is involved.

We thought this recipe simply could not be messed up until we added the first splash of milk and the whole thing turned into a mess of brown curds. At this point, we took a long look at what we were making and realized we were doing a recipe from some random person in a comment thread. In these trying times, it's quite the daring move to trust a complete stranger on the internet with even the smallest piece of our grocery budget.

Fortunately, when we got the last of the flour in, it looked like a semicoherent cookie dough. It was sticky, crumbly, and utterly impossible to flatten out in one piece. But, Maida Heatter (or at least some online person claiming to be typing out of her cookbook) tells us this needs to be refrigerated. Since we have a dishwasher now, we can happily put it in its own little tub instead of just shoving cold foods aside until the entire bowl fit in the refrigerator-- without later having to clean both a tub and a bowl

This is convenience. I really do think the dishwasher is just as necessary as that marvelous machine that washes your clothes for you. Sure, you can technically do without either one, but you are throwing away so many hours in drudgery.
As we were tidying up the spattered counter, we noticed that we had made a slight error. You know how we were saying how lovely it is to have everything measured before commencing a recipe?  And how with a dishwasher we don't need to hand-wash all those little bowls afterward? Well, it turns out that is not foolproof. While getting everything put away, we noticed that we forgot something:
Well, no matter. It's not like we left out something crucial like the flour.

Now, we could have gone ahead and made the banana cream on the spot, but we didn't want it to sit out for however long it took before the crust was baked, cooled, and ready for it. We thought the banana cream might, I don't know, get too congealed to pour into a pie pan. So while our big ball of graham cracker refrigerated, we cleaned all the heaps of flour-dust and other cracker-making mess. We may be blessed with a dishwasher now, but we still have to wipe up every splat that we get on the counter. Since we are hopelessly messy, it takes so long that by the time we had thrown the last wet rag into the laundry hamper, the graham dough was ready to roll.

We took this opportunity to add the cinnamon that we so tragically forgot earlier:
In theory the rolling pin would smash it in.

The pie crust actually rolled out into a decent sheet, but our rolling pin is too narrow to do that bit where you wrap the dough around it like you're using a curling iron, and then unroll it over the pan. 
Making pies in these days of isolation always makes me think "I should get a real rolling pin!" Then I realize that unlike seventy years ago when we didn't have to wear face masks, I can't go out and share pies with friends. 
Maybe adulthood is one long process of having fewer and fewer people to cook with. In high school, we all got together at our parents' houses and just made things together for the hell of it. (I think our parents endured the messes because they could at least follow the splatters and know where we were.) In college, it was always a bit tricky to find a time when two or more people could get together, and having five of us at the same place at the same time required some advance planning and aligning of schedules. Now there's a plague on and we can't visit anyone. 
Getting back to today's pie, there's no point in buying a rolling pin wide enough to actually do a pie until this relentless tide of adulthood-and-plague-induced messages like "We must visit sometime" and "I'll let you know when I'm in town" reverses course. We decided to simply cut the pie crust until it was narrow enough to roll up around our can of cooking spray, and then press it all together in the pan.

Maida Heatter, in the book we got this idea from, said that the dough handled "beautifully." This was not our experience. It was crumbly and prone to tearing apart under its own weight. We simply could not lift it off the counter, it tore whenever we tried.
An important kitchen tip for those who are entering the wonderful world of pie crusts: clear off counterspace for swooping arm movements- you'll need it when attempting to get the pie crust from the countertop to the pan. You don't want to barely squeeze your pie pan in among the things you've been meaning to put away, you want a lot of room to almost throw the pie crust on top without knocking stuff over. That way you can give it the extra lift it needs to land flat in the pan rather than in a sad wad of crumpled dough.

The other half of the pie crust went on a lot easier after we cleared enough things out of the way to almost throw it on like a tablecloth.

Fortunately, the same qualities that made this dough so hard to work with made it easy to patch. It was soft enough that we could press it right into shape. It was also sticky enough that patches didn't just stay put, but smooshed and melded seamlessly wherever you pressed them in. I started to think that perhaps I should have skipped the entire business with a rolling pin and just sort of patted and pressed the dough directly into the pan.

We gave it some knife slashes because this dough seemed a bit too... heavy for fork-pricking. Like, it seemed as if fork-holes wouldn't do anything to stop any bubbles this would make in the oven. So we gave it long lines instead.

As you can see, we had a fair amount of extra dough after we had this thing made. Given what a pain in the ass this had been to roll out without it tearing up or sticking to itself and everything else, it seemed masochistic to do this to ourselves again. But we all know how much I hate food waste.
I did that braid after rerolling and cutting the dough enough times that I wanted to just get it all in the oven and be done.

Contrary to my dread, the dough handles just fine if you're cutting it into small little pieces. It only falls apart if you try to keep it into one big pie-sized sheet. It could easily make adorable little tartlets if you used a muffin pan to make little crust-cups. These lifted off the counter and laid onto the pan without ripping or crumbling the way the massive dough sheet did when we attempted to get it into the pie pan.

And now we get to the banana cream! To make a full disclosure, I was only making this because I really wanted to try making a big pie-shaped graham cracker, and people have this odd customary insistence that pies should have something in them. We originally planned to make custard and blenderize bananas into it. But the more pies I've made, the more I dislike pies you can't actually cut. Maybe I'm turning into the judgemental old lady who has Opinions about petty food things, but lately I've gotten more and more annoyed at runny pies you can't actually cut. And so, we brought in a special guest ingredient to force this pudding to act like a pie:

With this magic hoof-powder, we successfully transformed a sloppy pie pan of pudding into a pie that cuts so sharp it has corners.

Due to a bit of a mistake (which we have accounted for when writing out the recipe), the pie filling was too sweet. We forgot to reduce the sugar a bit from the original to allow for the bananas. But aside from that, it was a perfectly lovely (and perfectly sliceable!) banana pudding custard. I know the sharp edges of this pie makes it look like it was as jiggly as the most ambitious multilayered potluck salad, but the gelatin only barely held it in shape. It still had the texture of pudding when you ate it. If you, like me, get annoyed at sloppy cream pies that you scoop instead of slice, consider slipping in a little gelatin.
But our big exciting thing today was making a massive graham cracker big enough to encase an entire pie in. And not only does it work, it is absolutely delicious! The crackers we made from the extra dough were so much better than store-bought ones- they had more flavor and also were less crumbly (and therefore better suited for putting the odd dollop of surplus banana cream on top of). I highly recommend trying this for your next pie. And maybe baking your own graham crackers for smores seems a bit excessive, but they would be the best burned-marshmallow-on-a-cracker you ever ate (you might cut the recipe in half or even a quarter though, elsewise you will spend a long time getting pans in and out of the oven).
The long instructions may look a bit daunting, but this really isn't any harder than doing any other pie crust. I'm already contemplating lovely fresh fruit pies in one of these. Also, for a cute serving idea, the filling was nice if we just scooped it out onto the crackers.


  1. That graham cracker crust is a really neat idea!

    1. Thank you! I was very happy with how well it worked out.

  2. I have an America's Test Kitchens graham cracker recipe. I've often wondered how it would do as a pie crust. It would certainly be faster than re-rolling and cutting them like cookies. My recipe has you roll the dough out between pieces of wax paper so you don't have to keep adding flour to keep it from sticking. It actually works pretty well.

    1. I keep meaning to try doing a pie crust like that, and this is a good candidate for it because the other ways don't work.

  3. I hope some s'mores got made with the leftover mini-crackers. :D

    1. We did indeed discover that a charcoal grill holds the fire at perfect marshmallow height.