This is my homage to the humble graham cracker. A favorite snack from childhood, it is the main ingredient in cheesecake crust, and the platform upon which S’mores are built. I remember my mother making a bar cookie based on a graham cracker crust, covered with condensed milk and sprinkled with coconut, chopped nuts, and chocolate chips. A couple of weeks ago I made a brownie pie (with a graham crust) from Christina Tosi’s Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook. Ms. Tosi makes abundant use of what she calls “cereal milk” in her recipes. It’s a signature ingredient in her desserts and so popular that it’s sold by the bottle. It is, quite simply, milk infused with the flavors of cereal. It’s the stuff that you used to tip up the bowl and drink after the cornflakes, Cap’n Crunch, or Froot Loops were all gone. Well it seems that graham cracker crust can also be used to make infused milk. And that infused milk can be made into ice cream. Brilliant! The brownie pie recipe used all but a half cup of the graham cracker crust ingredients, and it was then that I decided this ice cream was the way to put those graham crumbs to good use. I remembered a recipe from a very old edition of Bon Appetit for a butter cake that used crushed graham cracker crumbs in place of flour. It seemed to me that a graham nut cake would be the perfect partner for my graham ice cream. I was right, it’s a match made in graham cracker heaven. The ice cream is done by a slightly different method; there is no custard, but there is gelatin in the base. Ms. Tosi explains that she wanted the flavor of the infused milk to dominate and an anglaise would make the ice cream taste “eggy”. The use of the gelatin is her way of giving the ice cream body and mouth feel, plus it acts as a stabilizer, keeping the ice cream from melting too quickly. What I like is the ease and speed with which this ice cream can be prepared. Once you have your graham-infused milk, it’s simply a matter of combining the other ingredients and into the ice cream maker it goes. The cake is similarly simple to prepare. You add melted butter to fluffy beaten eggs, stir in the dry ingredients, and into the pan it goes. When I took the cake out of the oven, it seemed like something was missing, so I added a simple chocolate glaze.
The glaze is optional but I like that little bit of chocolate; it reminds me of those old-fashioned Magic Cookie Bars. So fellow graham cracker lovers, get to the store, stock up on your favorite brand, and try these simple and delicious desserts. They will make you very happy.
Graham Nut Cake
(makes one 9 or 10 inch loaf cake)
3 eggs, room temperature
2 1/4 cups fine graham cracker crumbs
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts or pecans
1 1/2 cups flaked coconut
1 cup milk
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon baking powder
Chocolate Glaze (optional)
Preheat the oven to 325F. Butter and flour a 9 or 10 inch loaf pan (I used a 10 inch pan and the cake was flatter than a typical loaf cake). Beat the eggs in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Stir in all the remaining ingredients with a wooden spoon. Turn the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until the edges are lightly browned and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. This will take about 55 to 65 minutes, depending on the size of pan used. If you think the top of the cake is browning too much, lay a sheet of foil over top for the last minutes of baking time. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove to a rack to cool completely. (The cake is more evenly moist on the second day, if you can wait that long).
(from Bon Appetit magazine, November, 1983)
(makes enough to top the Graham Nut Cake)
Melt 1 ounce of unsweetened chocolate and 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter together in a small bowl over a pan of simmering water (or in the microwave on medium power). Remove from the heat; stir in 1/2 cup of confectioner’s sugar, 1 teaspoon honey, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract. The mixture may clump up a bit, but simply add hot water, 1 teaspoon at a time, until the glaze is of the proper consistency. Drizzle or spread over the cake.
Graham Ice Cream
(makes about a pint)
1/4 recipe Graham Crust (1/2 cup or 85 grams)
1 cup milk (220 grams)
2 gelatin sheets** (or 1 teaspoon powdered gelatin)
3/4 cup heavy cream (160 grams)
1/4 cup glucose** (100 grams) (or use 2 tablespoons light corn syrup)
1/3 cup sugar (65 grams)
1/4 cup milk powder (20 grams)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (1 gram)
Heat the oven to 250F. Place the graham crust on a parchment-lined pan and spread it out evenly. Bake for 15 minutes to toast it lightly and deepen its flavor. Cool completely. Transfer the cooled graham crust to a small pitcher. Pour in the milk and stir. Let steep for 20 minutes at room temperature. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a medium bowl. The milk will drain off quickly at first, then become thicker and starchy toward the end of the straining process. Using the back of a ladle (or your hand) wring the milk out of the toasted graham crust, but do not force the mushy graham crust through the sieve. Discard said mush. Bloom the gelatin (if using gelatin sheets, soak them just until softened in a small bowl of cold water. Gently squeeze the excess moisture out of the sheets). Warm a little of the graham milk and whisk in the gelatin to dissolve (if using powdered gelatin, soften it in a small amount of water first). Whisk in the remaining graham milk, the heavy cream, glucose (or corn syrup), sugar, milk powder, and salt until everything is fully dissolved and incorporated. (An immersion blender does the best job here). Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into your ice cream machine and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.
(barely adapted from “Momofuku Milk Bar” by Christina Tosi)
** I order silver strength gelatin sheets and glucose from L’Epicerie