Oh, and these are not just any cookies. They’re chocolate-covered graham crackers. Let me say that again, for full effect. They’re graham crackers that I made (!), that I covered with chocolate (!), and that I didn’t eat all in one sitting (!). I will admit, however, that I also didn’t share them.
Because when the holiday lights and decorations come out of storage, and the carols play on every radio station, I think of chocolate covered grahams, pink grapefruit, and Chinese food.
My mother’s mother was a snowbird, leaving her Manhattan home every October to spend the coldest months in Miami. Each December when my sister and I were kids, our parents drove us down from Maryland to the tip of Florida for two weeks of sun. As we pulled up to the building, no matter what time of night, Bubbie would be sitting in the lobby, perched between a twinkling plastic pine tree and an over-sized candelabra. Riding up the elevator, luggage still in the car, Bubbie would hand my father a list of chores – hang a picture, re-wire a lamp, fix a television.
When the elevator door opened, my sister and I would grab the key and race down the hall, bursting into the apartment and making a beeline to the kitchen. In the middle of the table, next to a bowl of the pink grapefruits that Bubbie sliced and sectioned before every dinner, sat a plate of chocolate-covered graham crackers and two glasses of milk.
We knew the deal. No milk, no sweets. We drank a lot of milk during those two weeks.
The highlight of each visit was going to the kosher Chinese restaurant on Christmas eve. We’d order the usual – egg drop soup, mu shu chicken, beef with broccoli, and Kung Pao chicken. And a steak. Bubbie figured that if we were going out, she was going to go all out. I don’t like Chinese food, she would say. So we’d order the steak.
The waiter would pile all the dishes on a lazy Susan in the middle of the table, and pass around plates. My grandmother would hand back her empty plate and place her steak plate in front of her. We’d spin the Susan to the pancakes, pass hoisin sauce under Bubbie’s nose, and then spin the Susan back to the mu shu. And Bubbie would smile and slice into her steak. Soon, she would sneak a fork into the mu shu. Then into the beef. She’d make room on her plate for rice, pushing the steak aside. It’s too tough, she’d say. We’d pass her the Kung Pao. My dad would finish the steak.
Maybe one day I’ll bribe my own kids with some chocolate covered grahams. And then my grandkids. For now, though, they’re all for me to nibble with my coffee. Sorry Bubbie. I still don’t like to drink milk.
Chocolate covered graham crackers
I adapted Alton Brown’s graham cracker recipe, and frequently consulted Joanne Chang’s recipe in Flour (Thanks, Molly, for lending me your extra copy). You’ll need to give yourself enough time to chill the dough for 30 minutes before you can roll it out.
Makes over 3 dozen cookies
– 6 T unsalted butter
– 1 1/2 C T graham flour
– 5 T all-purpose flour
– 5 T packed dark brown sugar
– 3/4 t aluminum-free baking powder
– 1/2 t baking soda
– 1/2 t kosher salt
– 1/2 t ground cinnamon
– 3 heaping T dark molasses or honey (I used 1 tablespoon of molasses, 2 of honey)
– 2 T low-fat or whole milk
– 1/2 t vanilla extract
– 1/4 – 1/2 lb dark or milk chocolate (If you plan to drizzle, use less; if you plan to dip, use more)
Chill. Cut the butter into 1/4-inch cubes and place in freezer while preparing the other ingredients.
Pulse. Place in the bowl of a food processor both flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Pulse several times to combine. Then add the butter and continue to pulse until the mixture resembles cornmeal. Add molasses/honey, milk, and vanilla and process for about a minute until the dough forms a ball.
Chill again. Press the ball into a 1/2-inch thick disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Roll. Remove the chilled dough and divide it in half. Return the other half to the fridge. Roll the dough out between two sheets of parchment until it is 1/8-inch thick .
Slice. Remove the top sheet of parchment and slide the other sheet onto a cookie sheet. You want to cut the dough into squares – a traditional graham cracker is 2 X 2 – but I made mine about 1.5 X 1.5 or so (I skipped the ruler). Use a pizza cutter and straightedge to make vertical and horizontal cuts all the way across the dough. Don’t trim the excess! (You’ll see why in a moment.) Use a fork to make holes in the crackers in whatever pattern you’d like. Don’t separate the crackers.
Bake. Bake the crackers in the middle of the oven for 25 minutes until the edges just start to darken (luckily, you kept on the extra dough and these jagged edges get too dark, leaving all the crackers perfectly golden.)
Cool. Remove from oven, set the sheet pan with the crackers on a cooling rack and allow to cool completely. As the crackers cool, they’ll harden.
Break. Once the crackers are completely cool (20-30 minutes), break them up.
Temper. Fill a small pot with 1/2-inch of water and bring to a slow simmer. Chop the chocolate into small chunks and place half of them in a large metal or glass bowl. Place the bowl over the simmering water, making sure that the water doesn’t touch the bowl. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, mix the chocolate until it melts. Take the bowl off the pot and wipe away any moisture from the bottom. Slowly add the remaining chocolate pieces, continuing to stir until each small addition melts, and then add another pinch or two. The chocolate will start to get glossy. The more you stir, the glossier your chocolate will be. If you have a candy thermometer, keep stirring until the chocolate reaches 90ºF. No thermometer? No problem. Keep stirring and after about 15 minutes, dip a metal spoon in the chocolate, and then stick it in the refrigerator for 2 minutes for dark, 5 for milk. If it comes out set and glossy and not tacky to the touch, it’s perfect. If it’s still sticky – it’s not cool enough, and not tempered, so keep mixing and add any remaining chocolate pieces.
Drizzle. Lay the cooled crackers in a cooling rack. Drizzle the chocolate in a crisscross pattern over the crackers. Let the chocolate harden.
Dip. Dip each cracker in the tempered chocolate, coating half of each side. Lay the dipped crackers directly on parchment.
Eat. Don’t forget the glass of milk.
Store. Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.