When you wake up every morning to sun in your eyes, birds chirping, and the nearby rivers aboil as they rollick their snowmelt-swollen selves towards the ocean, you know that it’s finally time to kick off the camping season. And while there’s nothing like drinking a cold one and frolicking among the trees or soaking in a river or setting up camp after a long upward haul into the mountains, let’s be honest, here: What is camping really all about? S’mores.
And far too many of them. So many that you can simply sit in a happy stupor with friends and family as you listen to the roaring river and let the dancing fire entertain you. Until the pain subsides enough to start roasting another marshmallow, of course.
My first camping trip of the year took me to the mountains outside of Seattle. As it had been nearly 7 months since my last s’more, I was beyond excited and wanted something special. Homemade treats are always more delicious, so I decided to try my hand at making my own graham crackers. While they are certainly a bit time-consuming, this recipe makes a whole heap of graham crackers, and it’s fun to be able to make them as sweet or as crispy as you like. Plus, I dare you to find someone who’s not impressed when you tell them you made your own graham crackers. You’ll be a camping legend.
I paired the homemade graham crackers with Ghiradelli caramel-filled chocolate squares, a roasted banana* (see picture 5 for instructions), and, of course, a gooey, golden-brown, toasted marshmallow. Because when it’s the first s’more of the season, you really want it to be perfect. And this one was. Who am I kidding? These ones (plural) were.
Brown sugar, crucial to any good graham cracker. Crucial to any good anything, really.
Cut, given their “‘graham cracker” spots, and ready to become crisp and golden brown.
Can you find the roasting banana? Instructions for roasting banana: Simply wrap the banana, still in its peel, in some tin foil and toss it among the coals. It cooks in about 5 minutes, and the result is a warm, gooey, caramelized mess that’s perfect for spreading on s’mores and maybe even making you feel like you’re eating something with some nutritional value.
The finished product! I would have taken more and better pictures, but I was otherwise engaged in the act of scarfing these s’mores.
Homemade Graham Crackers
Makes 10 4x4.5-inch graham crackers or 48 2-inch squares
2-½ cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen
⅓ cup mild-flavored honey, such as clover
5 tablespoons milk (whole is best)
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon (5 grams) ground cinnamon
Make the dough: Combine the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Pulse or mix on low to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse on and off, on and off, or mix on low until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal.
(Alternately, if you don't have a food processor or electric mixer, you can cut the ingredients together with a pastry blender. Just make sure that they’re very well incorporated.)
In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, milk, and vanilla. Add to the flour mixture and pulse on and off a few times or mix on low until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky. Lay out a large piece of plastic wrap and dust it lightly with flour, then turn the dough out onto it and pat it into a rectangle about 1-inch thick. Wrap it, then chill it until firm, about 2 hours or overnight. Meanwhile, prepare the topping, if using, by combining the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and setting aside.
Roll out the crackers: Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Sift an even layer of flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle about ⅛-inch thick. The dough will be sticky, so flour as necessary. Trim the edges of the rectangle to 4 inches wide. Working with the shorter side of the rectangle parallel to the work surface, cut the strip every 4-½ inches to make four crackers.
Place the crackers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets and sprinkle with the topping. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes in the fridge or 15 to 20 minutes in the freezer. Repeat with the second batch of dough. Finally, gather any scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and reroll.
Adjust the oven rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat the oven to 350°F.
Decorate the crackers: Mark a vertical line down the middle of each cracker, being careful not to cut through the dough (again, this is for the traditional cracker shape). Using a toothpick or skewer (I like to use the blunt end of a wooden skewer for more dramatic dots), prick the dough to form two dotted rows about ½-inch from each side of the dividing line.
Bake for 15 to 25 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the touch (The baking time range is long because “better safe than sorry.” Nobody likes a burnt cracker!]
Here are a few more fun ideas to spice up s’mores around the campfire:
Graham crackers, caramel, milk chocolate, marshmallow, and whole pecan halves
Chocolate Peanut Butter
Chocolate graham crackers, marshmallow, and peanut butter (preferably crunchy)
Graham crackers, Reese’s peanut butter cup, marshmallow, and banana
Graham crackers, dark chocolate, marshmallows, and fresh strawberries
Graham crackers, caramel-filled chocolate, and marshmallow
Nutella and Banana
Peanut butter cookies, Nutella, marshmallow, and banana
Graham crackers, marshmallow, and Andes mints
Graham crackers, marshmallows, caramel, and shaved coconut
Graham crackers, marshmallows, milk chocolate, cinnamon, and nutmeg