Graham Cracker Cake

So, let’s get this out of the way first thing: this is not a recipe for a cake made out of graham crackers, nor is it a cake that uses graham cracker crumbs in its batter. This is a cake that is meant to mimic the taste and robustness of a graham cracker without actually having to buy or make graham crackers. Got it? Cool.

Hi. I’m Laura. This post is brought to you by me and my frustration with the interwebs while searching for an appropriate graham cracker-reminiscent cake recipe for s’mores cupcakes. Do you know what happens when you search for “graham cracker cake” on Google? Or even when you open up your cookbooks to find said cake? You’re forced to sift through (hah!) a bunch of recipes that either a) use store-bought graham crackers as a cake replacement, b) use graham cracker crumbs in the cake itself, or c) are useless. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t have much against store-bought graham crackers, save the extra packaging and the sometimes-disappointing way they sort of disappear in your mouth. Also, they look like cardboard, and sometimes taste like it, too.

s'mores cupcakes
Two graham cracker cupcakes topped with chocolate, and a s’mores cupcake with matcha marshmallmallow fluff and chocolate.

I digress. I’m all about some graham crackers and milk, or using them as a platform for some tasty chocolate-and-caramel bars come Christmastime, or smashing a toasted marshmallow and chocolate between them for s’mores. But I didn’t have a handy pack of graham crackers in my pantry to crumble into dough, and ever since I made the grave error wonderful choice to make my own graham crackers at home, I haven’t really been inclined to buy them at the store. But that, my friends, is for another post. This is about cake, after all.

My only option, then, was to make my own dough. *gasp* But if you know me, you know I’m all about experimenting with some flavors and kitchen science. And my first question to myself was, what tastes and textures do I know and love from a graham cracker? And how do I turn a regular yellow cake into a graham cracker cake? The answer: wheat, honey, and my good friend, molasses.

Re-Creating Graham Cracker Flavor

What is a graham cracker, anyway? Firstly, it’s named after a semi-crazy temperance preacher named Sylvester Graham, who advocated for people to eat whole-wheat flour in an age of bleached industrial flour. (He also was all about other less, err, savory practices and ideas. If you’re down for a fun podcast with more about him, I’m a big fan of Savor’s episode on graham crackers, as well as their other material. Yay, history and science!) The makeup of graham flour is debated among manufacturers, but we can all pretty much agree that it’s certainly made of more whole-wheat flour than traditional all-purpose flour. It tends to be 100% whole wheat, meaning it uses the grindings of the whole wheat shebang: germ, bran, and all. It also tends to be a bit coarser than regular whole-wheat flour, if you buy graham flour separately, but in my opinion, the difference is negligible, so I’m okay with subbing whole wheat flour to make my crackers and cakes. In this particular cake, to follow the rules of subbing out whole wheat for regular flour, I only replaced part of the all-purpose flour with wheat to be left with a still-soft-yet-robust final product.

Next, was honey – nearly all manufactured graham crackers, and, therefore, that graham cracker taste we all know and love, are made with honey or a flavoring that resembles honey, so leaving it out wasn’t an option. However, when you replace sugar with honey, you can’t use a 1:1 ratio. Why? Firstly, honey is significantly sweeter than sugar – sometimes three times as sweet, depending on the variety used – so less honey must be used. Secondly, because honey is a liquid, the added moisture in replacing dry sugar with wet honey must be accounted for in the final product: too much liquid will result in a possibly gummy, underbaked cake. So, the amount of white sugar was greatly reduced, and the amount of milk reduced, as well.

A note on honey: get the good stuff – locally-produced, ideally from your local farmer’s market or farm or beekeeping friend. Real honey costs money. The cheap crap you’re getting from the grocery store is likely a mixture of honey and high-fructose corn syrup, despite what the labeling says, and is shipped halfway across the world rather than a few miles down the road. If you’re paying next to nothing for it in dollars, you’re certainly paying for it in taste and negative environmental impact.

Finally, molasses: graham crackers have a darker coloring and a bit of molasses robustness to them (at least the good ones do), so what better way to incorporate this flavor than to include a few tablespoons of molasses into the dough? I also replaced more of the white sugar with some brown sugar, because I like the taste of brown sugar, and brown sugar is just sugar with added molasses. (And same deal as with honey here, although the problem is not as egregious or widespread: get the best molasses you can, unsulphured, ideally from a local purveyor.)

The resulting cake was a darker, thicker, less sweet, and more robust (yes, I’m going to use that word a lot here) yellow cake with the bran chew of a graham cracker and the ability to hold fillings and frostings galore. In other words, I was pleased with my results. And now, you can have those results, too.

Shall we? Do let’s.

Graham Cracker Cake

This is a pretty versatile base for anything you want to infuse with graham cracker flavor. It’s a bit denser and heartier than a traditional yellow cake, thanks to the whole wheat flour and whole eggs used. I used it for s’mores cupcakes, and will likely use it again in the future with any of my s’mores-inspired desserts. It’s also tasty just eaten out of hand!

You will need:

  • 1 1/4 sticks butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1/4 c honey (your call on type – just get it local, y’all)
  • 1/2 c white sugar
  • 1/4 c brown sugar, packed
  • 2 tbsp dark, unsulphured molasses
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 c whole-wheat flour or graham flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2-3/4 c whole milk, room temperature

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans, 3 8-inch cake pans, or 18 muffin cups. (I ran out of paper muffin liners, so I didn’t use them, but you can totally use them here in place of greasing and flouring.)
  2. In a large bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter until fluffy, about 1-2 minutes. Add sugars, honey, and molasses and mix until smooth, scraping the bowl as necessary to fully incorporate the ingredients, about 3-5 minutes. With the mixer on low, gradually add eggs, one at a time, until fully incorporated. Add vanilla extract.
  3. Sift together the flours, baking powder, and salt. Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until fully incorporated: you will be left with a thick batter. Stir in 1/2 c milk, adding more milk as necessary to get a fairly loose, semi-pourable batter (the consistency of light sour cream). Divide the dough evenly into your pans: if using muffin tins, fill cups about 2/3 full.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees F. For muffins or cupcakes, bake for 15-18 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. For 8- and 9-inch cake pans, bake for 30-35 minutes (the smaller pans will likely need less time) until a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan comes out clean.
  5. Cool completely on wire racks before removing from pans. Frost, fill, and eat according to your heart’s desire.

Suggested Frostings, Fillings, and Other Toppings:

  • Cream cheese frosting
  • Chocolate ganache frosting
  • Marshmallow fluff
  • Apple butter
  • Chocolate truffles, candies, and chips as fillings

Be on the lookout for recipes using this cake as a base in the future!

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