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Rediscovering Graham Crackers

February 04, 1988|DIANA WILLIAMS HANSEN

At our house, graham crackers have been a staple ever since the children were small. Now, I've found that they're a very useful ingredient for microwave baking. When graham cracker crumbs are added to a cake batter, for example, they give the cake a naturally browned color. They also tend to give a nice texture and a grain-like aroma that says "old-fashioned."

You can also use squares of graham crackers as a base for quick bar cookies. Because most of the shortbread bar-cookie bases usually don't microwave evenly, I often switch to a graham cracker-butter mixture, like you use for pie crust, instead of a rich flour pastry base.

For the recipe that follows, line a dish with unbroken graham crackers and spread on a caramel-coconut divinity filling and chocolate topping. This is probably the microwave version of that popular bar cookie known as five-layer bars or Dolly Madisons. It contains layers of butter, graham crackers, chocolate chips, coconut and sweetened condensed milk. But you don't have to bake this one. You just cook the filling a few minutes in the microwave.

It also is possible to make a crackly candy-like confection with graham crackers and a few other ingredients. The texture comes from boiling the butter and brown sugar mixture on top of the cracker itself, so the toffee syrup saturates the cracker. There are peanuts in the recipe that follows, but it's also good with sliced almonds.

TOFFEE GRAHAM CONFECTION

1/2 cup butter

9 graham cracker squares

3/4 cup brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup chopped peanuts

Place 1 tablespoon butter in 8-inch square microwave dish. Microwave at HIGH (100% power) just until melted. Tilt dish to distribute butter. Place graham crackers over bottom of dish, cutting to fit, if necessary.

Place remaining butter and brown sugar in 1-quart microwave bowl. Microwave at HIGH 45 seconds to 1 minute, just until mixture can be stirred together. Spoon mixture over crackers and sprinkle with peanuts.

Microwave at HIGH 3 1/2 to 5 minutes, rotating dish every 1/2 minute, if necessary, until all areas on top are boiling. Watch bars carefully during approximately last minute of microwaving to be sure bars don't burn.

After microwaving, if necessary, redistribute nuts evenly over top. Cut into squares or bars while still warm. Let cool before serving. Makes about 16 squares.

This recipe also works well without the banana for a plain graham cracker cake. It's very moist, so be sure it's done before taking it out of the oven. Allow total standing time before inverting.

GRAHAM CRACKER-BANANA CAKE

1/2 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 20 squares)

1/2 cup oil

1 cup brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 cup sliced bananas, packed

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup sour cream

1 cup chopped walnuts

Combine flour, baking powder, soda, salt and graham cracker crumbs in small bowl. Set aside. Place oil, brown sugar, granulated sugar, eggs, bananas and vanilla in large mixing bowl. Mix well, then alternately blend in crumb mixture and sour cream, mixing just to blend. Stir in nuts.

Pour batter into greased 12- to 16-cup fluted microwave tube pan. Microwave at HIGH (100% power) 11 to 14 minutes, rotating 1/4 turn every 3 minutes, until cake has pulled away from sides of pan and top is dry. Place on heat-proof counter and let stand 15 minutes before inverting. Cool. Makes 12 to 16 servings.

Note: Do not use nonstick spray to grease pan. Banana adds more moisture to batter and will probably need 1 to 2 minutes longer to cook than plain batter. Frost with powdered sugar glaze, lightly flavored with almond extract, if desired.

GRAHAM DREAM BARS

10 to 11 graham cracker squares

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 cup flaked coconut

1/2 cup chopped pecans

6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate pieces

Arrange cracker squares to cover bottom of 12x9-inch microwave dish, cutting to fit as necessary. Set aside.

Combine brown sugar, cornstarch and salt in 1-quart microwave casserole or bowl, blending well. Add butter, cut into pieces. Microwave at HIGH (100% power) 2 to 3 minutes, stirring to blend every 1/2 minute, until mixture is smooth and slightly thickened.

Stir in powdered sugar, coconut and nuts and quickly spread over crackers in dish. Sprinkle chocolate pieces evenly over coconut layer and return to microwave at MEDIUM (50% power) 3 to 4 minutes, just until chips appear shiny in most areas.

With small spatula or knife, spread chocolate evenly over top of cookies. Cut into small squares and cool. If necessary, recut cookies after cooling. Makes 24 to 28 bars.

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