Cheesecakes, cream pies, many layered bar-type cookies, and, some refrigerated pudding and frozen ice-cream desserts call for using a graham cracker or cookie crumb crust as a buttery, crunchy base. While homemade graham crackers, sugar cookies, gingersnaps and chocolate wafers make exceptional crumb crusts, I won't lie, it would have to be one heck of an insanely over-the-top dessert for me to bake any of them for the sole purpose of starting with a real-deal scratch-made base. That said, I don't at all care for the quality of ready-made crumb crusts.
Why? They taste bland to me, and that's primarily due to the fact that they're made with vegetable shortening instead of butter. The good news is, crumb crusts are super-quick and easy to make (5-6 minutes total work using 3 basic ingredients), so there's really no reason to opt for store bought.
After a bit of refrigeration (to solidify the butter which is the binding agent), they are ready to use just as they are. They can be lightly-baked too, in a 325 degree oven for 8 minutes, and, if they are baked, once cooled, in their pie tins, they can be stacked and frozen to keep on hand -- no thawing necessary.
Once you master making a graham cracker crust, all others are made the exact same way. My foolproof formula is: 7 ounces graham cracker or cookie crumbs, 1/4 cup brown sugar and 1 stick salted butter (melted). Since most cookies contain quite a bit of sugar, you might be wondering what its purpose is: sugar crystals aid the butter in binding the dry crumbs together. I like the added flavor that brown sugar provides, but feel free to substitute granulated sugar.
For 1, 9" crumb crust:
1 1/2 cups graham cracker or cookie crumbs (7 ounces cookies/12 graham crackers)
1/4 cup firmly-packed brown sugar
8 tablespoons salted butter, melted (1 stick)
A tip about turning graham crackers and cookies into crumbs:
My grandmother placed the crackers or cookies between two kitchen towels and used a rolling pin to crush them. My mother put them in a food storage bag and used a flat-sided meat mallet. I put mine in the food processor. Why? Because the finer the crumbs the firmer your crust will be.
~ Step 1. Break the graham crackers into smaller pieces and place them in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Using a series of 50-60 rapid on-off pulses process them to crumbs, then, with the motor running, process them to fine crumbs, about 10 more seconds.
~Step 2. Place the crumbs in a medium bowl. Add the brown sugar, and using your fingertips, work the sugar into the graham cracker crumbs. Melt the butter and add it. Using a spoon, thoroughly incorporate the butter until a moist, grainy, semi-cohesive, crumb mixture forms.
~Step 3. Transfer the crumbs to a 9" pie dish. Using a tablespoon, spread the mixture evenly across the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Using a wooden tart tamper, flatten/compress the crumbs to form an even crumb crust across the bottom. When the bottom is in place, use the tamper in conjunction with your fingertips to press the crumbs against the sides of the pan.
~ Step 4. Prior to filling the crust one of two things must be done: Either refrigerate the crust for 2-4 hours, or, bake it in a 300 degree oven for 10 minutes (or a 325 degree oven for 8 minutes). I almost always bake and cool mine prior to filling them because I think it improves their flavor and texture, but, recipes for both baked and frozen desserts with crumb crusts vary, so, always follow the recipe's instructions.
Special Equipment List: food processor; 9" pie dish or tin; tablespoon; tart tamper
Cook's Note: In the event you're making an insanely over-the-top recipe requiring a graham cracker crust and you have the desire and time, you can find my recipe for ~ It's the Little Things: Homemade Graham Crackers ~, in Categories 2, 7 or 26.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)