While regular pie doughs are de rigeur in the baker’s kitchen, my first foray into pie baking some 30 plus years ago was a graham cracker crust for an ice cream pie or cheesecake. I would buy the box of Nabisco graham crackers, eat a few dipped into milk while working, and crush the squares of crisp aromatic crackers between sheets of waxed paper with a rolling pin.
There would be some lumps of crackers not totally pulverized after the laborious venture, but mixed with some melted butter and pressed into a pan, it was fine. I was fearless and triumphant in the kitchen. Crumb crusts became a staple as they were so very much easier and quicker than a pastry pie dough, something that took me years to master. They are a firm base for unbaked ice box pies, chiffon pies, and frozen pies as well as cheesecakes.
Life became much easier in the kitchen with the advent of the food processor. Those crumb crusts became even quicker and less messy since the crumbs stayed in the covered work bowl rather than scooting out over the counter during the rolling process. It is just 1-2-3-4 with a few pulses and the graham cracker crust made regular appearances during my tenure as a dessert chef. I made lots of delicious yogurt cream cheese honey icebox pies and black bottom pies from Maida Heatter’s first dessert book. They are still great pies for summer since the fillings are refreshing to eat.
I also learned that graham crackers were just a starting place. Next came the chocolate cookie crust made with Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers, still a favorite, especially under prune chiffon pie, vanilla cream pie, or chocolate mousse cake. Then there are Nabisco vanilla wafers, gingersnaps, Amaretti (the dry almond macaroons from Italy), biscotti, and zwieback (the cookie I love marketed for babies to chew on while they are teething, but kind of the original biscotti/mandelbrot/rusk).
You can buy the already crushed graham cracker crumbs in a box; they taste just the same as if you pulverize the crackers yourself. I like to crush my own since you have control over the sugar and salt. I use varying amounts of sugar in the graham cracker crust (the other cookies are usually sweet enough without added sugar) and then you must determine how sweet the filling is; if it is sweet, go with less sugar for the overall balance tastewise. The chocolate crumb version is good with a teaspoon of instant coffee added to punch up the flavor and the graham cracker crusts are good with some cinnamon and ginger. You can toss in 1/4 cup of nuts in the food processor with the graham crackers if you like as well.
If you have an uncooked filling, be prepared to pre-bake and completely cool the crumb crust otherwise it will fall apart when you slice the pie. If you will be cooking the filling, as for a cheesecake, you can skip that step and just chill then fill and bake all together. Don’t over bake your delicate crumb crust; it is done in a few minutes, otherwise it will cool to rock hard since the crust will emerge from the oven soft, then crisp as it cools.
Basic Crumb Crust
- 11 whole graham crackers, one 7-ounce box zweiback toasts, 25 gingersnap cookies, 50 vanilla wafer cookies, or 30 Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers to yield 1 1/3 cups crumbs
- 1 to 4 tablespoons sugar (for graham cracker crust only)
- Pinch of salt
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 350º. Place the cookies or crackers, sugar, and salt in a food processor and process until finely ground; add the butter and pulse a few time until evenly moistened. Turn the crumb mixture into a 9-inch pie plate, 9 inch springform or tart pan; it will be in a loose pile. Using your fingertips, distribute the mixture first evenly up and around the sides, making it even with the rim of the pan. Then press firmly with an even pressure to compact the sides against the pan. The top edge should not be too thin or it will brown too much during baking. Press the remaining crumbs on the bottom into an even layer, turning the pan as you press, and make sure that there are no loose crumbs. Bake in the center of the oven until firm, 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely. Can be frozen 1 month unfilled.
Yogurt Cream Cheese Honey Pie with Amaretti Crumb Crust
Makes one 9-inch pie, serving 6 to 8
- 4 whole graham crackers to yield 1/2 cup crumbs
- 24 (12 pair) Amaretti cookies to yield 1 cup crumbs
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1 pound cream cheese (not reduced fat and preferably a brand such as Philadelphia)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup honey (creamed honey is nice)
- 1 pint (2 cups) thick whole milk or 2% plain yogurt, such as Greek yogurt
- 1 pint strawberries, hulled and sliced and sprinkled with 2 tablespoons sugar, for serving
Preheat the oven to 375º. Place the graham crackers, Amaretti, sugar, and salt in a food processor and process until finely ground; add the almond extract and butter and pulse a few time until evenly moistened. Press into the sides and bottom of a 9-inch pie plate. Bake until firm, 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool completely.
In a medium bowl with an electric mixer, cream the cheese until smooth. On low speed, beat in the vanilla and honey, then add the yogurt and mix only until smooth; you want the mixture to stay as thick and fluffy as possible so do not over mix. Pour into the crumb crust and refrigerate 24 hours. The mixture will firm up. Serve in wedges, very cold, with sliced strawberries spooned over the top.
Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2015
Please enjoy the recipes and make them your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.