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The Expert

Graham Master

Polly Brown, 52, Owner, PollyStyle Premium Baked Goods

Sunday, March 13, 2005; Page M03

A SWEET START: I was a stay-at-home mom in 1996, when the owner of Teaism in Dupont Circle, who's a friend of mine, asked if I wanted to work as her pastry chef. I'd grown up cooking, so it was a natural transition. After about four-and-half years, though, I wanted to learn more. I tried working at another restaurant. I tried catering. Then I started studying the gourmet foods market and realized that no one made a really great graham cracker. I spent about a week perfecting my recipe and, last August 2004, went to Cheesetique in Alexandria with the results. The owner bought some on the spot. Dean & DeLuca followed and that was the beginning of my newfound success. Now, I support myself and my daughter by baking.

CRUMBLY CREATIONS: I make about 500 crackers a week, cooking three to four nights, and I only use all-natural ingredients. One of the most difficult things for me to get right was the honey that sweetens the graham crackers. When I first made them, I used a jar that I had purchased in Italy, but that was a bit costly. I tried a few different kinds, but the taste wasn't quite right. Then one day I was at the Dupont Circle farmer's market and found a lovely wildflower-infused honey made at Toigo Orchards in Shippensburg, Pa. It gives the crackers a very subtle apple taste, too.



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CRACKER FOR MANY OCCASIONS: The great thing about graham crackers is that they go with so many things, you can have them with a glass of milk, a cup of tea or a nice Sauvignon Blanc. The owner of Cheesetique pairs them with blue cheese.

URBAN MYTH?: There is a legend that graham crackers are an anti-aphrodisiac. Sylvester Graham, a Presbyterian minister, is credited with creating the first ones in 1829. He believed that a diet rich in meat, sugar and fats led to sexual lust, so he promoted a strict vegetarian regime that replaced refined white flour with unsifted wheat flour. That's the big difference between his creation and the graham crackers we buy from the grocery store today. They use refined flour and lots of added sugars. Mr. Graham wouldn't be pleased.

D.I.Y.: If you want to make your own crackers, I recommend using King Arthur's whole wheat flour. I mix it with a bit of refined flour; the result gives the crackers the perfect texture.

As told to Karen Hart

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