When we delved into the archives of various vintage recipe collections, we found some delightful alternatives in the form of crumb crusts. And here’s the deal — they’re surprisingly easy to make, pack a ton of flavor, and add a fun twist to your favorite desserts.
Digging back into a 1971 publication, we found the quintessential graham cracker pie crust, and have that recipe for you below. This classic crumb crust makes a versatile base that’s equally tasty in a creamy cheesecake or a tangy key lime pie. And its popularity has never waned, securing it a timeless spot in many of our kitchens today.
But the world of crumb crusts doesn’t stop there. In 1953, the notion of crusts made from crushed breakfast cereals (particularly cornflakes) started to gain traction, opening up a world of possibilities for dessert lovers.
Riffing off of these vintage crust concepts, the possibilities are endless when it comes to choosing crumbs for your crust. For instance, instead of graham cracker crumbs, you can use Nilla wafers, vanilla or chocolate sandwich cookies, saltines, Ritz-like crackers, shortbread, pretzels, or even coconut (alone or in combination). Each option lends a unique flavor and texture profile that can elevate your dessert to new heights.
A final tip? Don’t be afraid to experiment. The best part about these crusts is their versatility. Baked or no-bake? Your call. Plus you can mix and match flavors, play around with crumb sizes, or tweak the sugar and butter ratio to your taste. (Some simple variations: Use some or all brown sugar instead of white, and if you’re not going to bake the crust, try using cooled browned butter in place of softened butter.)
The goal is to find the perfect balance that delights your taste buds and adds an extra layer of deliciousness to your favorite cheesecake, pie or tart.
Pie crust causing trouble? Try graham cracker varieties (1971)
Adapted from The Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio) April 14, 1971
“I just can’t make a good pie crust,” is the complaint of many cooks. That is until they try their hand at a crumb crust which is about infallible. Graham crackers were the first cookies to be converted into crusts for pies, and the graham cracker crust remains the most popular. We give you specific directions for making this old standby, plus some variations to make it more suitable for special fillings.
You can start with prepared crumbs or you can make your own from graham crackers: 14 square crackers (or 7 large rectangles) will make about 1 cup of crumbs.
You can place the crackers in a sturdy plastic bag and roll them lightly to break them into small pieces, then roll them to make coarse crumbs. Or if you have a blender, it is great for making crumbs, too.
Softened rather than melted butter or margarine is recommended because it produces a firmer crust.
It’s very important to press the crumbs firmly into place. The easy way is to place an 8-inch plate inside the 9-inch one. Many recipes do not specify baking, but baking definitely produces a crisper, firmer, more golden crust.
Breakfast cereals make good in pie crusts (1953)
By Dorothy Dean in The Spokesman-Review (Washington) June 12, 1953
We doubt whether the early New England housewife would recognize some of the pies made today. A pie was a serious business, with two sturdy crusts to keep the filling from drying out.
Pies were baked on baking day, enough of them to last a week. They were kept in a cool cellar and brought out as demanded, all during the week. Pie was a favorite breakfast food.
Today we reverse the situation and use breakfast food for making pie. That is, we use crumbled cereals for making crumb crusts for pies. We use other crumbs, too — bread crumbs, graham cracker crumbs, and even shredded coconut, which serves somewhat the same purpose as a crumb crust.
Any crumb crust, except one made with uncooked cereal, like oatmeal, can be chilled [no-bake] instead of baked. Baking develops a different flavor, and if you start with uncooked cereal, baking is really needed to bring out that toasty taste.
Classic graham cracker shell/crust
One of the earliest crumb crust recipes we can find in our file is the following:
Roll 32 graham crackers very fine to make about two cups of crumbs. Mix well with 1/2 cup melted butter. Press firmly into the pie pan to make a thick crust. Bake for 15 minutes at 375 degrees.
For a thinner crust, use 1-1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs, two tablespoons sugar, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/2 cup melted butter. This one is supposed to bake at 375 degrees for eight minutes.
Basic classic cornflake crust
- 4 cups cornflakes
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup melted butter or margarine
Crush cornflakes into fine crumbs by rolling them on a pastry board with a rolling pin. Mix them with sugar and melted fat, Press evenly and firmly around the bottom and sides of the pie pan. Chill.
Peanut butter crumb crust
A variation of cornflakes crust calls for some peanut butter and for baking.
- 4 cups cornflakes
- 2 tablespoons honey or corn syrup
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 4 tablespoons peanut butter
- 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
Crush flakes into fine crumbs. Add flour and honey; toss together. Blend in peanut butter and butter, using a fork or a pastry blender. As soon as mixed, press evenly and firmly around the sides and bottom of a greased 9-inch pie pan. Bake at 350 degrees for seven to 10 minutes.
Graham-coconut crumb crust recipe
- 20 graham crackers rolled fine
- 1/2 cup shredded coconut, chopped fine
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup melted butter or margarine
The method of mixing and packing into a pan same as for any crumb crust. This one calls for 15 minutes in a 325-degree oven.
Coconut pie crust recipe (1984)
Combine 7 ounces of flaked coconut and 1/4 cup melted butter or margarine. Toss with a fork until the coconut is evenly moistened. Press against the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie plate. Bake in preheated 300 F oven for 35 to 40 minutes or until golden. Cool on a wire rack before filling.
More filling ideas
What to put in for filling? Well, crumb crusts are rather rich and sweet, so the filling should be airy — something that needs only chilling. after it goes into the crust. Chiffon pie and cream pies come to mind. Here are more than a dozen different vintage recipes you can try!