Nabs. Peanut Butter Crackers. Lance's Toast Chee. Whatever you call them, you are likely familiar with the unnaturally florescent "cheese" crackers that are sandwiched with peanut butter and wrapped in cellophane-- six to a pack. For me, they were the stuff of after school snacks, bought with quarters out of the teacher's lounge vending machine or pulled from my mother's desk drawer while my brother and I waited for her to finish her classroom work. I hadn't thought about those sandwich crackers much since until my friend Emily Wallace, a Nabs devotée, made some illustrations of them for bookmarks. Then a few months ago, while interviewing Richmond chef Travis Milton for a story for Gravy, he mentioned that he'd made some Nabs-crusted pork cutlets and began to wax poetic:
It’s kinda like a fried pork chop pounded up and you just grind up Nabs and the sugar and the peanut butter gets real real crispy and kinda caramelizes and the cracker meal gets good. I’ve also rolled sausage balls or boudin balls in that too. Nabs are one of my favorite things in the world.
This got me thinking-- could I use Nabs in a sweet dish, perhaps as a pie crust? I started talking about it with some friends, but quickly realized that many did not know what "Nabs" were, calling them instead "Toast Chee" or "Cheese and Peanut Butter Crackers." "Nabs" are a shortened version of "Nabisco," who along with Lance, produced varieties of the sandwich crackers in the early 1900s. Nabisco adopted the shortened name used by customers, however in the late 70s and early 80s, they discontinued their "Nabs," leaving those made by Keebler and Lance to become the prominent brands. The "Nabs" moniker is particularly prevalent in North Carolina, as according to Our State Magazine, both Lance and Nabisco had factories in the state, and the crackers were a common quick snack for mill workers who often did not get a break for lunch.
Regardless of what you call them, my rigorous testing proved that Nabs can indeed make a fine pie crust, similar to a graham cracker, saltine, or Oreo crust. I adapted the filling from this Peanut Butter-Pretzel Tart, as Nabs seemed to demand a milk chocolate pairing rather than semi-sweet. The result resembles a Butterfinger, both in richness and flavor. Rather than a peanut butter swirl, you could also do a chocolate covered peanut filling, which would add a nice crunch.
For the crust:
1 1/2 cups (about 6 packets) Nabs aka "Cheese" and Peanut Butter Crackers, crushed
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
For the filling:
8 ounces milk chocolate chips
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter (Use run-of-the-mill salted and sweetened peanut butter. If you use natural, make sure it's smooth, and you'll want to add sugar to taste--probably 1/2 cup)
1. For the crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place Nabs in the bowl of a food processor and process until fine crumbs form. Add melted butter, sugar, and salt, and pulse until well mixed.
2. Pat the buttery crumbs into a 9-inch pie pan, pressing mixture into the bottom and sides to form a pie crust. Place in oven and bake until crust is set, about 10-12 minutes. Place on a cooling rack and let cool to room temperature before adding the filling.
3. For the filling: Put chocolate in a heat-proof bowl and set aside. Combine cream and butter in a medium saucepan and place on medium heat until it just comes to a boil. When it begins to boil, pour it over the chocolate, cover the bowl, and let it sit for 3-5 minutes. Remove the lid and whisk in the chocolate until it is completely melted and has a ganache-like consistency. Pour it into the cooled pie crust and smooth with a rubber spatula.
4. Meanwhile, warm the peanut butter in the microwave or on the stove until it is slightly runny. Pour it over the chocolate ganache, and drag a butter knife through it to create swirls. Chill for at least 25-30 minutes to set. Serve at room temperature and enjoy.
Chocolate and Peanut Butter Pretzel Tart
Chocolate and Strawberry Pocky Pie
Peanut Butter Banana Cream Pie with Chocolate Ganache
Speculoos Icebox Pie