In dusting off a woefully-neglected group of recipes on my “Cook This” list, subcategory “Cheese” I came upon a curious confection known as a cheese straw. Despite making a note to try them, cheese straws were new to me, but seeing as they involve cheddar, butter, salt and red pepper flakes, I couldn’t imagine them being anything less than awesome.
What I didn’t realize was that, in a ridiculously simple process that took no more than one hour from prep to snacking, what I’d really baked were a cheesy poofs/cheez doodle hybrid! And that my life may now be complete.
It’s funny, all of these “cheese”-based snacks have never held my interest; they seemed so artificial, but not in a tasty way, like Twizzlers or Insert-Your-Shameful-Junk-Food-Habit-Here are. So you can imagine my surprise that when cheese, flour, butter, salt and pepper flakes are rendered into this cracker-like format, they taste remarkably like, well, Cheeze-Its.
Except so much better: buttery, crisp, flavorful and just a little spicy. We fanned these out in glasses at our housewarming party, among plates of cheese (including this one, which might be the best thing I’ve had since that awkward incident in Paris last fall where I declared a soft cheese “the best thing, ever” only to discover that I was actually eating butter) and crackers and various stuffed phyllo triangles and though they quickly almost disappeared, I noticed that people were doing that thing where nobody wants to be the person who takes the last one. Fortunately, I have no such inhibitions: cronch. I only wish I’d made more.
Adapted from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook
1 1/2 cups (about 6 ounces) grated extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick or 2 ounces) unsalted butter, softened and cut into 4 pieces
3/4 cup flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon half-and-half (I used cream, because I had it on hand; suspect milk would work just as well)
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. In a food processor, combine the cheese, butter, flour, salt and red pepper in five 5-second pulses until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the half-and-half and process until the dough forms a ball, about 10 seconds.
3. On a lightly floured surface, using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough into an 8- by 10-inch rectangle that is 1/8-inch thick. With a sharp knife (or a pizza or pastry wheel; both worked great), cut the dough into thin 8-inch strips, each 1/4- to 1/3-inch wide (dipping the knife in flour after every few inches ensures a clean cut). Gently transfer the strips to an ungreased cookie sheet (though I lined mine with parchment), leaving at least 1/4-inch between them. The dough may sag or may break occasionally in the transfer, but don’t be concerned — just do your best. The straws can be any length, from 2 to 10 inches.
4. Bake the straws on the middle rack for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the ends are barely browned. Remove from the oven and set the cookie sheet on a rack to cool.
5. Serve at room temperature. Cheese straws will keep in the refrigerator, in a sealed container, for two days. They will not last an hour at a party.
Variation: One adaptation I am curious to try would be to roll these into thin, round crackers. Because they puff a bit, I’d roll them as thin as possible, and use a fork or skewer to make some holes to keep the expansion in check. If you try this, I’d love to hear how it went for you.