Mary Anne here. A couple of weekends ago I hosted a “girls night” with my two sisters and one of my beloved nieces. We howled like raucous schoolgirls as we gossiped, giggled, and did a wee bit of guzzling, all while feasting on an over-flowing charcuterie board. The spread was laden with thin slices pf prosciutto and sopressetta, soft wedges of St. Andre and Brie, a battery of imported olives soaked in best-quality olive oil, and of course a crumbly hunk of Parmesan Reggiano. All that our cocktail fest lacked was crisp and spicy cheese straws, but there were none to be found in the local specialty shops – save some ultra-expensive and positively brittle-looking sticks in fancy packaging.
Making your own crispy cheese straws is a snap and super cheap. They’re also very versatile and there’s any number of ways to add your own twists and flavorings. I find that a ½-teaspoon of cayenne provides just the perfect amount of spice to balance the sharp cheddar, but you might want to amp it up with a dash or so of Tabasco. These are also terrific if you sprinkle a bit of Parmesan over them just before going into the oven, but I prefer the unadulterated combo of cheddar and cayenne. Follow the measurements and you can sub in any cheese you choose!
Spiced Cheddar Cheese Twists
Makes about 3 ½ dozen
Note: You can see in the photo some of these are twists while others were fashioned as the straw variety. I was simply playing with length, width and shape and found that a 6 or 7-inch long straw works best as the longer ones tend to break easily once baked and weren’t photo-worthy. I cut the dough with a pizza cutter because that’s all I had on hand, but a pastry wheel is preferable as it creates a scalloped edge.
And that day old bread that you’ve conscientiously ground into crumbs and stored in the freezer for a rainy day? Those babies star in this recipe! Do not try to sub in the packaged “Italian” variety, as they’re far too dry and your cracker dough will crumble. If you don’t have a stash of crumbs in the freezer simply buy a loaf of day old bread at your local market. Where I shop, there’s a rack of bread a day past its sell-date as well as greens and veggies past their prime. The veggies are great for homemade soup stock and the bread is perfect for fresh crumbs.
Tip: Store the twists and straws in a sealed plastic bag or container up to 3 days. To re-crisp, bake at 350 degrees for about 5 minutes.
2 cups shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese, lightly packed – $2.50
1 stick unsalted butter, softened to room temperature – stock
3 cups fresh, fine bread crumbs– stock or if buying day old bread, about $1.00
1½ cups flour – stock
½ cup milk (I use 2% fat) – stock
½ Teaspoon, or to taste, cayenne – stock
a healthy dash of paprika
Grand Total Assuming a Well-Stocked Pantry: $3.50
Total Per Cheese Straw: $0.08
1. Using a food processor armed with the metal blade, combine all of the ingredients, pressing the pulse button until blended thoroughly.
2. Cut the dough in half and form each into a ball and then flatten into a disc. Wrap in waxed paper and then place in a sealed plastic bag. Refrigerate at least several hours or overnight.
3. Position the oven racks in the middle. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
4. Place the first disc between 2 layers of waxed paper. Roll out the dough to about 1/8 to ¼-inch thickness. (The thicker the straw, the longer it needs to bake.) Cut the dough into strips 6 or 7 inches long by ½ inch wide, using either a pizza cutter or pastry wheel.
5. Place on a large baking sheet, lined with parchment paper. This is when you can gently twist the straw a couple of times to create a spiral sort of shape. If the dough breaks, it is very forgiving and you can easily press the pieces together. Note: If using 2 cookie sheets, place the first batch in the fridge while you prepare the second disc. Remember to rotate the trays in the oven halfway through the baking time.
6. Bake until pale gold, about 10 to 15 minutes, depending on thickness of the dough.