I was thinking that some of those flaky Southern cheese straws would be a nice addition to my Thanksgiving relish tray, but I couldn’t find my cookie press. (Maybe I never had one?) However, I did find my autumn-leaf cookie cutters so that’s what I’m using instead. My favorite recipe for cheese straws comes from an honest-to-goodness Southern belle and good friend who grew up eating them. I think you’ll enjoy making them for Thanksgiving or any holiday parties to come.
T Beller (given name Mary T but nobody calls her that) lives in Napa, as I do, but she was born and raised in Montgomery, Alabama. Her mother was an activist and civil-rights attorney and her father was an entrepreneur. They built a mid-century modern house and filled it with modern furniture and contemporary art, so they stood out in this conservative community on many fronts.
I still remember the delicious cheese straws T brought to a New Year’s Day party, so I asked for the recipe.
“Ah, the cheese straws,” she replied in an e-mail. “My comfort food throughout childhood and even now. The smell of those piping hot, light, crispy, cheesy bites baking in the oven (the countless times I burned my tongue not waiting for them to cool)…the huge red cookie tin that was constantly replenished…ready to be served at the cocktail hour and always the focal point of any Southern canape tray...irresistible and addictive…a cure for anything and everything.”
The recipe is simple but the baking is tricky, she added. “They must not brown or the cheese becomes bitter, and there is an ongoing debate over rolling or extruding them.” (She rolls them.) “They say it takes a lifetime to perfect the cheese straw.”
When she’s not baking, T runs Verve Napa Valley, a custom-tour company. If a Napa Valley vacation is in your future, call her first.
T’s Southern Cheese Straws
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon kosher or sea salt
¼ teaspoon red pepper
1 pound sharp Cheddar (I used Grafton Village 2-Year), grated
½ cup unsalted butter, in small pieces
Put the flour, salt and pepper in a food processor and pulse to blend. Add the cheese and butter and pulse until the mixture comes together into a dough. You can roll out the dough immediately or wrap and refrigerate it, but bring it to room temperature before continuing.
Purists use a cookie press to extrude the traditional ridged ribbons. T flattens her dough with a rolling pin and cuts strips with a fluted pastry wheel. I used a rolling pin and cookie cutters, flattening the dough to ¼ inch thickness.
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Bake on heavy parchment-lined baking sheets until the they just start to brown, about 8 minutes. Watch like a hawk. They quickly go from underdone to overdone. Transfer to a rack to cool and crisp. Eat soon.
This recipe makes a heap (about 10 dozen of the size pictured above). Halve the recipe if desired.
Me, too. Bread with cheese? Even better. Dark pumpernickel, crusty baguettes, raisin brioche, walnut levain, seedy seven-grain loaves…all of them shine with cheese but not with the same cheese. Join me for a seriously fun evening exploring the love match between bread and cheese at Petaluma’s beautiful new Artisan Baking Center. Champion baker Craig Ponsford (Gold Medal winner at the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie) will be making our seven breads. I’ll bring the cheeses. Wine and beer, of course. A night to remember!
Bread & Cheese: Seven Perfect Pairings
Thursday, December 6
Artisan Baking Center
6 p.m. to 8 p.m.