Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Grasping at cheese straws

cheesestraws cookies cheese straws

Cookie season is in full swing and will be for at least another week (there are, after all, 12 days of Christmas). I enjoy sampling from tins filled with raspberry bars, dolly bars, pecan sandies or ginger snaps, but after a while I’m ready for something savory. And that’s why I love cheese straws—a buttery, spicy shortbread cookie made with cheese.

Cheese straws are one of those classic Southern treats, something that no self-respecting hostess would be without in her culinary repertoire. They are usually served before a meal, though they are also delicious with soups, salads, wine, cheese and I have even been known to dip cheese straws into a bowl of queso.

The basic template for a cheese straw is butter, flour and grated cheese. But what makes them fun is that from there you can do just about anything you like. You can spice them up with cayenne and chili powder. You can make them sharp with a dash of Worcestershire or mustard powder. You can even deviate from the standard cheddar and make them with pepper Jack, Parmesan or Gruyere.

cheesestraws cookies cheese straws

Cheese straws can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Some people pipe their straws out using a star tip and a pastry bag. Others stick the dough into a cookie press and form them that way. You’ll find cheese straws that are round and scored with a fork, you’ll find cheese straws that are as thick as logs and you’ll find cheese straws like mine—skinny rectangles dotted with holes.

At the office, we’ve been receiving holiday baskets loaded with food. Usually, the offerings are sweet—such as boxes of peppermint bark or bags of toffee. But one gift came with a package of cheese straws. Perhaps I’ve lead a sheltered life, but I don’t think I’d ever seen them prepared commercially before—there are such a quintessentially homemade thing. I opened the package (no one else seemed to want them) and gave them a try. And yes, they were awful. The maker had cheated and made them with margarine and there wasn’t nearly enough cheese. It made me sad because I wondered how many people had eaten these and thought that this mediocre product was a definitive cheese straw.

You should never buy your cheese straws—they should always be homemade. And don’t worry—they take little effort. I find that you can whip up a batch of cheese straws in under an hour, especially if you don’t mess with getting all frilly-fancy with their shapes (though there’s certainly nothing wrong with that). The dough comes together like a pie-crust dough—all crumbles until that magic moment when suddenly it’s moist and supple enough to shape into a ball. And after 15 minutes in the oven, you’ll have a warm basket filled with these crisp, cheesy treats.

cheesestraws cookies cheese straws

They are a hit at parties, pair perfectly with that post-midnight mass glass of Proseco, and, well, never fail to impress those who haven’t tried them before. A box of them also makes for a welcome holiday gift, especially for those who may be suffering from sugar fatigue. But don’t think that they are only for special occasions—I find that you can trot these out anytime, and even if you are alone, a handful along with a cup of chamomile tea makes for a delicious late-evening snack.


Cheese straws


Ingredients:
2 sticks of unsalted butter, softened
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded white cheddar cheese
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons half and half

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350°F.

Using a food processor or your hands, mix the butter and cheese. Add the flour, salt, cayenne and half and half and stir until it becomes a ball. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Roll out the dough into a rectangle that is 1/4 inch thick, and using a pizza cutter, cut the dough into rectangles 2"x1" rectangles. Alternatively, you can form dough into marbles and press with a fork.

Poke 4 holes in the top of each cheese straw with a fork.

Bake on a parchment-lined cookie sheet for 15 minutes. Cool and then serve.


Yield:
3 dozen

Author:


HOMESICKTEXAN.COM
PRINT RECIPE

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31 comments:

Celeste said...

Oh I so agree, they are the best homemade!

The only recipe I've ever tried is from the Cabot cheese site, Golden Dollars. The dough is rolled in a log and then rolled in toasted sesame seeds before slicing and pressing with a fork. These are always a huge hit as gifts; I think people get worn out by all the sweets and savory becomes a treat. Here is the recipe in case you are intrigued:

http://www.cabotcheese.com/f1.php?left=menu-recipes.html&right=/pages/recipes/home.php&top=menu_top.php

lisaiscooking said...

And to think, I've never made cheese straws! Sounds great for New Years.

T said...

awesome! i love cheese straws. your photography is great!

Lisa (dinner party) said...

yes, agreed on the photos--these are especially pretty. love me some cheese straws!

Brenda in Texas said...

Thank you Lisa for posting this recipe. I havent had cheese straws in years. I love your recipes, your pictures, but especially
your family stories. I always look forward to
reading your blog. My parents are gone now
so my sisters and I, and my daughters and I
have so many funny stories to tell along with recipes to share. That is what family is all about. Keep up the good work. Merry Christmas.
Brenda

Lisa said...

Cheese Straws are an amazing southern delicacy. Thanks for reminding me to make a batch along with the cookies this year. And yes, it is wonderful news that there are twelve days of Christmas and they haven't even begun yet. Happy Holidays to all!

Culinarywannabe said...

I never thought of making homemade cheese straws. I always see the pre-made ones at little gift stores where they charge a fortune for one small bag. Happy holidays!!

Olivia said...

Ooh yes, my mum used to spice her mix up with homemade coarse ground hot sauce. Now I think I would add cumin seeds to that :)

Anonymous said...

Delurking here - thanks for your lovely blog!

These sound awesome, although being from the North I've never heard of such a thing. My husband's family is having a soup potluck the day after Christmas and these will be just the thing add to the table. Thanks!!!

Megs

Jerry said...

I wonder if you just scout for recipes and foods I've never tried. Oh well, that's about to change with my new year's resolution (hopefully I keep it). Have a happy holiday Lisa.
Jerry

masdevallia said...

I've never had a proper cheese straw. It's clearly time to see to that. A New Year's Resolution is forming!

First I have to turn my attention to the Cheese Fritters that are on the menu for Christmas Eve.

Ashley said...

Hi Lisa,

Merry Christmas and God bless you. I love cheese straws but just recently found out that I can no longer eat gluten :(. Do you happen to know if any gluten free flours would work with this recipe. I'll do some experimentin. Thank you for the gift of your time and recipes.

<>< Ashley in Texas

Elizabeth said...

A good friend gave me her recipe (very much like yours) for wonderful cheese "cookies". The one thing she warned me about was pre-grated cheese. She said not to use this because they put something in it to keep the cheese from sticking together.

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Celeste--I like the addition of the sesame seeds, I'll have to try that!

Lisaisacooking--They're wonderful for New Year's Eve!

T--Many thanks!

Lisa (dinner party)--Thank you! Cheese straws must be extra photogenic.

Brenda--I'm so happy to hear you enjoy the blog and yes, that is indeed what family is all about. Merry Christmas!

Lisa--I, for one, plan on celebrating all 12 days! Happy holidays!

Culinarywannabe--You should definitely make them--they're a cinch and taste so much better than store-bought ones.

Olivia--Oh! Cumin seeds would be very delicious!

Megs--They're perfect with soup--enjoy!

Jerry--How have you never had cheese straws? Well, that has to change!
Hope you have a wonderful holiday, too!

Masdevallia--Cheese fritters? Oh, my! Do you care to share the recipe?

Ashley--That's a good question. Can you eat oat flour? I bet that would work. Cornmeal might work, too. Basically, anything you would use to make a gluten-free pie crust would be a good substitution.

Elizabeth--Yes, that's true. They add cellulose to shredded cheese to keep it from clumping--and because of this, even though it takes time, it's always to grate your own cheese.

Amy Berkley Ellis said...

Hey Lisa,
Having recently moved back to the US after 20 years in england, (and to TX as well, having never set foot in the state before!) I am enjoying the different culinary experiences of Texas. But cheese straws are very popular in England. There they use puff pastry (own or ready made) and just jazz them up from there. will definitely try your recipe. have a lovely holiday. xAmy in Austin

Helene said...

Merry Christmas!

Sandi @the WhistleStop Cafe said...

Merry Christmas Y'all!
Sandi

Foodista said...

Happy Holidays Lisa!

Julie said...

I completely agree! Someone who works in an office up the hall from mine brought a particularly delicious batch of homemade cheesestraws in and after I'd had a few it was all I could do to stop myself from making trip after trip up the hall and grabbing handfuls of them. They're SO good! Much more addictive than the usual sweet Christmas cookies.

Kerri said...

I've gotta tell ya - I am so happy to find your blog! After stumbling upon it, I spent my night glancing over a few of the recipes. I'm a native Texan (from Aggieland) and I just moved out of my parents' house last October. I haven't cooked much, but since cooking a couple of casseroles for Christmas I've been struck with the desire to cook even more. I love your recipes for puffy tacos, cream gravy, biscuits, breakfast sausage, queso, etc. I've only ever heard of cheese straws; I'll definitely have to make them! Your blog makes it look so easy!

Bee said...

I've been using a recipe from an old Southern Living cookbook for years . . . now I will have to try yours for comparison! You're so right: they are definitely "moreish."

Crafty Chick said...

OOOOO, you snagged my attention again! Can't wait to try these. Thanks!

piccola said...

Funny, I've always thought cheese straws were made with puff pastry - at least, the ones we make are. This looks like a nice twist.

Crafty Chick said...

I just finished baking a batch of these and was so inspired, I had to write! These are without a doubt my favorite cheesy recipe. So light, so tender ........

Joe said...

First off, love your blog. I'm not a Texan but my wife has family there and I've loved classic southern dishes since I was old enough to cook. Thanks for all the great recipes.

I made some of these for a New Year's party tomorrow night (I live in Japan so my new year starts 14 hours earlier) and they are spectacular. I've bought cheese straws before as a snack, my wife claims she's never had them, but I always shared them with her, that should give an idea of how memorable they are. I used 1/2 cup of red cheddar for color, and I'm having a hard time saving them for the party!

Kittysmith said...

Every Christmas in the 50ies and 60ies, my Texas grandmother of German descent would send some very spicy cheese straws in the box along with our presents. Really delicious! For years -until I lost it during one of my many moves as a young woman - I had her hand-written recipe. The list of ingredients began with, "Butter the size of an egg..." Yea buddy.

coffee and queso said...

yum. i think i'll give these a go for my sorry-i-didn't-send-a-gift-but-here's-a-treat-for-the-new-year gifts. :) -mindy in austin

Wendy said...

Having spent the last 2 years in Nebraska,I'm having serious southern food withdrawl symptoms. Your blog helps me hang on until I can find my way back home to TX. Cheese Straws and Chili are on the menu for this weekend. Thanks! Wendy

Journey on! by Kelleye said...

actually was trying to find out what those collin street bakery ccheese cookies are made of and I think I'm tasting this recipe or close to it! Glad I found your blog! Awesome!

Becky said...

Elizabeth is right! Don't use pre-grated cheese. They put either corn starch or something else in the pre-grated, and you won't get a crispy cheese straw if you don't grate your own. This recipe is great! Some might want more cayenne.

Elise Johnson said...

Been looking for a really good recipe for Cheese Straws...think I just found it!! Thank you!

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