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Snack Upgrade: Cheese Straws Go to Finishing School

These cheese straws are pretty heroic: rich, crispy, and totally cheesy. Think turbocharged Cheez-Its. They’re the perfect thing to bring along to a dessert-centric after-dinner birthday party like the one Mr. T and I are off to this evening. I’ve found with years of throwing parties of all sorts of permutations that even the sweetest occasion needs some savor. These play well with drinks of any variety, are compulsively munchable, and will provide a welcome salty contrast to things like birthday cake.

The original recipe, from The New York Times‘ Kim Severson, calls for orange cheddar, and I’m sure they make for an excellent cheese straw.  However. I am both enough of a snob to look slightly askance at orange cheddar and enough in the thrall of Julia Child to know that Gruyère can make anything better. As for the Parmesan, well… because Parmesan! Honestly. Along with a more varied slate of cheeses, I also bumped up the supporting cast of spices, all of which add focus and depth to the different strands of cheese flavor.

The dough is simple and short and comes together quickly. The critical issue here is temperature. The original calls for either extruding the straws with a cookie press or rolling them by hand. The former is fine, IF you’ve got a cookie press, but the latter seems to me a recipe for melty frustration and sticky disaster. Thus, we borrow a temperature management technique from the perfect sugar cookie recipe and pop the rolled dough into the freezer for a few minutes.

This makes all the difference in the world and enables the production of long, slender wands of cheesy deliciousness that won’t put the baker completely round the bend trying to get them onto baking sheets.

Cheese Straws
Adapted from Kim Severson, NYT
Yield: ~4 dozen straws

3 oz Gruyère cheese
3 oz sharp white cheddar cheese
2 oz Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1 1/2 c all purpose flour
1 tsp Kosher salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
4 oz (1 stick) butter, softened

Grate the cheeses and set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, salt, and seasonings. Process briefly to combined. Add the cheese and softened butter. Process, pausing every so often to scrape down the bowl, about 3 minutes. The dough will darken in color slightly and stick together in clumps when pinched.

Empty the dough onto a clean work surface and knead briefly to bring it together. Divide into two pieces. Shape into flattish rectangles about 3×5″ and place each piece between two sheets of plastic wrap. Roll out to a uniform 1/4″ thickness, keeping the edges even and compact with a bench scraper or metal spatula, patching if necessary to make even rectangles.

Turn the oven on and set to 375°.

Carefully transfer the wrapped and rolled dough to the freezer to chill for about 10 minutes. Line two sheet pans with parchment and set aside. When the dough is stiff but not frozen solid (potters would know this state as “leather-hard”), remove them from the freezer and using a long, sharp knife, cut into thin strips. Carefully transfer the strips to the lined sheet pans, leaving about 1/2″ between them.

If the dough cracks when cut, leave it sit for a minute or so on the counter to soften. Broken straws can be gently smushed back together. If the straws get too soft to transfer to the pans easily, return them to the freezer to firm up.

Bake 14-16 minutes, until firm, fragrant, and just starting to brown on the edges. Remove pans from the oven and let cool 5 minutes before transferring straws to a rack to cool completely.

They are very delicate, so handle carefully when wrapping up once they’re cool. To serve, they look best upright in a glass, but proceed carefully when placing them.

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