Every time I start writing this post it somehow sounds like the setup to a Chris Rock joke. Give me a minute to get it out of my system.
Cracker Crackedy Crack Crack Cracker.
That should do it.
This week we’re experimenting with crackers. Inspiration came in the form of a huge box of Southern goodies our summer graduate intern from the University of South Florida sent post-internship. JL…come back…please…come back! The box contained (among other things), Moon Pies, a t-shirt from the infamous Piggly Wiggly (holy cow…it does exist outside of Stephen King novels), a cookbook that contains a recipe for moonshine (seriously, not kidding) and, a box of cheese straws. Where? WHERE have cheese straws been all my life?
Now, I admit to having a predisposed weakness for cheese related crackers with parmesan goldfish being a favorite. But, cheese straws are something entirely different. Rich, crunchy and crumbly, they scream for a cocktail and a warm summer sunset.
So of course, I had to try my hand at them. You know, to go with the moonshine.
Research revealed that many recipes utilize a cookie press to churn-out the dough into pretty little shapes. I have a bit of a prejudice against cookie presses (I sort of think it’s cheating…I know, I know, the Dutch would have issue with my sentiment) and didn’t want to buy one just for this purpose. I did some more searching and, naturally, ended up where I should have started, with a recipe from Smitten Kitchen that calls for rolling-out the dough. Then I did some experimenting of my own.
The base for this recipe is simple with the bonus that much of the work can be done with a single instrument: the food processor. Shredded cheese, butter, a little flour, a wee bit of cream and some seasoning–that’s it folks! We’re going to toggle back and forth between two takes on the same base recipe. Hope this doesn’t get confusing.
This first version is a sharp white cheddar and cayenne pepper.
The second version swaps-out the white cheddar for pecorino romano and the cayenne for freshly chopped rosemary.
There isn’t a ton of ceremony to this recipe: dump in all ingredients but the cream and pulse, pulse, pulse until you get lumpy sand.
This photo is the pecorino version at the same stage as the cheddar version above. Pecorino is a shade harder than cheddar and you can see it in the texture of the dough. I’m no expert, but I’m thinking you’d be just fine utilizing any kind of cheese hard enough to shred in these crackers.
Here is where I found a couple of tricks that will make working with the sticky dough a little easier. To avoid adding extra flour, roll-out the dough between two sheets of parchment. On recipe will get you one-layer (do not re-roll dough). Try to get it into a rectangle or square. I happen to be horrible at this–I’m sure you’ll have more success. Then, pop the thin layer of dough into the fridge for about half an hour.
Deb at Smitten Kitchen cut her dough into long elegant straws. For the cheddar version I went for a shorter rectangle.
I found that during the baking process, the cracker puffed a bit–no bigger but I lost the pretty scallop edge created by my roller.
For the pecorino version, I tried squares and added a hole in the middle of each (Cheez-It style). I also put this version back in the fridge for a few minutes after cutting them into squares. No puffing and the edges stayed clean.
Regardless of shape, both versions were dangerously tasty. If making for a party, you could easily bake them off, freeze and then re-crisp right before the party in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes.
Now…if only the moonshine would hurry up and finish…I need my bathtub back.
If you like this you might enjoy these
Fellow Bruin Sara Bareilles.
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen who adapted them 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
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon half-and-half, cream or milk
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- 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.
- Place the dough ball in the middle of a large piece of parchment. Cover with another piece of parchment and roll the dough into a (roughly) 8×10 rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. Let dough cool in fridge for about 30 minutes.
- Remove from fridge and pull-off the top layer of parchment. Using a sharp knife, pizza cutter or pastry wheel, cut dough into desired shapes. Deb from Smitten Kitchen cut them into long 1/8 inch straws. I made both 1X2 inch rectangles and 1X1 inch square crackers. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet.
- 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.
- Serve at room temperature. Cheese straws will keep in the refrigerator, in a sealed container, for two days. Straws can also be frozen in an airtight bag and crisped-up in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes.
Variations: In the variation above, I swapped-out the cheddar for pecorino and the cayenne for 1 tablespoon of fresh, chopped rosemary. The combos are limitless…