Cheese Straws

These are a Southern staple.  Gourmet stores now carry them in a variety of flavors – parmesan, bleu, jalapeno – but for me the sharp cheddar will always be the way they should be.  I don’t know why I only make them at Christmas time, but that makes them all the more special.  My recipe comes out of an old church cookbook of my mom’s.  We quadruple it.  I can’t imagine going to the trouble for just a few so we always make a whole bunch.  In fact one year I think we made two quadrupled recipes.  That was overkill.

There’s not much to these.  Cheese, butter, flour and paprika.  That’s it.  Throw in some cayenne if you like a little kick to them.  The dough is really soft.  You can roll it out and cut it into strips or shapes or you can use a cookie press.  We generally use a cookie press.  The dough doesn’t get worked quite as much that way and the little flower shapes are much cuter than straws.  Don’t you think?

The hardest thing about these is the baking.  It’s not easy to tell when they’re done.  If they’re not done enough then they can be a touch doughy in the middle and once they’ve started to brown they taste like burnt cheese.  The general rule is about 10 minutes.  A little longer if you have more than one pan in at a time and a little less if your oven runs hot.  Mostly this just requires a lot of checking them frequently and breaking one open to see if it looks done.  If there’s a dark spot in the middle it’s not done.  And of course the taste test is the most reliable.  It’s really more a texture test than a taste test.  They’re so hot when you pull them out that you can’t really taste anything.  The other thing to know about baking these is that you can’t start them on a hot pan.  You’ll want to have several pans in the rotation so that they have time to cool between batches.  In the photo about the two cheese straws on the left are perfect and the two on the right are just a touch over done.  The difference is subtle, but important.

There’s a little disagreement about when the paprika gets added.  Generally you add some to the dough when you’re mixing it and then sprinkle some on the tops.  Mom sprinkles before they go in the over and I sometimes sprinkle when they come out.  If you do it before you bake then you get a little smoky taste out of the paprika.  Sometimes that taste is a little dark, but usually that’s when you’ve left them in a touch too long.  Whatever you want to do is fine.

My recommendation is that you not wait for Christmas to make these.  They’re a big hit with everyone.  All the time. And the freeze great so make a whole bunch and freeze whatever you don’t need. Just be careful about where in the freezer you put them because they’ll break.

Good? Yes!
Easy? Yep, just pay attention to the baking.
Good for company? Yes, and a nice gift too.
Special shopping? Nope.

The proportions below have already been quadrupled from the original. Don’t quadruple again unless you are making cheese straws for a hundred!

Cheese Straws

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Ingredients

1 pound extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated
3 sticks butter, softened to room temperature
4 C flour
paprika

Directions

Put the cheese and the butter in the food processor and process until it’s very smooth. It should be about the consistency of whipped cream and should have no pieces of cheese visible. Put the cheese mixture in a large bowl and add two cups of the flour. Mix until the flour is just incorporated then add the other two cups of flour. Mix until a soft dough forms. Press the dough into the cookie press and press out as many as you can fit on a sheet. These don’t rise very much so you don’t have to leave a lot of space between them. Bake at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes. Check them often to be sure that they are crisp through, but not at all brown.

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