Monday, June 18, 2012

Easy Cheese Straws

Cheese Straws in Glass, Black Background

Make ‘em Long, Short, or even Round — This Traditional Snack Is Perfect for Entertaining

Looking for an easy-munching snack that delivers better flavor than anything you’d buy in a box?  Something that works as an appetizer or at a cocktail party?  Something casual, but special?

How about Cheese Straws — a traditional Southern snack that wins lip-smacking plaudits at summer festivities and fall celebrations alike?

You can buy these in tins or boxes at upper-end groceries or through mail-order gourmet establishments, but you’re paying big bucks for what is essentially grated cheese mixed with butter and flour.  Something that you can mix together in minutes at far less cost.

And when they’re freshly baked?  We’re talking mouth paradise.

Once you learn how to make these, you may never buy a supermarket snack again.


Round Cheese Straws on Black Acrylic

Recipe:  Cheese Straws

Cheese straws aren’t “straws” at all, but something more like crackers.  Almost, but not quite, a short crust.  Kind of like Cheez-Its®, but with more cheese (and much more flavor). 

They’re usually baked in narrow strips (up to ½-inch wide) in lengths of 4 inches or more.  So they come out looking a bit like straws, which is probably how they got their name.  But you can find them in other shapes as well.  I like to cut out rounds using a fluted cookie cutter. 

Cheddar cheese is the usual flavoring, but you can use any sharp, firm cheese that catches your fancy.  Basically, you grate the cheese and combine it with flour, butter, salt, and often cayenne pepper.  Form the mixture into dough, roll, cut out your cheese straws, and then bake.  That’s it.

Most general-purpose cookbooks offer a version of Cheese Straws, and all recipes are pretty much the same. My favorite rendition is in The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook, and my recipe is adapted from theirs.

This recipe makes enough for a dozen people or more, which is often more than I want.  So I usually freeze half the recipe for a future occasion.  You can easily cut this recipe in half, if you wish.  Or double it and freeze even more (which is what I like to do).

It takes about 10 - 15 minutes to mix and roll out the dough, and another 12 minutes or so to bake.  You can make the dough a day or two ahead and refrigerate it (in well-sealed cling wrap) if you choose.  Baked straws will keep in an airtight container for 2 or 3 days — if you have any left, that is!

Ingredients
  •  8 ounces sharp or extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated (about 3 cups; you can substitute another hard cheese of your choice)
  • ~1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (or more; optional, but adds a nice sharp note)
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 stick unsalted butter cut into 8 or more pieces (can use frozen butter if you wish)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, or ¾ teaspoon regular table salt
  • ¾ - 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste; ¾ teaspoon will provide a nice ping, but won’t be too spicy for most people)
  • 1 - 3 tablespoons milk or cream (skim milk is OK)
  • additional flour for dusting when rolling out the dough
  • additional butter to grease a cookie sheet (optional)
Procedure
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Grate cheeses (the easiest way is to use the grating disc on the food processor).
  3. Put grated cheese in the bowl of a food processor (if it isn’t already there).  Using the metal blade of the food processor, pulse two or three times to cut up the cheese.  Add the flour, butter, salt, and cayenne pepper to the cheese in the food processor, and pulse several times (for a total of about 30 seconds) until the mixture has a coarse texture (like cornmeal).
  4. Add 1 tablespoon of milk or cream, and pulse briefly.  Feel the texture of the dough.  Using your fingers, can you form the dough into a cohesive ball?  If yes, you’re ready to form the dough.  If not, continue adding milk or cream a tablespoon at a time until you can do so. 
  5. Dump the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface.  Using your hands, knead the dough until it forms a nice, cohesive mass.  (Note:  Sometimes the dough mounds up on the blades of the food processor during Step 4, forming a nice ball for you; but usually it doesn’t.)  At this point, I often wrap the dough in cling wrap and refrigerate it overnight (you can also freeze it; put cling-wrapped dough in a freezer bag).
  6. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until the thickness of the dough is about ¼-inch.  You want to form a rectangle, but if you’re like most of us, you’ll have some jagged edges.  No worries.
  7. Cut the dough into the shape you prefer.  Use a sharp knife — I usually use a pizza wheel.  Most people like to cut straws ¼ to ½-inch wide in lengths from 4 to 10 inches.  You can also use a cookie cutter to cut rounds, if you prefer — they’re quite attractive.  If you have irregular pieces of dough leftover after cutting, simply reform into a ball, roll out again, and cut some more straws.
  8. Grease a cookie sheet lightly (to help avoid sticking; can also using baking spray) or line the cookie sheet with a silicone baking mat (my preference).  You will need 2 cookie sheets if making the full recipe.  Carefully (so they don’t break apart) place straws on cookie sheet(s), leaving gaps of at least ¼ inch between the straws (more is better if you have enough cookie sheet real estate; as the straws bake, they’ll expand, and if they touch their neighbors, they will stick together).
  9. Bake the straws in the middle rack of the oven for 10 - 15 minutes, or until done.  Mine usually are done at 12 or 13 minutes.
  10. You can serve Cheese Straws hot or at room temperature.  They’re good both ways, but they’re particularly scrumptious when fresh from the oven.
Cheese Straws on Black Acrylic

Notes
  • Making the dough is much like making pasta dough.  For more info about that, see the post on making Homemade Pasta and Noodles
  • You can also make this dough by hand if you don't have a food processor.  Mix flour and salt well, and cut in bits of butter.  Add grated cheeses and blend into the flour/butter mixture.  Then add a tablespoon of milk or cream as directed in Step 4, and continue with the Procedure above. 
  • When forming the dough on the work surface, you may find that you didn’t add enough milk or cream in Step 4.  If so, just sprinkle a bit more on the dough and knead it in until you have a ball that holds together — and that you can roll out without it breaking apart.
  • You can substitute cold water for milk or cream in Step 4, if you wish.  Your cheese straws will be somewhat leaner, but still plenty tasty.
  • Rather than rolling the dough flat, you can shape it into a log:  With your hands close together and palms down, simply start rolling the ball of dough back and forth.  It will begin to form a cylinder.  As the cylinder takes shape, move your hands from the center towards each end to elongate it, forming a “log.”  Then cut wafers about ¼-inch thick, and bake as you would straws.
  • Instead of rolling and cutting the dough, you can place it in a cookie press and extrude the straws.  Many commercial cheese straws are made this way.  But I find it easier to roll the dough (it takes a minute, two at the most) and then cut the straws rather than mess with the cookie press.
  • You can skip the Parmesan, but it complements the cheddar well, and makes for a more interesting flavor.  You can also increase the amount of Parmesan by another ounce or two.
  • A firm blue cheese like Asiago makes wonderful cheese straws.  Just substitute it for the cheddar.
  • If you absolutely can’t stand spicy, you can omit the cayenne pepper.  But it adds a lot, IMO.
  • Before baking, you can brush the tops of the cheese straws with some water (or better yet, an egg wash) and sprinkle additional cayenne pepper on them for even more heat.  Or you could add another spice — cumin seeds are nice.
  • There are recipes for making cheese straws out of puff pastry.  Although these can be quite good, I think the flavor of the cheese shines through better in traditional straws.
  • Today, cheese straws can be found throughout the US.  But historically they were particularly popular in the South. Why? Who knows — it just happened. If you’re interested in their history (including whether they originated in England and migrated to the US), you can find scads more info at The Food Timeline and Hoppin’ John’s Cheese Straw Discussion.
Cheese Straws in Glass, Napkin in Background

Delicious with Cocktails

“Oh, wow,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs as she tasted a cheese straw hot from the oven.  “I think we’ve bought our last packaged snack.”

“Yeah,” I replied, “once you learn how to make these, it’s hard to go back.  And they’re great with cocktails.”  Which is what we were sipping while devouring more cheese straws that either of us would care to acknowledge. 

Cheese Straws are one of the best nibbles going, and they pair excellently with just about any drink you can name.  Good thing!  Because as you’ve probably noticed (since I keep telling you), we’re celebrating our Summer Sippin’ Series here on Kitchen Riffs. 

Each week this summer, we’re featuring a different cocktail.  We started with Cocktail Basics. Then we featured the Mojito Cocktail, the Tom Collins, and the Sloe Gin Fizz.

But drinking on an empty stomach isn’t a good idea, so we need some munchies.  Hence, this post on Cheese Straws.  We’ll do another munchie post or two sometime this summer (plus plenty of other food posts).

“Which cocktail are you doing next in the series?” asked Mrs K R.

“What we’re drinking — the Bellini.”

“Oh, yum, they’re luscious.”  She looked significantly at her empty glass.

I took the hint and made her another.  And replenished the Cheese Straws.

You may also enjoy reading about:
Salsa and Picante Sauce
Peach Salsa
California Clam Dip
Homemade Chex Mix
Velveeta Tex-Mex Dip
Cocktail Basics
Mojito Cocktail
Tom Collins
Sloe Gin Fizz


60 comments:

  1. i had to go back and read through the post again to make sure I didn't miss that this one is not made of potatoes. Wow I'm so making this. I really want to try it Thanks you for sharing.
    Malou

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    1. Hi Malou, the Cheese Straws do somewhat resemble french fries, don't they?! Really a great recipe - I hope you enjoy making it. Thanks for your comment.

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  2. This post couldn't come in a better time: I was just thinking what to do with a good chunk of cheddar in my refrigerator. Wonderful photos, great recipe. Thanks you! :)

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    1. Hi Marina, glad you help you out with that cheddar! Thanks for taking time to comment.

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  3. I love the light you achieve in your photos - just beautiful. And the reflections - so precise.

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    1. Hi Suzanne, I've been paying a lot of attention to the lighting in my photos for awhile - the same subject looks so different depending on how one lights it, what background you use, etc. It fun, though I find it challenging. Thanks for the kind words, and the comment.

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  4. They look yummy... and would be perfect with dips:)

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    1. Hi Tania, dip away! I agree, they're a great vehicle for conveying dip. Thanks for your comment.

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  5. Your cheese straws look so inviting. I can almost reach into the screen and take one. Perfect with cocktails!

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    1. Hi Biren, please do reach in and take one! These are nice anytime, but I do particularly enjoy them with drinks. Thanks for your comment.

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  6. these cheese straws would make perfect party snacks! for some reason I thought cheese straws were fried guess i was totally wrong. Thanks for the detailed recipe. I think i'll def make this soon since I have some hard cheese and the food processor with the grater disc :)

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    1. Hi Yi, not fried, definitely baked. I think you'll enjoy them - they're quite easy to make, and utterly delicious. Thanks for your comment.

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  7. My photos want to be like your photos when they grow up. Sigh...I hope they grow up quickly! :-)

    I love cheese straws. I absolutely agree that they are much better than any you could buy. And SO addicting!!

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    1. Hi Kristy, LOL at your photo comment! But I think yours are already quite good. And boy, addicting is exactly the word for these cheese straws. Thanks for your comment.

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  8. I need to make these - I bet they are addictive :)

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    1. Hi Yudith, they really are addictive. In this case, a good thing. ;-) Thanks for your comment.

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  9. Mmm. Yum! Who would turn down the cheese straws! They make wonderful snacks. My kids won't eat their goldfish anymore once they try these. I better make them soon. Thanks for the recipe and the detailed instructions. This will be my go to cheese straw recipe when I need.

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    1. Hi Holly, no one I know would turn down cheese straws. Goldfish are probably the best of the commercial cheese-flavored snacks, IMO. But not as good as these! Thanks for your comment.

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  10. Don't ever put a cheese stick (straw) in front of me because I'll snatch it up in a flash and devour it! I'd probably finish off one of these batches in one sitting! The combination of the white sharp cheddar with Parmesan sounds perfect. Why substitute anything else?! Fabulous recipe!

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    1. Hi MJ, I hate to say it but I could probably consume the whole batch in one sitting too. At least some of the time. Cheddar + Parmesan is wonderful, but Asiago is worth having too. Maybe you should do a bake-off, trying several possibilities? That way you'd be less likely to finish the whole batch at once. ;-) Thanks for your comment.

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  11. OMG.. mouth paradise. I might need to borrow that one!

    I love these cheese straws and can't wait to try them.

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    1. Hi Maureen, ;-) Borrow away! These truly are great. I've got some more cheese in the fridge right now that I'll be turning into cheese straw dough later this week. Thanks for commenting.

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  12. The trouble is that I think I would eat them all up before my guests even arrived. LOL Can't resist anything cheesy good like this.

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    1. Hi Carolyn, these are dangerous, I admit - it's too easy to over-sample! Thanks for your comment.

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  13. This is such a great presentation. Such a beautiful combination! : )

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    1. Hi love2dine, thank you! And thanks for stopping by.

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  14. You bring back childhood memories with those magnificent cheese straws! My mother used to make them a lot when I was a kid.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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    1. Hi Rosa, glad to revive those memories! These are one of those timeless classics. Thanks for your comment.

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  15. Replies
    1. Hi Akila, these are pretty quick to make, so you can satisfy that longing in a jiffy! Thanks for your comment.

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    1. Hi Marta, whoops, looks like Blogger ate your comment! Or maybe you are just suggesting that these would be ideal for your breakfast - an excellent idea! Thanks for stopping by.

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  17. That is an absolutely fantastic idea! I have a huge block of cheese sitting in the fridge ready to go bad, I will give this recipe a try. :)

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    1. Hi Jenny, well, now you know what you'll be doing with it! I suspect after you taste these, you'll be buying extra cheese just so you'll have to rescue it from going bad! Thanks for commenting.

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  18. I've actually attempted making Cheese Straws not one but twice and believe me, they never looked as tasty as yours. We won't even discuss how they really tasted!!! Your look delicious and I am so glad you included a step by step and those wonderful "history" links.

    Thank you so much for sharing...I do believe I may just need to try whipping the up again!!!

    P.S. ooooo I do hope you come up with some deliciousness for the Picnic Game!!!

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    1. Hi Louise, put your cheese straws in a nice contrasty light and they'll look great! Definitely you should try these again - they're wonderful. Thanks for your comment.

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  19. These look so dangerous - in the best way possible! I can imagine myself getting addicted to these cheese straws. Bookmarking the recipe! :)

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    1. Hi Jeanne, they are dangerous! Addiction is a very real threat. You'll probably have to make some right away. ;-) Thanks for your comment.

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  20. i know these aren't hard. but i'm too lazy. But i want these so bad! In circles of course!

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    1. Hi Pencil Kitchen, well if you want those circles, you'll just have to get over your laziness! ;-) I know what you mean, though - sometimes I just can't be bothered to do something that's so simple. Thanks for your comment.

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  21. I can see my self nibbling on those non-stop

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    1. Hi Raymund, alas, it's only too easy to nibble these - and keep on nibbling! Tasty devils, though. Thanks for your comment.

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  22. I made cheese straws once to take to a party, and people basically inhaled them. I've never posted the recipe, though, and you've reminded me that I should. Your variation sounds terrific - I didn't use cayenne pepper when I made mine, and now I'm curious to see how that would taste.

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    1. Hi Beth, these do get inhaled! Good description. If you like spicy at all, the cayenne pepper is wonderful. I'm eager to see your cheese straws! Thanks for the comment.

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  23. I've been wanting to try homemade cheez-its for a while, but I think I like the idea of them being in straws better. They wouldn't last long around here.
    -Gina-

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    1. Hi Gina, homemade cheez-its would be fun, although I'd think the straws would take less time to cut out. And no, they don't last long! Thanks for your comment.

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  24. Wow. You had me at cheez-itz. Now, will you just come and make them for me? ;)

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    1. Hi Julie, ;-) That could be a fun thing for bloggers, traveling around to visit other bloggers, making our specialties. But really, just a few minutes of effort on your part, plus baking time, and you could be enjoying this fresh and hot from the oven! Thanks for your comment.

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  25. I like that this has cayenne pepper in it. It looks quite addicting and delicious. I've made Parmesan sticks with store bought bread stick, but it's totally different level. LOL!

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    1. Hi Nami, spicy is good, isn't it? And such an easy recipe - you'll enjoy making these. Thanks for your comment.

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  26. These are the perfect weekend treat. I had to share them - fantastic!

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    1. Hi Mother Rimmy, aren't they good? Thanks for sharing, and for the comment.

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  27. Yum! Something good to munch on!

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    1. Hi Riley, they're great munching fare! Really irresistible. Thanks for your comment.

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  28. This brings to mind that Olivia Newton John song...I love you, I honestly love you. That is all.

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    1. Hi Kim, And I wrote this post because I love all of you. Honestly! ;-) Thanks for your comment.

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  29. This is definitely the perfect cocktail snack! I would not be able to stop eating these... must make soon...

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    1. Hi Katherine, they really are great with cocktails. Or anytime. And yes, they're quite addictive. Thanks for your comment.

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  30. I love Cheez-its and always wish they were cheesier! These are incredible.
    I am thinking Super Bowl Sunday!!

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    1. Hi Judy, these are perfect for your Super Bowl festivities! Anytime, really. Thanks for the comment.

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