Whole Wheat Cheese Straws
Cheese straws - the long, willowy, thin and crispy cheese wafers of the South - are deliciously greasy and shatter when you bite into them. But at the same time, they are proper enough to serve your mother. Whether cut into lengths looking like a straw or sliced into round coins, they are made to be shared.
Southerners have embraced them as long as we can remember at tea-time, cocktail parties, and wedding receptions. I think of cheese straws when I think back to funerals of favorite aunts and grandmothers, as they were among the array of foodstuffs brought to our house in condolence. And I think of them at happier times, too, at cocktail parties and holiday gatherings, at Derby parties in May, on anniversaries, at Thanksgiving pre-festivities, Christmas, and New Year's. If you want to entertain well, you only need a cocktail and a good recipe for cheese straws.
Made of flour – white or whole wheat – and butter, grated cheese, and a little cayenne pepper, my basic cheese straw recipe is simple and therein lies the beauty. You can make them quickly from what's in your kitchen. They are fast, and they are cheap. And if thinking ahead, you can bake them days ahead of the party and stash them in an airtight metal tin or freeze them in a plastic bag. They're forgiving, unassuming, deliciously humble, and oh-so Southern.
WHOLE WHEAT CHEESE STRAWS RECIPE:
Makes: 3 dozen 4-to 6-inch long straws | Prep: 10 minutes | Chill: 1 hour | Bake: 12 to 15 minutes
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, soft
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Kosher salt, for sprinkling, if desired
Place the cheese, butter, flour, cayenne, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the mixture comes together into a ball. Scoop the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap, cover completely, then press down slightly to make a disk with the dough. Place in the fridge to chill 1 hour.
When ready to bake, place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator, and roll it out on a floured surface to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut into 1/2-inch wide strips about 4 to 6 inches long and bake on ungreased pans in a until golden brown, about 12 to 15 minutes. With a metal spatula, remove immediately to wire racks to cool. If desired, sprinkle with salt, and store in a tightly covered metal tin to stay crisp.
How to make cheese coins: Form the dough into a log, wrap in parchment and chill. Slice into 1/4-inch rounds and bake until golden. If you like, place a pecan half in the center of each round before baking.