Cheese Crackers: If at first you fail…
I like cooking.
In particular, I like learning about and trying recipes that are supposed to be the epitome of Southern cooking. I like the flavors, the history, the personal stories that accompany the recipes and the ties that bring me closer to past generations of Southern women.
Among the recipes that are supposed to epitomize Southern cooking are those for cheese straws and cheese crackers. A perfect food to set out when company drops by or when you’re planning the nibbles for a more formal get together or party.
So, in my quest to expand my cooking repertoire, I tackled a recipe for cheese straws last spring.
It would be fair to say that I failed.
It would be more accurate, however, to say that I plain ol’ gave up.
I’d been cooking for a good chunk of the day already and when I ran into adversity with the blasted cheese straws I said to heck with it and tossed the half-cobbled together ingredients out. (actually, my language was a lot more colorful, but i’m sure you get the picture.)
But cheese straws are supposed to be one of those Southern recipes that all good Southern girls can make in their sleep for an unplanned party of 35 or more. Besides all that, it was haunting me that I couldn’t do something that was supposed to be so simple.
So, this past Christmas, I was determined to try again. This time I used a recipe from Cooking Up A Storm.
My determination was bolstered by the fact that I’d be able to use my Mom’s cookie press and would have both my Mom and Dranny for cheerleaders. Well… We couldn’t find the blasted cookie press because it was still packed away in a box somewhere in the garage instead of taking its rightful place in one of the kitchen cupboards. I refused to give up. Failure wasn’t an option.
Having no cookie press, I figured I’d roll the cheese straws out by hand. I would use the same method I’d used as a kid to create ropes of Playdoh and the like. It was a bit labor intensive, but worth it.
I think it’s also worth pointing out a couple of other things that made a difference in making cheese straws. First, Cooking Up A Storm’s recipe had 1/4 cup more butter than the failed recipe. It also directed that you mix the butter and cheese together with your hands. The latter helped immensely. The heat of my hands made it so much easier to blend the ingredients together as opposed the cold beaters of my mixer.
However, before I was ready to post this, I wanted to try making the recipe again when my Mom and Dranny weren’t heckling… I mean, cheering me on.
I made them again yesterday, but – this time – I used a cookie press purchased specifically for the purpose of making cheese crackers (can’t call ’em straws when they look nothing like straws).
My cookie press doesn’t have a tip attachment. So, I tried the flower shape first. Good, but it required getting the right amount of dough squeezed through on to the cookie sheet and then twisting the cookie press just so to “cut” the dough off. Sometimes this worked, sometimes it didn’t. I had better luck with the squiggle shape that created a one-inch wide strip of dough. Easier to wield and a much more consistent cracker output. Faster, too.
When the came out of the oven, I tried ’em right away. And, again, the crackers came out just right. Even better than the hand-rolled straws because the crackers were more evenly sized and were able to cook through without the risk of burning. This time, I was able to get a more cracker-like consistency. So good.
Next time I make these, I plan to experiment with the type of cheese and flavorings I use.
Now, before I get to the recipes, I should tell you that this is a recipe submitted to the Times-Picayune for its cookbook, Cooking Up A Storm. According the cookbook’s recipe intro, it was submitted by Marianne Hayden-Whitmore and came from the late Lady Helen Hardy. Apparently, it was one of the Time-Picayune’s most-requested recipes.
Having tried it twice now, I can understand why.
Cheese Crackers or Cheese Straws – Your Call
(from Cooking Up A Storm)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter or margarine (room temperature)
16 ounces grated sharp or extra-sharp cheddar cheese
5 or 6 dashes of Tabasco sauce*
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper*
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Sift the flour once. Add the baking powder and salt, sift again. Set aside.
With your hands, mix the butter and cheddar together. The shredded cheese and butter should be mixed together until there aren’t any cheese shreds left. For the record, I made this recipe with margarine the first time and butter the second time. Both times the recipe came out just fine.
Add the Tabasco, cayenne* and flour mixture. Continue mixing until all of the ingredients are mixed together. At this point, the dough will seem a little bit crumbly, but will be okay. Just scoop the crumbly bits up in the next step.
Place dough in the cookie press and make your crackers or straws directly on to the cookie sheet. Or, if you don’t have a cookie press, take a small section of the dough. Roll it into a ball and then roll it out into long thin snakes of dough on an ungreased, unfloured board. Then transfer them to the cookie sheet.
Bake for 10-12 minutes at 300 degrees. Lower oven temperature to 225 degrees and bake for 10-12 minutes. You’ll need to keep an eye on these. Depending on the thickness of your cheese crackers, they may need more time. The goal is to have straw-colored crackers.
The official directions say you should cut the straws (if you’re making straws) into pieces 2 minutes before you take them out of the oven. I’m sure that’d be nice, but I simply broke them into manageable pieces after I took them out of the oven. Plus, as my Mom and Dranny would say, there’s no need to have the oven opened and closed more often than necessary.
* I like my foods spicy. For those folks who like their foods not so spicy, you can omit or reduce the amount of Tabasco and/or cayenne in the recipe. As I’ve seen in other recipes, you might want to try Worcestershire sauce instead. If you do, tell me how it tastes.