Dede's Cheese Straws
“When I was growing up, our nibbles were most often the cheese straws made by my grandfather, whom I called Dede. Dede was a tall, strapping man who knew the secret of a long, happy marriage to his iron-willed wife. As he put it, his blue eyes twinkling, he always got in the last word: ‘Yes, beloved.’ Dede would layer his cheese straws in a tin lined with sheets of butter-stained waxed paper smelling of sharp cheese and peppery cayenne. Everyone loves these cheese straws—I once caught a party guest stuffing his pockets with them.” – Chef Virginia Willis
Note: A cookie press is needed to make these savory crackers, but if you don’t have one, Virginia has provided a variation for making by hand.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper, or to taste
1/2 lb. sharp Cheddar cheese, at room temperature, freshly grated
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
Position the oven racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter two baking sheets. To make the dough, in a small bowl, combine the flour, salt and cayenne. Set aside. In a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle, cream the cheese and butter on medium speed until smooth and well combined. Gradually add the flour mixture. Mix on low speed until smooth. (The dough can also be made in the bowl of a large food processor: grate the cheese with the grating blade, then transfer the cheese to a bowl and insert the metal blade. Pulse the dry ingredients to combine, then add the butter and cheese. Process until smooth.) Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside to rest for about 15 minutes.
To shape the dough, work it in your hands; it should be soft and pliable (like Play-Doh). Shape the dough into a cylinder and pack it into a cookie press fitted with the serrated ribbon disk. (I prefer the version that resembles a caulking gun, although a turn-crank one will do. Some hardcore cheese straw makers invest in the electric version.) Holding the cookie press at an angle to one of the prepared baking sheets, press the trigger twice, dragging the press away to make a long straw the length of the baking sheet. Repeat until you’ve covered the sheet, spacing the ribbons of dough 1 inch apart. Using a butter knife or offset spatula, cut each ribbon into 1- to 2-inch pieces. Repeat with the remaining dough and the other baking sheet. (If your cookie press extrudes the dough in fits and spurts, simply pick up the dough and reuse.)
If you don’t have a cookie press, you can shape the dough into two cylinders with your hands and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Slice 1/4-inch thick and place 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets.
Bake the cheese straws, rotating the baking sheets once, until lightly browned on the edges, about 20 minutes. Remove the baking sheets to a rack to cool slightly. Using an offset or slotted spatula, remove the individual cheese straws to cool completely.
To Make Ahead: Store the cheese straws at room temperature in an airtight container between sheets of waxed paper. They will keep for 2 to 3 weeks.
Makes about 6 dozen
Recipe reprinted with permission from Bon Appétit, Y’all: Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern Cooking by Virginia Willis, copyright © 2008. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House. Cheese Straws Photo Credit: Ellen Silverman © 2008.
To find out more about Chef Virginia Willis and shop her line of “Southern Pantry” products, visit her website. Her cookbook, “Bon Appetit, Y’all,” is also available on the site for $32.50.