Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cooking Up Holiday Spirit

This week's cookbook is Damon Lee Fowler's New Southern Baking: Classic Flavors for Today's Cooks

Spicy Cheese Straws

This venerable Southern classic is a standard for any hostess worth her iced tea, and, happily, the food processor makes short work of it. The best cheese for straws is a very old, super-sharp cheddar-- the kind that is so sharp that it'll practically take the roof off your mouth. If you cannot get such wonders, mixing in a bit of grated real Parmesan gives it just the right kick. Orange cheddar lends the most traditional color to these spicy little tidbits, and it the only kind that a traditional Southern cook would use, but white cheddar will, of course, work just as well, if you have this snob thing against the coloring.

Makes about 10 dozen straws

3/4 pound (12 ounces) well-aged extra-sharp cheddar
1/4 pound (4 ounces) Parmesan, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano
4 ounces (1/2 cup or 1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 generous teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, or more, to taste
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 ounces (about 2 cups) Southern soft-wheat or unbleached all-purpose flour

1. Grate the cheese with a rotary cheese grater, through the fine holes of a box grater, or with the fine shredding disk in the food processor. In a food processor fitted with a steel blade or with a mixer, cream the cheddar, Parmesan, and butter until fluffy and smooth.

2. Add the cayenne, salt, and flour and process or work it into the dough until smooth. Gather it into a ball, wrap well in plastic wrap or wax paper, and chill it for at least half an hour or up to an hour, but don't let it chill hard. If you make the dough ahead to bake later, let it soften at room temperature so that it is still cool but pliable.

3. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degree F. Put the dough in a cookie press fitted with the star die (or a pastry bag fitted with a star tip) and press it out onto an ungreased baking sheet into narrow 2 1/2 inch straws, leaving about 1/2 inch clear between. You may also roll the dough out: lightly flour a work surface and roll the dough out 1/4 inch thick. Cut it with a sharp knife or a zigzag pastry wheel into strips 1/2 inch by 2 1/2 inches, laying them on a buttered baking sheet as you go. Or for a more decorative straw with the cookie press, roll them out a little thicker than 1/8 inch, cut them as directed above, and gently twist each straw into a spiral. Bake for about 18 to 20 minutes, being careful not to let them brown on top. The bottoms should be golden but the tops and sides should not color. Cool on the pan before transferring them to an airtight storage container.

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