Until I made these the other day, I'd only had cheese straws once in my life. On one of the Christmases I spent with my dad in Louisiana as a teenager, lots of neighbors and friends gave him tins of treats. One of those tins contained cheese straws! Neither my dad nor I have all that much of a sweet tooth, and the cookies all went neglected because we only had eyes for the cheese straws. They were so cheesy, crunchy, and very spicy. I don't have an especially high tolerance for hot things, but loved those cheese straws. Yum.
A few nights ago, I got to thinking about how good they were, and decided to try to make some myself! Basically picked this recipe from the Food Network because it had the highest cheese to flour ratio of all the recipes I saw, and cheese is of course what it's all about. I then halved the recipe but kept the amount of cayenne and black pepper the same and added some other spices. I also used my cookie press with a flat extruder plate to make long, rectangular crackers, then cut them in half down the middle and slightly separated them on the cookie sheet, but you could roll the dough out and cut it into long, skinny strips instead. Lucky for me, the cheese straws turned out extremely well and basically just like I remember, especially the ones with the extra cayenne sprinkled on top! My husband loved them just as much, if not more. They're very similar to a cheese cracker, but richer, cheesier, and just all around better. I can't promise these will be made every Christmas from now on because there are so many other recipes we love and still others I want to try, but they will definitely appear frequently.
Cheese straws with extra cayenne on top, and plain on the bottom! This is a very small tin.
15 oz sharp cheddar cheese, freshly grated, then covered and allowed to sit out until it reaches room temperature (not the bagged, shredded cheese, it won't combine with the butter properly- also 15 oz is an odd amount, but you can just take care of that extra ounce by having a little snack!)
1 stick salted butter, at room temperature (needs to be quite soft)
1 1/2 cup white flour, plus a bit more
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried mustard
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (you could try 1/4 t cayenne if you want them spicier!)
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Preheat your oven to 325 and line cookie sheets with parchment paper. In the bowl of a stand mixer, place the cheese and butter. Attach the paddle and beat on low until the mixture is very soft, about 15 minutes (you could try this with a hand mixer as well, make sure your ingredients are very soft to start with). You'll need to scrape down the sides of the bowl frequently. While that's happening, whisk together 1 1/2 cup flour and the spices. Add to the cheese mixture about 1/3 cup at a time and beat in each flour addition thoroughly. When all the flour has been added, add more flour 2 or 3 tablespoons at a time- up to 1/2 cup total- until the dough comes together and is no longer sticky, but still pretty soft. I only needed about 3 tablespoons more.
If you're going to use a cookie press, fill the press according to the manufacturer's instructions and choose an extruder plate that will allow you to make long, skinny crackers. If they're still fairly wide (mine were about an inch wide), cut them in half down the center and separate slightly. The dough doesn't spread much, so you can put them fairly close together. If you don't have a cookie press, you could just roll the dough out directly on the parchment paper lined cookie sheet, cut into skinny strips, and separate them. If you'd like, you can sprinkle extra cayenne pepper on top of the cheese straws, but remember that a little goes a long way!
Bake the cheese straws until they turn light golden and are crunchy, about 20 minutes. I confirmed they were done by taking one out of the oven and sticking it in the freezer so it would cool quickly. They're good while still soft, but are more like a cheese cookie than a cracker! Let the cheese straws cool completely, then store them in an air tight container. They should be good for a week or so, but if they lose their crunch a bit, you can put them on a cookie sheet again and bake them for a few minutes.
Yield: Lots! I failed to count, but got 3 large cookie sheets full. Guessing about 100 cheese straws.