Easy cheese and cheez whiz: they're many things to many people. The former's aerosol nostalgia; the latter's gooey-cheezey in that processed-awesome way, and really fun to say (whizzz!). Instant spreadable cheese is one of the best things to come out of a jar or spray can, but it's also the perfect candidate for making at home.
At New York City's Distilled, executive chef Shane Lyons has been reinventing bar food in new forms, like buffalo wings with Korean chili paste and popcorn blitzed with brewer's yeast in place of cheddar.
Lyons, both a cheez whiz fan and a DIY type of chef, offered to show us his homemade cheez whiz, which he pairs with a beer bread cooked in the microwave for just 30 seconds. You won't find it on his restaurant's menu, but if you have a whipping siphon, it's a snap to make yourself.
The trick to new school cheez whiz? An old school French ingredient: Mornay sauce.
Mornay is a variant of béchamel, which is flour cooked in butter until it forms a paste, then simmered with milk until the sauce thickens. For Mornay, you add cheese to the pot—a semi-hard grateable cheese like Gruyere. This is your whiz foundation.
Lyons starts his roux with flour and butter, but instead of straight milk, he uses equal parts milk and heavy cream. For cheese, he goes with equal parts aged white cheddar for depth of flavor and yellow American for the goo factor. Here's how it happens.
Step 1: Create a Roux
A traditional French roux combines equal parts butter and flour over low heat. This becomes the thickening agent for the sauce. As the flour cooks in butter, its starch molecules swell up, and the fat in the butter both prevents the flour from clumping and cooks out its raw cereal taste.
Step 2: Add Dairy
Now we're getting into béchamel territory with equal parts milk and cream getting drizzled into the pan. As the sauce cooks, the starch molecules in the roux swell and burst, thickening the mixture. Lyons cooks his roux to just below boiling—198°F—for maximum thickening.
Step 3: Now Get Cheesy
Once the sauce thickens, it's time to whisk in the cheese—but slowly. Adding cheese all at once may form lumps in the sauce, and no one wants a grainy whiz! It's best to add the cheese a small handful at a time, letting each handful melt completely before adding more. Lyons uses a combination of aged white cheddar and good old American slices to get the best blend of cheesy flavor and gooey texture.
Step 4: Aerate It!
The missing ingredient between Mornay and cheez whiz is air. Lyons uses an iSi whipping siphon to charge the still-warm sauce with nitrous oxide. Proteins in the sauce allow the gas to form stable bubbles, and the more gas that goes in, the lighter and airier the whiz becomes. (The same goes for foams like whipped cream.)
Whipping siphons are far from a kitchen necessity, but they have more uses than you might think. They're used to make everything from whipped cream to incredibly light mashed potatoes to quick alcohol infusions. And a basic model will cost you just around 40 bucks.
The result is a whipped spreadable cheez whiz of your very own, with more flavor and twang than the original—and it's still great on crackers.
And a Bonus: Microwave Beer Bread
Distilled serves a beer bread that functions more like a light, airy cracker, and it's as good a surface as any for homemade cheez whiz. It's also made with a whipping siphon and "bakes" for 30 seconds in the microwave—it's one of the easiest bread recipes on earth.
Unlike the cheez whiz, the ingredients are thrown together all at once. Beer, flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, egg, cream, oil, and dill all go straight into the blender until they're fully combined. Distilled uses Left Hand Brewing Co's milk stout, which is a damn fine beer in its own right.
This mixture gets two charges of gas from the iSi gun. The aerated batter is then piped into paper cups, no more than a third of the way up, as the batter expands as it cooks. Paper cups provide friction for the batter to climb the sides and expand, and little pin pricks in the bottoms allow for steam release as the breads cook.
After a 30-second nuking the cups must be flipped upside down to cool, or else the fragile structure will collapse on itself, much like a soufflé. Once it's cooled, the breads are pulled out of their cup and ripped into pieces. To get crunchy, the pieces are either thrown in a dehydrator or oven on a low setting to drive away the remaining moisture.
The result is an airy, crunchy crouton with notes of caramel, hops, dill, and a crack-like hint of sweetness. A perfect whiz pairing.