Cheetos are one of those mysterious processed snacks where the final texture and flavor does little to explain its manufacturing process. Did you see that Wired magazine piece a few years ago with photos of the cornmeal mixture passing through an extruder into a fryer and then getting coated with cheese powder? Informative, yes. Useful for home experiments? Not so much.
In Classic Snacks Made from Scratch, Casey Barber presents her own interpretation of the Cheeto. Instead of trying to replicate it, she simply creates a buttery, flaky base with flour and cornmeal, rolls the dough into logs, and bakes the puffs in the oven. The final step is that generous coating of bright orange cheese powder. These Cheetos are certainly different than the ones you'll find in the red bags, but they're still pretty darn good.
Why I picked this recipe: Having not the first clue how to make Cheetos at home, I jumped at the opportunity to try my hand at Barber's technique.
What worked: These Cheeto-like snacks were easy to make, and the cheddar powder flavor was stick-to-your-fingers good.
What didn't: The texture was a little off; these cheese puffs were more like shortbread logs than Cheetos. Next time I'll go up on the cornmeal for more authentic Cheeto grit.
Suggested tweaks: Just like the Goldfish, these Cheetos would be easy to amp up; more flavorful cheese like sharp cheddar or even pepper jack would be right at home here.
Reprinted from Classic Snacks Made from Scratch: 70 Homemade Versions of Your Favorite Brand-Name Treats by Casey Barber. Copyright 2013. Published by Ulysses Press. All rights reserved. Available wherever books are sold.
- For the cheese curls:
- 4 tablespoons (2 ounces) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 cup (4 1/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons yellow cornmeal
- 4 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, finely shredded (about 1 cup)
- For the cheese coating:
- 2 tablespoons Cheddar cheese powder
- 1/2 teaspoon buttermilk powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
Make the cheese curls: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, salt, and garlic powder at medium-low speed for 1 to 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the flour, cornmeal, and shredded cheese. Stir together at low speed until a firm dough forms. Shape into a disc and place on a large sheet of plastic wrap; wrap tightly and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 ̊F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat liners.
Pinch off small pieces of the chilled dough and gently roll between your palms and fingers to form lumpy logs roughly 2 to 2 1/2 inches long and 1/4 to 1/2 inch across. Place on the prepared baking sheets—you can space them fairly close together because they won’t puff up while baking.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the pieces are no longer shiny and are just beginning to brown around the edges. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.
Add the coating: Place the cheese powder, buttermilk powder, salt, and cornstarch in a spice grinder or mini food processor and whir for 10 to 15 seconds to blend evenly.
Transfer to a large zip-top bag. Add the cooled Cheetos, seal, and shake gently to coat evenly. Store the coated cheese curls at room temperature in an airtight container for up to a week.