The main reason I don’t have parties very often is that I’m one of those compulsive people who allows planning to spin out of control. I end up with five times as much food as I need but still stressed out because I didn’t manage to bake my own saltines and infuse my own vodka. It’s wiser, I know, to do fewer things better, which is why everyone should have the recipe for the Lee Brothers’ cheese straws.
These are not what I would call cheese straws, which in my experience are crispy and flaky and sometimes don’t taste cheesy enough; these are more like cheese shortbread—rich, crumbly, full of cheese, and, best of all, spicy. Growing up in Houston I knew one lady who always had crackers very like these on hand for visitors. She made hers with Tabasco and called them cheese cookies. Whatever you call them, they are addictive and a snap to make, which I guess could be considered either a good or a bad combination. If you eat them all up before your company arrives you might even have time to make another batch, at least if your abandon your plans to, say, make a miniature croquembouche for each guest, which, let's face it, probably wasn't the greatest idea anyway.
- Yield:30 straws
- 1 1/2 cups (about 4 ounces) grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened and cut into 4 pieces
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon half-and-half
Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a food processor, combine the cheese, butter, flour, salt, and red pepper. Process in five 5-second pulses until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the half-and-half and process until the dough forms a ball, about 10 seconds.
On a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough into an 8x10 inch rectangle that is 1/8 inch thick. With a sharp knife, cut the dough into long, thin strips, 1/4-1/3 inch wide. (The Lee Bros. say dipping the knife in flour after every few inches ensures a clean cut, but the truth is that this is a tricky business and that more than a few of the “straws” will break as you transfer them to the baking sheet. It’s better not to get all perfectionist about it, since they will taste good no matter what shape they are.) Gently transfer the strips to an ungreased cookie sheet, leaving at least 1/4 inch between them.
Bake the straws on the middle rack for 12-15 minutes, or until the ends are barely browned. (Personally, I think it is better to err on the side of overbaking here, especially if, like me, you can’t really roll anything out quite as thin as 1/8 inch). Set the cookie sheet on a rack to cool.
Serve at room temperature. Cheese straws will keep in the refrigerator, in a sealed container, for 2 days.