Everyone in the South seems to love cheese straws - the thin, crisp pastry sticks with the tang of cayenne and sharp cheddar - and they are always served at cocktail parties and church socials alike. They are almost mandatory at weddings: I remember receptions where the only fare was a silver compote of cheese straws, another of mints, and the wedding cake. Usually cheese-straw dough is piped from a cookie press and snipped into short lengths. Miss Lewis uses the simple technique of rolling out the dough and slicing off the “straws.” Cheese straws improve as the flavors mellow, so make them a day before serving, if possible. A tin of cheese straws makes an excellent hostess gift.
1 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more to taste
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 tablespoons water
1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
2. Sift together the flour, salt, dry mustard, and cayenne pepper. Put the butter and grated cheese in a mixing bowl, and mix for several minutes, until thoroughly blended. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter and cheese, and mix until completely incorporated. Add the water, and mix for one minute longer.
3. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and knead five or six times. Roll the dough out 1/4 inch thick, and cut into strips 1/4 inch wide and 4-6 inches in length. Place the strips on ungreased cookie sheets 1/2 inch apart, and bake in the preheated oven for 12-16 minutes, until golden brown and crisp. Cool completely, and store in airtight containers.
From The Gift of Southern Cooking: Recipes and Revelations from Two Great American Cooks by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock, ©2003 Alfred A. Knopf
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