I consider myself a pretty good home cook.
But even if I won the Nobel prize in brownies, the Pulitzer in meatloaf, or even an Oscar for my green pork chili, my friend Bosco would never let me forget about the cheese straws I made for him.
When The Kid was in preschool, I worked for my friend Bosco at his bookstore. I thought of him as kind of favorite uncle, who needed my feminine ministrations. He would let his glasses get so dirty that I had no idea how he was able to read with them. So, I made it my job to keep them clean.
I also took it upon myself to make him treats. On Tuesdays I would bring in some type of snack. Because he was born and raised in NC, one of the first things I decided to make him was cheese straws.
I did some research, found a recipe that sounded authentic, and set to work.
Unfortunately, I had no idea that cheese straws were pastry. And worse still, I had no clue about the care and handling of pastry dough. Despite my ignorance, I jumped in and whipped up a batch.
The next day at the store I proudly presented the fruits of my labors to Bosco.
He bit into one, and got a very funny look on his face.
Bosco is a properly-raised Southern gentleman, so I knew him well enough by now to realize there was something very, very wrong with my gift. So I took one, and bit into it.
If my goal had been to create a new material for rubber boots, they’d have been a rousing success. But for a flaky cheese straw, it was a heart-rending failure.
When you overwork pastry dough it will develop the gluten and be tough and elastic.
Well, my batch was so developed that it needed a training bra.
I was mortified and grief-stricken, and try as he might, Bosco couldn’t keep peals of laughter from erupting. And once the comedy dam was breached, all bets were off with my well-mannered, genteel friend.
Forever after any mention of straws, cheese, or my cooking ability has been met with witty one-liners referring to the rubber balls I’d tried to pass off as food.
A few years later, my baking skills had grown so that I was able to make him some pretty tasty tidbits. But mine were a round cracker shape. And because the cheese turned them a burnished amber color while baking, I renamed them.
1 stick plus 6 tablespoons butter (14 tablespoons), room temperature
3 cups sharp Cheddar cheese
1 & 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, more or less to taste
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Put the flour, cheese and butter into the container of a food processor. Add salt, cayenne, and Worcestershire. Cover and briefly pulse until the dough comes together and starts to form large lumps.
Remove dough from bowl of food processor, and gently knead just until it comes together and you can shape it into a disk (this is where you can go off the rails, overwork the dough, and end up with a tough finished product). Divide the disk into four equal portions and roll into logs about 8 inches long by 2 inches in diameter.
Chill logs for at least one hour and then cut into ¼ inch slices. Sprinkle the tops with a little sea or kosher salt. Place onto parchment lined baking sheet ¼ inch apart.
Bake in preheated 300° oven for 15 minutes and then spin pan 180 degrees and bake 15 minutes more. At this point, without opening oven, turn off heat and let cheese straws sit inside oven 45 minutes to crisp up.
Remove and let cool. Makes 6-8 dozen.
The rolls of dough can be refrigerated and baked off for cravings or visitors. The Kid is serving them at a Christmas party. For a change, press a pecan half onto each slice before baking.
There’s no joke to close out the column this week. Just my heartfelt wish for the happiest of holidays for you and yours.
Thanks for your time.