Back when I didn’t take this whole gluten-free thing as seriously as I should, Waterthins savory cheese straws were one of the things I’d cheat (myself, in the end) with. (Quite honestly, the entire cracker aisle at Cheese Plus was a dangerous place for me.)
Over the years, I’d met plenty of boxed cheese straws that I refused to eat more than a bite of. And this isn’t a snooty, I-refuse-to-eat-most-anything-unless-it’s-homemade thing, but instead comes from a huge [former] fan of baby cheddar goldfish — I really didn’t like what the stamped smiley faces did for the regular-size’s texture (don’t even get me started on how they ruined the pretzel ones about about a decade ago). The Waterthins brand were different; I could polish off a box of those bad boys like nobody’s business. Their cheesy flavor was prominent and not fake-tasting, and the texture wasn’t so much cracker-y as it was flaky and puff pastry-like. I rather enjoyed separating the layers with my teeth, seeing how far down the length of one straw I could go without breaking it. Kinda weird, I know, but not terribly unlike another one of my favorite challenges: peeling an apple in just one go of it, forming a perfectly long coil of peel.
I promise I’m not totally bonkers, all evidence to the contrary.
Happily, homemade cheese straws are fabulously simple to make. No puff pastry sheets required — just flour, cheese, butter and a dash of seasoning whirred together to make a quick, not-terribly-unlike-pie-crust dough. Roll, cut, bake, et voilà, even-better-than-from-a-box, airy, crisp cheese straws! Pleasing to kids, adults and canines¹ alike, they are fantastic to nibble on plain or accompany a nice big bowl of creamy tomato soup or chunky tomato bisque.
Gourmet, January 2008)
Preparation Time: 20 – 30 minutes
Inactive Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Baking Time: 15 – 18 minutes
Makes: 2 dozen+
These cheese straws have a bit of bite to them, and not because there’s sharp cheddar involved. It’s all about the red pepper flakes. The original recipe calls for cayenne, but I don’t like serving party snacks that the spice-averse may not realize what they’re getting into. Little flecks of red pepper remain when using the flakes, providing a much-appreciated hint to their heat.
- 37 grams (1/4 cup plus 2 1/2 teaspoons) millet flour
- 37 grams (1/4 cup plus 2 1/2 teaspoons) garbanzo fava flour
- 48 grams (1/4 cup) potato starch
- 19 grams (2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon) arrowroot starch
- 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
- 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 170 grams (6 ounces or 1 1/2 cups, packed) very finely grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
- 85 grams (6 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ chunks
- 28 grams (2 tablespoons) whole milk
Arrange oven racks in uppper and lower thirds of the oven, preheat to 350°F. Line two, large rimmed baking sheets with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper cut to fit; set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour through red pepper flakes. Whisk in cheese — breaking up any clumps — until coated with flour. Place in freezer for 10 minutes.
Transfer cheese mixture to bowl of food processor, sprinkle in butter pieces. Run machine until mixture resembles fine bread crumbs (about 15 – 30 seconds). Pour in milk and run machine until mixture clumps slightly, resembling cottage cheese curds (about 10 – 15 seconds).
Roll out and cut straws:
Turn dough out onto a lightly millet-floured surface. Press into a rectangle about 1″ thick. Roll out — try as best you can to maintain the rectangular shape — until 1/8″ thick and about 11 inches long on one side; use more millet flour as needed to prevent sticking. Trim any jagged edges using a straight edge and the smooth side of a pastry wheel (or a sharp chef’s knife), taking care not to damage your rolling surface.
Cut strips of dough about 1/3″ wide and 10″ long (use the pastry wheel and straight edge or freehand, whatever you’re most comfortable with). Arrange strips on prepared baking sheets, leaving about 1/2″ of space between each. (Make sure they’re all facing the same direction, like IIIIIIII. Do not fill in any remaining space around the edge by laying a few perpendicular strips (i.e. adding a couple — — to a sheet filled with IIIIIII) as those tend to burn.
Re-roll scraps and cut more straws.
Once all of the straws are cut, bake on the upper and lower racks in the preheated oven until lightly browned (15 – 18 minutes), flipping sheets half way through. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely on baking sheets (or for at least 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling racks). Serve.
¹ Go ahead, ask me how I know this.