If you’ve never had a baking emergency – you know, w hen you want to bake something to show off to your friends, but you can’t find that recipe that you hastily scribbled on a scrap piece of paper – it’s probably because you’ve never had one of Gran’s cheese straws. I remember meeting Nick’s gran for the first time, she smiled and offered me cheese straws that she had brought with her from all the way from her kitchen in Adelaide.
Seven years later, these are still one of my favourite biscuits to bake and to eat. Like all great family recipes, there are times when you crave the taste of home and just have to have one.
They’re an all-round crowd pleaser – a savoury, cheesy shortbread with a bit of a kick from the cayenne pepper. It’s damn near impossible to stop at just one. But if you’re still not totally on board the cheese straw train just yet, it might interest you to know that a few years ago Waitrose magazine conducted a survey of chefs and food critics asking them what their favourite canape was – it came as a shock to many, but the humble cheese straw came out on top, beating blinis, mini burgers and lots of more complicated things.
“Maligned by some as dull, the cheese straw is, in fact, and quite correctly, pre-eminent among canapés. Its glowing, golden complexion can entice and it brings with it a message of comfort and wholeness. It rises above the one-bite rule and can be waved around and drive home important conversational points. It’s solid enough to provide a good foil to alcohol, and its only drawback is its threat of crumbs falling to the carpet. But hey, as long as it’s not your house, who cares?” -Waitrose Food Illustrated
Are you on board yet?
For these you can use any medium to strong cheese – I’ve used an 18 month tasty here, but you can use cheddar, or mix of parmesan and cheddar – whatever ends of cheeses you’ve got in your fridge, as long as they’re on the sharper side.
Gran’s Cheese Straws
from the archives of Nick’s granny Deirdre
225g cold butter
225g matured cheese
300g plain flour (written in Gran’s recipe as 12 heaped tbsp)*
1 tsp ground cayenne pepper, 1¼ if you like yours with a real kick
*Gran uses a old-fashioned silver tablespoon
- Preheat the oven to 180C.
- Using a food processor, grate butter and cheese. You can of course do this by hand, but it’s a labour of love.
- Switch to the serrated blade attachment and add the flour and cayenne pepper. Pulse in short bursts until the dough just comes together – do not overmix! (If you’re doing this by hand, just rub in the flour and cayenne pepper until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.) You may need to add more flour if the mixture is too soft or sticky – this is usually because the butter is not cold enough – you can just place it in the fridge until it firms up.
- Divide the dough into two portions – wrap one in parchment paper and chill it in the fridge so that it’s easier to roll out later. Using two sheets of parchment paper and a light dusting of flour, roll the second portion of dough out to a thickness of about 6mm.
- Prick with a fork and cut to desired lengths. Place on a tray and freeze for 5-10 minutes to firm up the dough.
- While waiting, repeat with the chilled portion of dough.
- Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly golden brown. Store in an airtight container. They’re best eaten within three days.
Top tips for cheese straws
- Use cold butter, straight from the fridge.
- Cold dough crisps up better in the oven so make sure to refrigerate the dough when not using and freeze for a while before baking – the bits of butter freeze and when baked form layers in between the flour creating flaky, buttery pastry.
- The dough will need varying amounts of flour depending on how cold the butter is, and how hot the weather is – try to not add more than 50g more than the stipulated.