These delicate, crumbly, cheesy, buttery spiced crackers are popular in the South but should be required snacking everywhere.
And while they’re mostly about the cheese, the crackers would have one-note richness without the added pizazz of some back-up spices: sweet, peppery paprika and cayenne.
These give the cracker interest, back up the extra-sharp cheddar’s bold flavour, and add pleasant heat. To make a version that mimicked cheese straws’ signature decorative stripes without using a cookie press, we rolled out the dough into a square and made lines with the tines of a fork before cutting the dough into strips and baking.
Using a food processor to buzz the grated cheese, chilled butter, flour, and baking powder together resulted in crackers with a short, extra-tender texture. A variation pairs nutty Parmesan and black pepper for a slightly more refined straw with the perfect salt and pepper balance.
SOUTHERN CHEESE STRAWS
Start to finish: 1 hour, 5 minutes
8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (2 cups)
1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces and chilled
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons ice water
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 F. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Process cheddar, flour, butter, salt, paprika, baking powder, and cayenne in food processor until mixture resembles wet sand, about 20 seconds. Add ice water and process until dough ball starts to form, about 25 seconds.
Transfer dough to lightly floured counter and knead by hand to form smooth, round ball, about 30 seconds. Using your hands, pat dough into rough 4 inch square. Roll dough into 10 inch square, about 1/4 inch thick, flouring counter and dough as needed to prevent sticking.
Position dough so one side is parallel to counter edge. Using rounded side of fork, drag tines across entire surface of dough to make decorative lines. Using pizza cutter or chef’s knife, trim away and discard outer 1/2 inch of dough to make neat square. Cut dough into 3 equal pieces perpendicular to lines. Working with 1 section of dough at a time, cut into 1/2 inch-wide strips in direction of lines.
Evenly space cheese straws on prepared sheet, about 1/2 inch apart. Bake until edges of straws are light golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through baking. Let straws cool completely on sheet. Serve. (Straws can be stored at room temperature for up to 1 week.)
Parmesan-black pepper cheese straws: Reduce extra-sharp cheddar to 6 ounces (1 1/2 cups). Add 1 cup grated Parmesan to food processor with flour. Substitute 1 teaspoon pepper for cayenne.