Tuesday, January 22, 2008

January 22: Cheese Straws

Puff pastry is great. It's versatile, easy to use, affordable--and it comes right straight out of the freezer. You can make your own, if you really feel like you have to--it's an important skill for pastry chefs to have--but I don't. There's a line for foodies, and when I'm making my own eggrolls or puff pastry, it's time to step away from the chef's knife.

These cheese straws are a must-do for a party. They're flaky, incredibly adaptable, great with cocktails, next to a big bowl of pasta, alongside soup. You can prepare them, slice them, and twist them, then chill them and wrap them gently in aluminum foil, and freeze them for up to a month. Don't thaw them before you bake them--you may have to add a few minutes to the baking time.

Cheese Straws

1 9x9 1/2 inch sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed in the refrigerator for 24 hours or on the counter for 1 hour
2 ounces Parmesan or Asiago cheese, grated (1 cup)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Adjust oven racks to the upper- and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 425. Lay the puff pastry on a sheet of parchment paper and sprinkle with the cheese, salt, and pepper. Top with another sheet of parchment, and, using a rolling pin, press the cheese into the dough, rolling to shape the dough into a 10-inch square.

Remove the top layer or parchment and with a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut the dough into 3/4 inch wide strips. Gently twist each strip of dugh and transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, spacing the strips about 1 inch apart.

Bake until the straws are fully puffed and golden, about 10 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Other flavors: replace the cheese, salt and pepper with any of the following combinations:

4 ounces shredded cheddar
1 tablespoon minced chipotle chile in adobo
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

2 oz. blue cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup minced walnuts
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and finely chopped
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and finely chopped
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons ancho chile powder
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

2 tablespoons prepared horseradish, well drained
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard

1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped fine
1 oz. feta, crumbled
1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano

1 tbsp. EACH minced parsley, chervil, tarragon, chives
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup pistachios, chopped fine
1/4 cup golden raisins, chopped fine
1/4 teaspoon cardmom

1 teaspoon sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon poppy seeds
1/2 teaspoon dehydrated minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds

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