Lord knows, when two or more are gathered south of Memphis, cheese straws will be served. Thankfully, a sweet friend back home sent me a tin of the scrumptious Southern staple over the holidays. My husband thinks you can’t watch the SEC play football without cheese straws to nibble on! As much trouble as homemade cheese straws are to make, I’m about to give up and buy stock in the Mississippi Cheese Straw Factory. I’ve wrestled for years in the kitchen baking them for Bud’s daughters who count on them each year for Christmas.
I’ve learned the hard way that there is more to making cheese straws than having flour and sharp cheddar cheese in the house. This year, I burned up a food processor when my dough got too thick to blend. I had to resort to blending the ingredients with my hands, and I didn’t even do that correctly. One of my favorite cookbooks, Being Dead is No Excuse: The Official Southern Ladies Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral, says that success with cheese straws depends on “scrupolosity in two basic rules: Always melt the butter before adding, and watch how you add the flour.” Seems you can’t put it in all at once. And, don’t knead the dough, work it lightly with your hands. I’m convinced the real secret to making cheese straws is one that has never actually been revealed. I’ve further determined that technique is more important than the list of ingredients. For me, the real challenge is the process of squeezing the thick dough into the beautiful straw shape. I’ve looked for years for a dispenser to imitate the thin, light straws that my friend Merrill Greenlee always seems to bake to perfection. Of course, Merrill uses an old-fashioned crank press that can’t be bought anymore. I’ve broken two plastic cookie presses trying to make thin straws. I even bought a jerky maker, thinking there was no way in the world I could tear up an industrial-strength straw shooter. I did. Bud and I even tried using an icing bag with a star tip, but ripped the seam on the side of the icing bag right off the bat.
In case you want to try for yourself, I’m going to post Merrill Greenlee’s recipe here. In the meantime, I’ll keep searching for the right equipment and the perfect combination of ingredients. Thankfully, the Mississippi Cheese Straw Factory ships 365 days a year!
Merrill’s Cheese Straws
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2 sticks of Fleishman’s margarine, softened
16 ounces of sharp cheddar cheese, grated (the oilier the better)
Cream margarine in mixer (not portable) and then add softened grated cheese. Cream until extremely smooth.
3 cups of Martha White plain flour, slight, not packed.
2 t salt
2 t baking powder
1 t red pepper
Sift the three cups of flour and then re-measure three cups of flour (not packing down) and put back in sifter. Add the salt, baking powder and red pepper and sift again. Add this dry mixture, slowly to the cheese mixture and continue to cream…again until very smooth.
Put in the press, using the star tip. Turn out onto a cookie sheet (not greased) with light strokes, pulling the press along. This is what will make them light. Bake for 10 minutes and then check for doneness. Time is usually 10-12 minutes but the darker the cookie sheet, the faster they cook. The bottoms should be slightly brown. You want them to crisp up, but not too much so, or they will be hard. Turn out on a wire rack to cool while the next batch cooks, then put in a tin can. Cheese straws freeze well.
If things don’t go so well for you, you can always find them at http://www.mscheesestraws.com/
Let me know how it goes!