Judging from the posts I’ve been reading the past day or two, lots of creatures in blogland are stirring—and whisking and blending, too. Here at the T&C house, I’ve been busy making Icebox Cheese Wafers, the Mister’s absolute favorite treat. These bite-sized cracker-like savories are longtime favorites in the South.
In her book Ham Biscuits, Hostess Gowns, and Other Southern Specialties, one of my favorite essayists, Julia Reed writes:
“These days when I think of Christmas at home, I think first of cheese straws and roasted pecans. . . .And by cheese straws, I don’t mean the ubiquitous and tasteless parmesan-coated, puff pastry twists found in every gourmet shop in Manhattan; I mean ridged rectangular wafers made of the heavenly combination of cheddar, butter, flour, and cayenne pepper that melts in your mouth . . .They’re crunchy in texture, sharp in flavor; there is almost nothing I’d rather eat.”
Um, yes. And, if you’re having them or serving them with cocktails, G&T is the way to go. Trust me.
Now, to make these delights is easier than you might think, considering how folks down here do go on about them. For more than 20 years, I have relied on the top-selling Junior League cookbook of all time, Charleston Receipts.
Charleston Receipts was first published in 1950, but many of the recipes are much, much older. This recipe is my starting point, but I believe our modern palates enjoy a bit more kick or bite than in the original.
Apparently, I’m not alone because the charming Matt Lee and Ted Lee, of Lee Bros. Southern foods and cooking fame, have also spiced up their cheese straw recipe, as has Southern Living, which features several lovely presentation ideas for cheese straws and wafers in its December issue.
Here’s the adjusted recipe I’ve come to use:
Cream together in a large mixing bowl:
1 pound extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated fine
1 stick salted butter, room temperature
With mixer on low speed, gradually add:
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour (I use White Lily)
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
When the mixture is coarse crumbles, add:
2 Tbsp half and half
Mix just until mixture is smooth. Shape dough into two logs or flat discs before wrapping tightly in parchment paper. Then place in zip-top bag and freeze for up to two months.
My grandmother always made her cheese wafers round like little cookies, and she topped each with a toasted pecan half. I do like the idea of a little pecan crunch, so before wrapping I pressed crushed pecans into the sides of the dough. These two logs went into the freezer yesterday, but tonight we decided to slice a dozen wafers to share before dinner. After unwrapping, let the dough warm for about 10 minutes before slicing thinly with a sharp knife. Bake the wafers at 350 for about 10 minutes. Do not let them brown. Remove from the oven and let them rest on the baking sheet until cool. (Good luck with that, by the way.) Store in an airtight container. I’ve had middling success re-crisping these in the oven; I think it’s best to bake them as you need them.
I am pleased with the pecan edging. For the next batch I plan to use three-quarters of a cup of white extra-sharp cheddar with about a quarter cup of Parmesan.
What’s your favorite holiday savory?