By Terry Harris
When I recently shared a recipe for a version of cheese straws made with puff pastry, it got rave reviews. But I think some people were intimidated – as I initially had been – with the use of puff pastry. Some were unfamiliar with working with the pre-made pastry, some objected to its main ingredient being something to which they did not have easy access or keep around the house, and one friend even objected that if they were going to make something special to share – especially at parties – they wanted it to be entirely “from scratch.”
Well, Queenie’s Cheddar Wafers check off all the boxes for a simple to prepare, crunchy, cheesy absolutely delicious treat that requires only a few, simple ingredients that anyone who cooks at all is likely to have on hand, and they are made entirely from scratch!
Let me just say right off the bat that I love Cheese Straws. I love the crunch, and the sharp cheddar twang and I love the traditions that cheese straws evoke of delicately munching on something, well, classic. What I do not love is making cheese straws. They may be a staple for nicer gatherings - besides being absolutely delicious for munching with the family in front of a fire – but they are hard to mix, and they seem to take forever to bake. Worst of all, they crumble so easily that if you are not extremely careful your very time-consuming batch of cheese straws can pretty quickly turn into a very expensive bowl of crumbs.
Enter this recipe for Queenie’s Cheddar Wafers - one of my absolute favorite things to serve any time. They are delicious, go with any festive menu, have all the flavor of cheese straws, and are considerably easier to prepare and serve.
Don’t get me wrong – this is not one of my “whip it up and go” recipes; they are fairly labor intensive. But they are less fragile than the traditional ones, and every bit as good. In fact, this is one of my go-to holiday recipes, and I have never had a complaint yet. So, I decided to share the recipe with y’all because I am betting that it becomes one of your favorites, too.
My first tip for making these is not to skimp on the cheese. You will want to get some GOOD cheddar cheese, and I like to use yellow cheese for this as they bake up so pretty, but you could use white cheese just as well. Do make sure that it is sharp, because it’s that nice, pungent tang of the sharp cheddar paired with the toasted pecan bits that makes these so tasty. And if you want the very best taste and texture, buy blocks, and grate it yourself, because packaged grated cheese nearly always is enough dryer that you will get less flavor, and the finished product will suffer from the lack of moisture.
Use real butter, and make sure it is not whipped. A dear friend just this week was bemoaning the fact that one of her favorite recipes “just didn’t turn out right this time.” Well, we got to talking about it, and it turned out that she had used “what I had in the fridge” – which, in this case, was a tub of whipped butter. All the air incorporated into it had completely messed up her volume measurement, so she ended up not using nearly enough. I know, I know, I am always urging “experiment!” And with most cooking, that’s half the fun of it, to me. But to achieve the best results with baking, because it’s as much a science as an art, careful measurement is critical.
Toast your pecans carefully as overdone nuts will ruin any recipe in a hurry. And yes, you can make these without the nuts but I strongly advise against it, as they are one of the reason that these are so very tasty.
Also, one exception to the rule of measurement in baking applies to the spices and seasonings, at least in this recipe. It calls for 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper, which probably is great if you want really spicy wafers. However, I am not a big fan of food that is so spicy that the heat overwhelms any other flavor, so I cut that in half. If you’re unsure about the amount of “heat” you and your family or guests might like, you can easily bake up a “test” batch of a few of these first with varied amounts of cayenne added. Then, if they are not as spicy as you like, you can always sprinkle a bit more cayenne on the rest of the wafers as you put them on the baking sheet. Remember a cardinal rule of cooking is “You can always add more, but you can’t take anything back out.”
Once everything is mixed and you are ready to roll out your wafer logs, be sure to make them not more than an inch across. Because once you have chilled them prior to slicing, they will be somewhat brittle, and the thicker your “logs” are, the more likely you are to end up with wet crumbs instead of nice, thin, pretty wafers.
On the subject of cutting the wafers, if you have a good, sturdy wire cheese slicer those work exceptionally well for making these thin and uniform; without the drag of a knife blade, you just get a cleaner cut. But “sturdy” is key, as when it is chilled this is such a firm dough that I broke the wire on one I had the first time I made these!
I do heartily recommend using parchment paper when baking these. Besides absorbing some of the oil from the dough, it makes them much easier to get from the baking sheet to your serving dish or storage container intact. And one more note – I generally make these in large quantity, but you can easily cut this recipe in half or even quarter it.
That’s pretty much it! These really are simple to make, and if you are a cheese-lover like I am, these provide a great and lovely alternative to the pricey cheese straws available in nicer stores or online, and I promise anyone who likes cheese will love them! And as an added bonus, the logs of dough freeze exceptionally well, so you can make up multiples and then slice up and bake fresh ones whenever you’re in the mood – or find out that unexpected company is on the way. Enjoy!
Queenie’s Cheddar Wafers
(May halve or quarter recipe)
2 pounds butter, softened
2 pounds sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
2 Cups chopped pecans, toasted
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons salt
9 cup all-purpose flour
In a very large bowl, mix together butter, cheese, pecans, cayenne pepper, and salt until well blended. Gradually mix in flour, using hands, to make stiff dough. Form into 1-inch-long x 1-inch-thick logs, wrap in waxed paper, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.
Preheat oven to 350. Unwrap logs and slice into ¼” thick rounds with very sharp knife or a cheese wire. Place slices on parchment paper lined cookie sheets about 1” apart. They will not rise or spread, but you won’t want them crowded enough that taking them up easily becomes challenging.
Bake for 12 minutes, until firm and slightly browned at the edges. Let cool for 1 minute before removing from pan.