These cheese sticks have a good bite like a thick crisp cookie or biscuit depending on where you are from. They are cheesy tasting but not overly so and the hint of rosemary saves this from being a one dimensional tasting biscuit.

I grew up eating and liking home made cheese sticks with sharp edges that looked somewhat like buff coloured fingers of a KitKat. Although she only made them on the rare occasion, I vividly recall the smell, taste and texture of grandma’s cheese sticks.  I also recall staring in wonderment at trays of aluminium sheets where rows upon rows of cuboid looking dough were arranged. They were so evenly spaced and lined up so precisely, I often wondered if the long wooden ruler she kept nearby was used not only to measure out the dough but to also space the dough uniformly apart. To everyone’s dismay, no one wrote down grandma’s recipe. I was happy to leave well enough alone but a family member had asked me over a year ago to bake cheese sticks as a birthday gift in lieu of a store bought present. “Oh no,” was my immediate thought, “not cheese sticks. I can never get them to come out 100% right 100% of the time.” I knew it was going to be an uphill task.  I made my excuses and wrangled my way out of the request by buying her a birthday meal instead. I was very pleased with myself as I had saved myself a lot of work.

But a year has past and another birthday is fast approaching so as an act of love, I set about to recreate grandma’s cheese sticks with much dread. It was challenging. My kitchen was bathed in flour as I baked tray after tray of cheese sticks in varying ratios of cheese, butter and flour. My waistline expanded an inch in the process but on my eighth attempt, success! My cheese sticks tasted like grandma’s and I finally got them to stay crisp for 5 days (and beyond)! So this year, it’s not going to be a store bought gift or a birthday meal, instead, someone is going to receive 3 bottles of cheese sticks with her name on it and it’s not from grandma!

If you want details of the challenges I had to overcome to come up with this recipe and the lessons I learnt, scroll down to ‘Tips’. If the thought of that bores you, just follow the recipe below to bake crisp cheese sticks that won’t go soft on you with keeping.

Crisp Not Flaky Cheese Sticks

Prep: 30 minutes 
Cook: ~ 10 – 15 minutes
Inactive: ~ 1 hour and up to a day for dough to firm up
Level: Moderately easy
Makes: ~100 cheese sticks
(1.5″ X 1/4″) (3.81cm X 0.64cm)
Oven Temperature: 340F (170C)
Can recipe be doubled? Yes.
Make ahead? Keeps well for 5 days (and beyond) tightly bottled. Dough can be rolled out and refrigerated up to a day or frozen up to 2 months.

Ingredients

The dough
5oz (142g) unsalted butter
7oz (200g) sharp/aged/mature/vintage cheddar*
12oz (340g) plain/all-purpose flour
1/4 -1/3 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary
a pinch – 1/8 teaspoon chilli powder
1 egg yolk
1 Tablespoon milk
The cheesy top
3oz (85g) sharp/aged/mature/vintage cheddar cheese
1 egg white
* Do not substitute with another kind of cheese. Use cheddar. Cheeses have different fat contents and will bake out different. 

Method

The dough
1. I use a food processor to make the dough.
2. As I live in an area with high humidity and temperatures, butter left out for any length of time will start to melt sooner than you might expect. The butter is kept in the freezer before use and the dough has to be made quickly with minimal handling. Cut the block of unsalted butter into 1″ (2.5cm) cubes and put them in the freezer to chill.
3. Place all the dried ingredients in a food processor and pulse until well mixed.
4. Cut the block of cheddar cheese into smaller cubes, add to the food processor and

pulse until the mixture looks like bread crumbs.

5. When the butter cubes are well chilled (or frozen!), pulse them into the flour and cheese mixture. They should look similar to what is pictured below.

6. Next, mix the egg yolk with the 1 Tablespoon of milk. You will have to add the liquid into the food processor whilst it is running and it has to be done fast, ~ 5 – 10 seconds or you risk the dough toughening up due to it being overworked.
7. With the egg yolk/milk mixture ready for pouring in one hand, turn on the food processor with the other free hand. As soon as the blades start running pour in the liquid in a steady steam. Stop the machine after you have added the liquid.
8. In all likelihood, you would have to use a spatula to loosen up the dough that has collected at the bottom of the bowl. Now, use the machine’s ‘PULSE’ button a few times to mix everything up evenly.
9. You should have a dough that looks similar to the one pictured below. The dough would not and should not have all gathered up together into any larger clumps and should appear just a tad dry. If it looks way too dry, mix up 1 egg yolk with 1 Tablespoon milk and add gradually till dough looks similar to the one featured below.

This is exactly how you want it.

10. See the dough below, that’s too moist. Your cheese straw would not bake out crisp enough and it will not stay crisp the next day let alone 5 days. To salvage the dough, I would pulse in 2 – 3 Tablespoons of flour or until it appears drier and looks somewhat like the dough in the image above.

This is not how you want it.

Rolling out and chilling the dough
1. The method outline below is my preferred way of rolling, chilling and cutting out dough. It reduces excessive flouring, overworking the dough and keeps clean up to a minimum.
2. Plop the dough into a large food safe plastic bag. You might have to use 2 bags depending on the size of the plastic bag that you have. Tap it flat with a rolling pin. The dough will start to come together. Then roll out

into a thickness of between 1/8″ – 1/4″ (0.32cm – 0.64cm). Refrigerate one hour to firm up dough (and up to a day). Alternatively, freeze up to 2 months.

Preparing the dough for slicing
1. Turn on your oven to 340F (170C), oven rack adjust to one notch below the middle position.
2. Have the following ready:
(i) the block of 3oz (85g) cheddar cheese that goes on top of cheese sticks
(ii) 1 egg white + brush for brushing egg on dough
(iii) scissors
(iv) sharp knife, cleaver, flat-edged bench scrapper or pizza wheel
(v) rolling pin
(vi) long ruler (if you have problems cutting straight lines this would make your life easier – I like transparent ones with measurements/markers as I can use them as a guide to determine how wide or long I want the cheese strips)
(vii) baking trays. If they are not nonstick, lined with parchment pepper or silicone mats
3. Remove the cookie dough from the refrigerator and set it on a large cutting board or your work surface.
4. Make any last minute adjustment with the rolling pin to level the dough. With the scissors or sharp knife, cut off the top layer of the plastic bag to expose the dough.
5. Egg wash the entire surface and grate the cheddar directly over the dough. Press cheese down lightly.

Slicing dough and baking
1. Using the ruler as a guide, start cutting the dough out into strips. You can leave them long or cut them into short strips as I have. Whilst long straws look very pretty, they are not practical for storing. So save the straws for occasions when you know they are going to be eaten up on the day itself.
2. I cut my cheese sticks into ~ 1.5″ X 1/4″ (3.81cm X 0.64cm).
3. Set them on the baking tray, leaving a 1/4″ – 1/2″(0.62cm – 1.25cm) gap between cheese sticks. Bake immediately, if not, refrigerate the entire tray until ready to bake.
4. Bake for 10 minutes and then turn the baking tray front side back to encourage even baking. Bake for another 3 – 5 minutes.
5. When are they done? The tops and base of the cheese sticks should be a golden brown. The cheese sticks on the outer rim will cook faster than those inside. Remove them first. Let the ones in the centre bake for an additional 1 to 2 minutes. Do not stay too far away from the oven as they move from golden brown to burnt very quickly.
6. Remove to cooling racks. When cooled, store in airtight containers.

Tips

What cheese?
Use cheddar that is well aged. It is often labelled as one of the following: sharp; aged; mature. Some brands will indicate how long the cheese has been aged. These cheddar have a more pronounced flavour which is suitable for making cheese biscuits. If you choose to use a milder or younger cheddar the flavour will still be good but naturally less intense. The taste of milder cheddar after baking can be quite faint.This recipe is for cheddar and not any other cheese. Different cheeses have different fat contents and will bake out differently.

Should I use dried mustard?
I have tried baking cheese sticks with and without dried mustard. If dried mustard is suppose to give a ‘kick’ to the cheese sticks than I would say leave it out. It makes the cheese sticks taste almost bitter and acrid. The ‘kick’ could easily come from adding more ground pepper or chilli powder.

Should I use ground pepper or chilli powder?
Both. In ratios that suit your taste buds. White or black pepper? Does not matter much. If seeing little flakes of ground black pepper bothers you, than use ground white pepper. If you do not like the heat of chillies than leave it out.

Why use dried rosemary?
Cheese sticks are seriously cheesy nibbles and after a while it gets a bit predictable in taste. The strong scent and taste of rosemary goes very well with baked cheese.  A little goes a long way and there is only a hint of it in the cheese sticks to give a little ‘pep’ to what can be a singular dimensional tasting cheese stick.

How do I get those lovely well defined edges on the cheese sticks? I don’t want them looking slopping, sloppy and flat.

These cheese stick have distinct sides and sharp edges. Very attractive.
No well defined edges. They have slopping sides and are flat. They are flaky. They taste reasonably good but they don’t look good.

The ratio of butter, cheese and flour not only has to be right, you have to know how much liquid to add. The cookie dough should not ‘come together’ after the liquids have been added. Instead they should be crumbly, with a few larger pieces here and there. Refer to photos up above in ‘Method’. Too moist a dough and you will lose the sharp edges. Baking at the correct temperatures for the right length of time also plays apart.

How do I get crisp cheese sticks and not flaky ones and moreover, how do I ensure the cheese sticks are crisp throughout with no soft centres?
The answer to this question is the same as above. The best part is, baked properly, you can keep the cheese sticks up to 5 days (and beyond) tightly bottled and they will remain crisp.

Egg white wash or milk wash?
It might surprise you that this makes a difference. Take a look at the cheese sticks below.

The egg white wash gives the cheese sticks an even colour. The milk wash gives the cheese sticks a mottled look. I will go for the egg white wash since I would have an egg white leftover anyway as the dough requires just the egg yolk.

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Need an easy dinner party, all-in-one dish that your guests will enjoy? Try this one, it’s homely and satisfying. Rotisserie  Chicken Stew With Grapes In Peppery Milk Sauce.

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