Rosie Hawthorne’s recipes: Say cheese for holiday entertaining

By on December 17, 2018

Cheese straws are part of the Southern experience. A staple in Southern entertaining, the cheese straw is mandatory at receptions, showers, and potlucks, and at Christmas time, the straw invariably finds its way into decorated tins for gift-giving.

Most every Southerner’s grandmother had a recipe for cheese straws, usually handwritten on a 3- x 5-inch index card and tucked into a file box. And every Junior League cookbook throughout the South will boast a recipe for the ubiquitous cheese straws.

The ingredients pretty much stay the same – cheese, butter, flour, and seasonings, although, the ratios, brands, and shapes may vary. However you make them, I’ve yet to find a cheese straw I didn’t like.

I have three cheesy recipes for you, but first, a few helpful tips:

• Use extra sharp cheddar.
• Grate your own cheese. Do not buy a pack of shredded cheese.
• I grate my butter while it’s still cold, then let it come to room temperature for use in the recipes. This way, it’s easier to incorporate uniformly into the dough.
• Dough should be chilled so it doesn’t spread when baked.

I found this traditional recipe for cheese straws in Mama Hawthorne’s ancient recipe box. They’re rich and savory with a peppery bite.


Cheese straws
(Makes about 5 dozen)
8 oz. extra sharp cheddar cheese
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups flour
½ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp dried mustard
½ tsp freshly ground pepper
¼ tsp paprika
1 tsp kosher salt
Heat oven to 350°.
In a medium bowl, combine flour, cayenne, mustard, pepper, paprika, and salt.
Grate cheese into bowl of stand mixer. Using paddle attachment beat with butter until smooth. Slowly beat in flour mixture.
Spoon dough into a zip-lock bag and cut a ¼-inch tip in the corner. Pipe 2-3-inch strips onto parchment-lined baking sheets.
Bake until golden, about 16 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through.
Cool on racks.

The next recipe for cheese straws has a slight twist to the traditional straw. I’m changing the shape, adding a hint of smoky flavor, and throwing in crunch for good measure.

Cheddar cheese crisps
(Makes about 4 dozen)
8 oz. extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup flour
¼ tsp paprika
¼ tsp smoked paprika
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
¼ tsp kosher salt
1 cup Rice Krispies
In a small bowl, mix flour, paprikas, cayenne, and salt.
In a medium bowl, work cheese and butter with a fork. Gradually mix in flour mixture. Stir in Rice Krispies until evenly combined. Hands work best here.
Cover and chill mixture for at least 2 hours.
Roll into small balls and place on ungreased parchment-lined cookie sheets. Using a fork, press down and make hash marks on each ball.
Bake at 325° about 22 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through.
Cool on wire racks.

My last recipe is for classic sausage balls, always a favorite at holiday gatherings.

Sausage balls
(Makes about 6 dozen balls)
1 pound ground sausage
(I recommend Jimmy Dean’s hot sausage.)
4 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated (about 10 oz.)
3 cups Bisquick
¼ tsp freshly ground pepper
Heat oven to 375°.

Mix all ingredients by hand in a large bowl until well-combined. Roll into small, tight balls, about 1-inch diameter. Place on baking sheets lightly sprayed with cooking spray.

Bake about 20 minutes, moving balls with spatula halfway through to prevent sticking.

Merry Christmas!

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