When it comes to appetizers, I generally try to offer relatively light preparations, and often opt for vegetable-based dips* that can be scooped with raw zucchini sticks or dolloped onto cucumber rounds : if I’m serving something before dinner, when my guests are, all things considered, starving, the idea is to sate them temporarily, not until next week.
On the other hand, if I’m hosting an apéro dînatoire, a casual night of drinks and nibbles, possibly punctuated by a SingStar showdown, then it seems reasonable, and even desirable, to include a few really satisfying items. It is on such an occasion that I made these cheese thins, which could be thought of as the cheese course of the evening.
They’re a take on the cheese straws I saw on Deb’s Smitten Kitchen, which she herself had drawn from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook. Cheese straws sound fun to eat, unquestionably, and I hope someone makes them for me one day, but I am more of a slice-and-bake person myself, so that’s the technique I opted for, effortlessly producing half-moon crackers (I made a fat log then halved it) that garnered unveiled enthusiasm from the assembly.
Not that it surprised me much: these could be described as crisp rounds of cheese shortbread, buttery and cheesy, thin enough to crumble promptly on your tongue, and dangerously good. And because the slices aren’t all the same thickness (unless you’re a robot with a knife attachment), you get varying shades of golden, which is ideal because each degree of baking results in a slightly different flavor and texture.
Although I haven’t tried it yet, I am fairly sure the dough can be frozen, so that you could keep a log on hand and woo impromptu guests with your magic cheese cracker powers.
- 170 grams (6 ounces) quality hard cheese, finely grated (I used 24-months-old comté cheese, but you could use extra-sharp cheddar, as in the original recipe, or pecorino)
- 55 grams (4 tablespoons) butter (I use semi-salted), diced and softened
- 100 grams (3 1/2 ounces, about 3/4 cup) flour
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt, plus more for sprinkling
- 1/4 teaspoon ground smoked paprika, preferably the spicy kind, plus more for sprinkling (substitute ground chili pepper)
- a dash milk or cream, as needed (see below)
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the cheese, butter, flour, salt, and smoked paprika. Using a dough blender or bench/bowl scraper, mix these ingredients together until they form a dough. If the mixture seems too dry and crumbly to come together into a ball — this will depend on the cheese you used — add a dash of milk or cream until it does (I didn’t need to). The mixing can also be done in a blender, food processor or stand mixer.
Shape the dough into a log or whatever sliceable shape strikes your fancy, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm enough to be easily sliced, about an hour, and up to a day. (You can speed things up by placing the dough in the freezer for 20 minutes instead.)
Preheat the oven to 180°C (360°F) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat.
Remove the dough from the fridge, slice it thinly — about 2 mm or 1/12 inch — and arrange the slices on the prepared sheet (they will expand a little, so give them just a bit of elbow room). You will need to work in batches; return the dough to the fridge between batches.
Sprinkle lightly with salt and chili pepper and bake for 10 to 14 minutes, depending on your oven and the thickness of your slices, until golden. Let the cheese thins rest on the baking sheet for a minute before transferring them to a cooling rack. Taste when cool, and adjust the baking time accordingly for subsequent batches.
Cooking/baking time: 14 min