Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cheese Pennies, aka: 'the crackers I can no longer bake'

I have friends who love to bake but rarely bake the sweets the adore, because they will eat them. All. And I never really understood this. Not having much of a sweet tooth, I couldn't figure out why just one bite of a rich, fudgey brownie or a sliver-thin slice of Keylime pie wouldn't be enough to satiate them. It would be for me.
I began to realize the ignorance of that train-wreck of thought yesterday after I baked up a batch of Cheese Pennies. Pulled warm from the oven, these little devils are crisp on the edges, flakey on the top and soft in the middle. Bursting at the seems with tangy cheese flavor, these guys are tiny but mighty. 
One batch makes about 7 dozen pennies. As the moon rose high in the sky over my house last night, I was closing in on finishing my 5th dozen. 
I now have a deeper understanding of exactly why my friends who love to bake and love to eat sweets, have certain desserts that are off limits. I've found my match in a cheese penny.

I've got two recipes here: The first is for the classic cheddar cheese penny, the second is for a more unusual type of penny. I call it the Gruyere cheese penny (Gruyere being the mac daddy of all Swiss cheeses). I used aged Gruyere (pricy, but worth it) and a secret ingredient, onion soup mix. Okay, I admit this is not a cracker for food snobs, but it is a delicious cracker. It's got hint of French onion soup. Friends who tried both cheese pennies unanimously liked the Gruyere best.

Easy to make up a batch, stash the raw dough-logs in the freezer, retrieving them when friends of family come around. They bake in a jiffy (and yes, I do realize how dated the term, 'jiffy' is. It just seemed to fit.)

Cheddar Cheese Pennies
8 oz (225 grams) very sharp cheddar cheese, cut into chunks
1 cup (125 grams) flour
1 stick/half cup (113 grams) cold butter, cut into chunks
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (for very slight heat, 1/4 teaspoon for serious spice)

1) Place the cheese into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until it is grated up, probably 4-6 pulses. Do not over-work the cheese. Add in everything else and pulse until it pulls into large crumbles-- this happens quickly.

2) Turn the dough crumbles out onto a clean work surface and smash into 2 balls, then roll, with your hands into a rough log shapes. Place it in some wax paper (grease-proof paper, for my friends in the UK) and roll neatly into logs about 2" (4 cm) in diameter. If baking soon, place the logs into the freezer for 30 minutes. If baking within 24 hours, stash in the refrigerator. If baking in the next 3 months, stack in the fridge, but stick the logs into a freezer bag first, to avoid freezer burn. Allow frozen logs to thaw at room temperature for 30 minutes before slicing.

3) To bake: pre heat the oven to 400F (200C). Slice the logs into 1cm, slices and lay on a non-greased baking tray. they can be close together, as they will not spread much. Bake for 12 minutes, until they are just crisp on the edges, but still soft in the middle. Cool and eat. All of them. At once. If you manage to have any left over, make sure to keep them in an airtight container.

Gruyere Cheese Pennies (or, French Onion Soup Pennies)
Make these in the exact same way as above, omitting the salt and cayenne, and adding in 1/2 packet of dry onion soup mix (hey Brits! You can use 1/2 a beef bouillon cube, crumbled and 1 dessert spoon of dried onions), also depending on how dry the Gruyere is, you may need to add a tablespoon (dessert spoon) of water to bring the dough together. Carry on with the recipes as above.

Makes 7 dozen

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