Feta and aleppo pepper straws

December 14, 2011 § 9 Comments

Have you ever avoided going to a store or a website because you just know you’re going to spend a lot of money and fall inexorably in love with all the merchandise? On cooking-oriented blogs, websites, and forum threads, posters sing the praises of Penzey’s. For seven months I resisted, but eventually the price of cloves at the local grocery store ($8.99 for a teeny container, uh NO) forced my hand, and I was reluctantly yet gleefully off to the aforementioned spice retailer. My anticipation threaded with apprehension was rewarded with not only more reasonably-priced cloves but also aleppo pepper, and lavender, and almost a few other things too.

As is usual, I didn’t use the ingredient I deemed necessary first, but rather experimented with the aleppo pepper, settling on taking some of the cat’s feta (she adores cheese, blues and feta in particular) (also, she likes Président brand feta the best) (I really am a crazy cat lady), and making a Southern staple of cocktail parties, cheese straws! Except they’re cheese straws inspired by the flavors of Turkey.

I still vividly remember our family trip to Turkey way back when I was in middle school. The complex flavors of the food were particularly captivating: aleppo pepper, an almost-fruity spicy flavor, was often featured, and probably even used in dishes I wouldn’t have guessed contained it. It’s also great on its own, but plays nicely with lots of other ingredients, in this case complementing the slightly salty sourness of the feta.

Combining feta and aleppo pepper was easy enough, and so I just needed something else to do to them beyond “sprinkle cheese with pepper, eat, repeat”…also good though, so do try it. Anyway, while idly clicking around for some baking inspiration I remembered the cheese straws from Smitten Kitchen, and feta and aleppo pepper straws were born.

Feta-based cheese straws are a bit softer than their Southern cousins, as it is generally a bit wetter than, say, extra-hard cheddar, thereby resulting in an almost puff-pastry-esque texture, flaky and tender, and obviously loaded with cheese. They’re also really fun and easy to make, thanks to the magic of the food processor. As such these would make a great appetizer for a dinner party, or a nice cocktail party nibble, combining the familiarity of cheese snacks with the fragrance and heat of aleppo pepper.

As for the pepper in question, if you are fortunate enough to live near Penzey’s, check there, or you can order online (I recommend them, as always, because I enjoy shopping there, perhaps too much, and for no other reason…though you may end up leaving with more than you planned!). Additionally, I am sure it is available at other specialty spice shops and/or Mediterranean and/or Middle Eastern groceries. If not, I’d try any pepper that speaks to you; perhaps a smokey pimentón could work for a more Spanish flair? As always, baker’s choice!

Feta straws with aleppo pepper

Heavily adapted from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook via Smitten Kitchen

Makes about 50 or so cheese straws, depending on how long your straws are cut

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup (140 grams) all-purpose flour, plus a tad more for rolling out dough
  • One and 1/2 cup (210 grams) feta cheese, crumbled
  • Three tablespoons (50 grams) unsalted butter, chopped
  • One teaspoon sea salt
  • One teaspoon aleppo pepper (I got mine from Penzey’s spices)
  • Two to three tablespoons water

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl, stir together flour, feta, butter, sea salt, and aleppo pepper. Transfer to a food processor and process in bursts until thoroughly mixed.

2. Drizzle in one tablespoon of water and pulse. Add in more water as needed, the dough needs to resemble the feta that was poured into it earlier (large pea-sized clumps of dough).

3. Carefully pour out dough and compact into a ball. Roll out on a lightly floured surface to about 3/4 centimeter thickness.

4. Slice dough into lengths about one centimeter wide and as long as you’d like; my cheese straws were anywhere from three inches long to about seven inches long, though certainly you can make yours shorter or longer as needed. Alternatively, make rectangles or squares, though anything wider than about two centimeters should be lightly dented with the prongs of a fork so that the layers can puff up easier.

5. Transfer dough slices to ungreased baking sheets. Bake feta straws in the oven for thirteen to sixteen minutes, or until just lightly golden at the edges. Let cool a bit, then transfer to a rack to cool. Serve right away or store, once cool, in an airtight container for up to three days, though they are best on the day they are baked.

Bibliography

Perelmen, Deb. “Cheese Straws.” Smitten Kitchen. 16 Jun. 2009. 11 Dec. 2011. <http://smittenkitchen.com/2009/06/cheese-straws/>.

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