I don’t know how you feel about those neon orange cheese crackers lining the grocery store shelves, but I don’t like them. To me, they’re just as dry and boring as their red cardboard box, I don’t understand their popularity, and I can’t think of any reason good enough to make me eat one. (I must confess to a fondness for crunchy—not puffed!—Cheetos, however. Eat them with chopsticks so you won’t leave an orange trail of culpability.) Glen and I once went to a party where the only food the hostess provided to accompany a stringy barbecued brisket was an Olmec head-sized box of cheese crackers dumped into a disposable aluminum roasting pan. Visual appeal and tastiness: both slain with one blow.
But cheese baked into a savory cookie to pull hot from the oven at the cocktail hour is scrumptious—perfect for when Glen and I want to have a little something to nibble on with our drinks. Today I’m sharing a recipe for just such a cookie. I make several versions, using different cheeses, fresh herbs and spices. This one I concocted a couple of days ago. I’d bought a 1 lb. wheel of a Mexican cheese called “queso fresco” from a woman who makes it at home with fresh milk from her cows.
If you’re not familiar with it, queso fresco is not for slicing; it’s a white, slightly salty, crumbly cheese usually sprinkled over enchiladas, refried beans and such. It’s a little like feta, but milder and with a finer grain. After enjoying it for several days, I was starting to get tired of it. How could I use up the rest of the wheel? I decided to experiment with turning it into cookies.
These are refrigerator cookies; one recipe makes 2 logs. Preheat the oven, slice a few and pop them in, and 20 minutes later you have a deliciously buttery, crunchy accompaniment to your cocktail.
QUESO FRESCO COOKIES Makes two approximately 8-inch logs
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
8 oz. crumbled queso fresco, or similar cheese
2 Tbs. minced fresh herbs (see Notes below)
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt (scant)
½ tsp. smoked paprika
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
1 egg, extra-large or large
1 c. toasted pecan pieces
1. In a large bowl, cream the butter.
2. Add the cheese and mix well.
3. Add in the herbs and mix well.
4. Stir the dry ingredients together, then add them to the butter/cheese/herb mixture.
5. When the dry ingredients are all incorporated, add the egg. If you’re using a hand mixer, at this point you’ll probably want to switch to stirring with a wooden spoon or a sturdy silicone spatula.
6. The toasted pecans come last. Once you’ve got those mixed in, refrigerate the dough for about 30 minutes, because it will likely be a bit too soft to form at first.
7. Divide the chilled dough into two parts and roll each into a log about 8 inches long.
8. Wrap each log tightly in plastic wrap. They can be kept several days in the refrigerator, OR, if well-wrapped (first in plastic wrap, then in foil, followed by enclosure in a plastic zipper bag with the air squeezed out of it), the logs can be frozen indefinitely. If you can resist eating them “indefinitely,” that is.
1. If using a frozen log, thaw it first so that it’s cold enough to slice properly, but is not brittle.
2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
3. Cut however many ¼-inch slices from the log that you want to bake. Rewrap the rest and put it back in the fridge. It’s ready to have another night!
4. Bake the slices for 20 minutes (until the edges are golden) on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
5. You can try to force yourself to cool them for 2 minutes on a rack, or you can plate them instantly and burn your tongue with the first, irresistible bite.
• Toast the pecan pieces on a cookie sheet in a 350 degree oven for about 8 minutes. Be sure they’ve cooled down before you add them to the dough.
• I recommend a fresh herb mix of chives, oregano and sage for this cheese. About 1 Tbs. of the chives, and 1 Tbs. of oregano and sage together. But you could do all chives, or a mix of other herbs (like parsley, thyme, etc.) with the chives. Maybe try cilantro? I’m usually limited to the herbs I have growing outside, and unfortunately, I can’t grow cilantro. As for rosemary, even though I love it, I don’t use it for this; I save it for the parmesan version of the recipe.
• I buy pecan halves and break them up with my fingers. I get bigger pieces this way, plus I’m sure to see unpleasant shell surprises that might crack a tooth.
• You can probably get about 20 or so cookies from each log. I’ve never yet managed to slice cookies into perfect ¼-inch sections.
• A great feature of this cookie is you can have several logs on hand in the freezer, ready to thaw and bake up crisp and hot at any time, for yourself or for company. Convenient all year, and especially a plus over the holidays.
Enjoy! And I promise they’re not orange. See?
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