Stalking the Waiter

Riffing on foods, flavors and methods, that would be telling.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Dried Cheddar - The Great Experiment

I came up with this idea when I was doing a lot of tea parties and preparing to teach a class on doing catered teas. I wanted something that would be light, crispy, and definitely not greasy, so it would fit in well with a nice, ladylike tea spread. There are numerous recipes for cheese toast kinds of things, but they're all pretty heavy and greasy.

Things like boxed Mac and Cheese or Hamburger Helper have powdered cheddar packets, but I was not willing to go there. No. I was pretty sure I'd never find dried cheddar of any quality available retail, so, I decided to make my own. This was one of those experiments that I devised, figuring I'd have to make several stabs at it before I succeeded. But, glory be, it came out right the first time.

Although this project takes time, it's not labor intensive. It has to be done over a period of a day or more, and it's a bit fussy. Basically, you sweat the oil from your chosen cheese, blotting it up with paper towels, until you have a fairly dry cheese. Yeah, tedious, but the end product is soooo good.

Choose a good cheddar (or any other sharp) cheese. The less oily the cheese, the less time it will take to dry. The idea is to end up with a coarse, non-greasy powder that will store well in the fridge without turning rancid or molding.
  1. Preheat the oven to "warm" - the lowest setting.
  2. Grate the cheese.
  3. Line the bottom of a jelly roll pan with paper towel and spread the cheese on it. Give it some room - the more crowded it is, the longer it will take. Depending on how much cheese you're working with, you may have to use more than one pan.
  4. Put the pan in the oven and turn off the heat. You don't want to melt the cheese, just slowly warm it enough so the oil seeps out.
  5. Check every couple hours. Blot the droplets of oil carefully with paper towels. If the cheese, pan and oven are cold, reheat the oven to warm again and turn off.
  6. When the paper towel lining the pan starts to get saturated with oil, carefully dump the cheese into a bowl, reline the pan, and return the cheese to the pan.
  7. Repeat steps 5 and 6, as needed, until the cheese becomes brittle and doesn't give off any more oil.
  8. At this point, it should have lost most of its oil, but blot it with a paper towel just to be sure. Pour the cheese into a blender or food processor and process to a coarse powder.
Depending on how OC you are (obssessive compulsive, not Orange County), you can buy Melba Toast or other pretoasted thin breads, or you can bake or buy an unsliced Pullman loaf and DIY. If you go for the DIY, you're going to need a good bread knife. What you want is a knife with a finely serrated edge, or you won't get smooth, attractive slices. The Burns Bread Knife is my bread knife of choice. I couldn't get a usable pic, but it has tiny serrations cut into the edge in groups, alternating angles. It cuts any bread, but it's especially good for a bread with a fine crumb that you want to slice thin because those little teeth go right through it without tearing for smooth, perfect slices.
  1. Slice off the crusts, then slice the loaf very thinly - between 1/4 and 1/2" thick, keeping in mind that it is going to shrink as it toasts. If it's too thin, it will be brittle too fragile to be practical.
  2. Cut the bread into shapes, simple triangles or strips are fine.
  3. You can toast them in a toaster or toaster overn, or use the broiler. You want them to get barely golden on both sides.
  4. When they are golden on both sides, remove the rack to the countertop and let them cool. You can stop at this point and pack them away in a sealed container to keep them from getting soggy.
  5. When you're ready for the final steps, very lightly butter each bread shape - put just a little butter on your knife. You should be able to hear the blade scrape across the crunchy surface. This is only done to hold the dried cheddar on the bread until it's toasted.
  6. Sprinkle your dried cheddar over the buttered shapes. Don't overdo it. They only need to be lightly cheesy.
  7. Turn the oven to high (450F) and preheat.
  8. Put a cooling rack into a jellyroll pan, and set the cheese-topped bread shapes out on it. When the oven is preheated, put the pan in and watch until the cheese melts - it won't really melt, but it will combine with the bit of butter and adhere to the toasted bread shapes.
  9. Remove from the heat and let cool.
I usually sliced my Pullman loaf horizontally, which is a pain to do. But it gave me long, thin sheets of bread to cut into shapes. I had an antique silver cracker basket with the ends in the shape of coquille shells. I got a cutter in that shape and used that for my toasts. They looked really cool in the basket. The only problem I found with these was that the tea party guests wouldn't touch any of the sweets until they devoured all the toasts. I thought about making more for subsequent parties, but cheese toasts do not a tea party make, so I kept to a single loaf of bread. However, for a cocktail party, you could probably put out nothing else and have happy guests.


At 8:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been using powdered cheddar for many years since I found it in a bulk foods store 15 years ago. There are so many things that you can do with it, but my specialty is to make homemade Cheese Bread. It has become such a popular item amongst friends and family that I now take orders during the holidays for it! The powdered cheeses are great when fixing seafoods on the grill and you want the flavor of a very robust cheese, but not the headache of melting cheese. We also use it in our home in place of salt and many other condiments. Can't wait to try your recipe, we shall trade recipes some day!


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