Category Archives: cheddar

Gooey Cheese Sauce with “Real” Cheese, Two Ways

The "pretzel bites" I made were kind of a disaster, which I may or may not get around to writing about before JulyNacho” typical cheese sauce

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt from Serious Eats did all the work on this one. His mission: a homemade cheese sauce with real cheese that’s satiny smooth and stays that way.

Apparently, his wife’s a huge fan of the kind of cheese sauce you get with fries or nachos at burger shacks & sporting events—the gooey, tangy stuff that food snobs turn their noses up at because it’s so obviously processed (although I suspect a good number of them would be all over it if it was coming out of the kitchen at WD-50 or Alinea). Kenji agreed that there was something about the texture of the processed stuff better suited to fries & nachos than a traditional Mornay sauce, which is just a Béchamel with cheese—like the sauce in most homemade macaroni & cheese recipes. Using the ingredients on a box of Velveeta for inspiration, he tried a number of different methods and found that the two keys to preventing the cheese from breaking and clumping were 1) milk proteins and 2) starch.

The method he arrived at could not be simpler: you grate some cheese and toss it with a little cornstarch, and then  heat it along with some evaporated milk until it’s smooth, adding some hot sauce if desired. I made two batches for a Superbowl party yesterday with some of the modifications suggested by Kenji and people who commented on the recipe. For the first, “Nacho,” I used half sharp cheddar and half pepperjack cheese with about a teaspoon of hot sauce. For the second, “White Cheddar,” I used 3/4 sharp cheddar and 1/4 Monterey Jack, added 1 t. dry mustard  along with the cornstarch and used Worcestershire sauce in place of the hot sauce.

"Nacho," pre-heating

The hot sauce tinted it a pale orange, but if you want the day-glo orange color that "fake" cheese has, start with orange cheddar or add annatto

The reason I used some jack cheese in both instead of all cheddar was that a few people who commented on the Serious Eats recipe said they had problems with the sauce getting grainy, especially after cooling. In my experience, jack cheese is way less prone to breaking & clumping than cheddar in applications like white chili, so I thought it might be a way to guard against the texture issues. But that didn’t really work—the sauce was impressively smooth when it was hot, but as it cooled, it became grainy, and basically a lot like a Mornay. A good Mornay, but definitely not a substitute for processed cheese sauces. When I reheated it in a larger pan of simmering water, double-boiler style, it smoothed out again.

I suspect that the problem was that I used a super sharp, hard, and relatively dry aged cheddar—the kind that has tiny calcium crystals in it, like parmesan—and as it returned to room temperature, the cheese started to re-solidify. Next time, I’ll use a younger, softer, creamier cheddar. But the technique definitely worked—while the sauce was hot, it was silky smooth and gooey, and tasted exactly like awesomely sharp aged cheddar cheese.

The "White Cheddar" dip. This was so sharp and cheddary, and when it was hot it was so smooth and creamy. I'm a little sad you'd have to sacrfice that sharpness to keep it smooth and creamy as it cools. I suspect Dufresne or Achatz could find a way, but it probably wouldn't be as easy to do at home. I have no annoying puns for “White Cheddar”

Recipe: Gooey Cheese Sauce (from Serious Eats)

Nacho”

  • 4 oz sharp cheddar
  • 4 oz. pepperjack
  • The 1 Tablespoon corn starch
  • 1 12-oz can evaporated milk
  • 2 t. hot sauce
  • minced jalapeno (optional—if you want it really spicy) 

“White Cheddar”

  • 6 oz sharp cheddar
  • 2 oz. Monterey Jack
  • 1 Tablespoon corn starch
  • 1 t. dry mustard
  • 1 12-oz can evaporated milk
  • 2 t. Worcestershire (optional—omit for vegetarian; but if you’re feeding omnivores, it does add a nice meaty/umami dimension)

1. Shred the cheeses and toss them with the cornstarch (and dry mustard if using).

2. Combine all ingredients in a medium-sized pot. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, just until the cheese melts and the mixture begins to thicken. The cheese may seem to “break” at some point, with bubbles of grease floating to the surface, but once the starch begins to expand, the fat and moisture should form a smooth emulsion.

3. To reheat, put the sauce in the top part of a double-boiler or a small pot set in a wider pot or deep skillet filled with water that rises at least half-way up the sides of the small pot. Stir just until smooth and warm. Direct contact with the burners may cause the sauce to reheat evenly and “break.”

Cheddar-garlic Biscuits: In Defense of Garlic Powder

Lobster not included 

I have been carefully trained to look upon garlic powder with great disdain.

S.J. Sebellin-Ross

At the third Ann Arbor Ignite last Thursday, the audience cheered and applauded when the last speaker exhorted us to use fresh garlic instead of dried or powdered (about 41:40 here). And sure, in a recipe like the bolognese he was describing, I’d probably use fresh garlic, too, but that’s hardly a reason to cheer. The crowd’s reaction instead seemed symptomatic of the emblematic status fresh garlic has achieved. Its superiority has become one of the central commandments of the “food revolution,” and no wonder, it hits all the right notes: seems more “natural” and more “authentic,” supposedly better-tasting, and possibly healthier (although, as that site notes, it’s possible to dehydrate garlic without deactivating the enzymes with therapeutic value, which cooking can destroy). It also has the added bonus of a built-in villain in the form of its dehydrated, powdered counterpart, which for many people is associated with the industrial food system, bland mid-century midwestern cooking, and laziness.if you're afraid of losing foodie cred, click on the picture for instructions on how to make your own powdered garlic (assuming you have a dehydrator) from The Deliberate Agrarian

But aside from being slightly more convenient for busy or novice cooks, garlic powder really works better for numerous applications—it dissolves in dips and gravies, it keeps dry rubs dry, and it can be sprinkled to taste on popcorn or pizza or whisked into the dry ingredients of any bread recipe. Instead of thinking of it as a bad substitute for the fresh stuff, I prefer to think of it as a pedestrian version of the powders made by bleeding-edge chefs like Alinea’s Grant Achatz and WD-50’s Wylie Dufresne. Sure, they often taste different than the non-powdered versions, but they open up a whole array of different uses. Of course, you could make biscuits with a garlic-infused fat or stud the dough with chunks of raw or roasted garlic, but neither of those options is going to give you the same intensity of flavor or evenness of distribution as garlic powder. And these biscuits definitely challenge the notion that powdered garlic can’t be delicious.

Most recipes for cheddargarlic biscuits, even Paula Deen’s, simply suggest adding garlic powder and grated cheddar to a baking mix like Bisquick. That would probably be pretty good too, but I don’t have enough uses for Bisquick to keep it around (especially given that rumors about toxic molds developing in expired pancake and biscuit mixes turn out to be true, if somewhat overblown). So instead, I added garlic powder and grated cheddar to the recipe I use for rich, buttery biscuits. The recipe has a higher proportion of fat : flour than most baking powder biscuit recipes, so it makes biscuits that are rich enough to eat plain (and too rich to make a very good vehicle for gravy or butter). Whatever fat you use, it must be solid so chunks of it will remain in the dough. Those chunks melt during baking to create the flaky layers. Lard or shortening work slightly better than butter or margarine because they don’t contain water. However, butter is delicious, so I used half butter and half lard. If you don’t eat butter or lard, margarine or vegetable oil shortening should work equally well (although if you’re avoiding trans-fats, you should stick to ones composed largely of palm oil or produced by fractionation).

Recipe: Cheddar-garlic Biscuitsfats cut into pieces before chilling

  • 1/2 cup solid fat—I used 4 T. butter and 4 T. lard
  • 9 oz. all-purpose or cake flour (about 2 cups)—I used bread flour with 2 T. replaced by cornstarch
  • 2 1/2 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1 t. kosher salt
  • 1 pinch sugar
  • 1 1/2 t. powdered garlic
  • 1 T. dried parsley and/or chives (optional)
  • 4 oz. grated sharp cheddar (about 1 cup)
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk (or regular milk soured with 1 T. lemon juice)
  • extra flour for dusting
  • extra milk for brushing biscuit tops

1. Preheat the oven to 500F. Cut the fat into pieces and chill while you prep the remaining ingredients.

2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar, garlic, and herbs if using.

3. Toss the chilled pieces of fat with the flour and and combine them with a pastry cutter, crisscrossing knives, a food processor, or your bare hands—just don’t melt the bits of fat. You want the largest pieces of fat to be about the size of small peas.

Criss-crossing knives = less dishwashing even if it takes a little longer than the food processor. My hands tend to be too warm for the bare hands method. Just a minute or two later: big chunks of fat remaining, but fat relatively well distributed throughout the flour

4. Mix in the grated cheddar and the buttermilk or milk. Stir just until most of the flour is moistened—you don’t want gluten to form so the goal is to handle the dough as little as possible once you’ve combined the wet and dry ingredients.

the sharper the cutter, the less it will squish the edges, which can prevent rising brushing with milk isn't strictly necessary, but it does promote nice browning

5. Dust a table or countertop with flour, dump the dough onto it and press or knead together just enough to form a dough. Flatten the dough to between 1/2” and 1” thick and cut desired shapes—if you don’t have a biscuit cutter, a glass or empty jar will work, or you can just cut the dough into squares or triangles.

6. Place on an baking sheet (ungreased) and brush the tops with buttermilk. Place in preheated oven, and reduce the oven temperature to 450F and bake for 7 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet and bake another 5-7 minutes, or until the biscuits are golden brown.

neglected, sprouting rutabega in the background warm, garlicky, cheese-studded biscuits. kind of hard to beat.