Whenever I do my holiday baking, I try to break up the deluge of sugar with a few savory (or at least, less sweet) treats, too. Everyone gets so many tins full of sugar cookies and fudge and snickerdoodles, that I always find it nice to get something a little bit different, too (although, admittedly, my tins this year will also include sugar cookies, fudge and snickerdoodles).
This year, I’m including some dark chocolate almond and blueberry clusters (a recipe that’ll be headed your way soon) and these cheddar cheese straws in my holiday tins and treat boxes. If you’ve never heard of cheese straws, no fear, that probably just means you aren’t from the South. Cheddar cheese straws are mega-popular in the Southern U.S., and for good reason—they are addictingly delicious. The best way to describe them is like a crumbly, cheesy, buttery sugarless cookie. They kinda remind me of the texture of a Cheddar Bay Biscuit from Red Lobster (random reference, anyone?). They have that melt-in-your-mouth kinda quality, but they’re spiked with sharp cheddar and a teeny tiny bit of heat from hot sauce and cayenne pepper. They’re crazy good.
They’re called cheese straws because traditionally, you fit a cookie press with a certain die that pushes the dough out in a big long log (or use a piping bag), and then you cut the log into individual 3″-4″ straws for eating. The straws are then served hard breadstick style, in an upright container, so they look like straws in a cup.
But because these savory cookies are crumbly and fragile, I’ve found that using the other dies in my cookie press and keeping them in small cookie form helps them from breaking when packed in a holiday treat tin. Plus, I think these little cheesy flowers are so much more adorable than the traditional straws.
Interestingly enough, I had my first ever cheese straw experience while visiting my husband grandmother in Canada (decidedly not Southern). She served us these little tiny cheesy cookies that I couldn’t seem to stop grabbing. I’ve yet to ask her how she came across the recipe for something that is so Southern in Northwestern Ontario, but I’m forever grateful to her for introducing me to the world of savory cookies.
If you don’t have a cookie press (although, I highly recommend getting one, they are so fun to use, and make super quick work of a lot of fun holiday cookie recipes—here’s the one I have), you can easily just form this dough into small balls and flatten with your hands or a damp fork (peanut butter cookie style) and bake them that way. For sweet cookies, I’m normally a big, fat, chewy cookie kinda girl, but for these, you really get the best experience from small, thin cookies. You want the cookies to crisp up a bit. and you want the cheese to be able to brown (yum). Think more “small cookie-shaped cracker” than “big, gooey cookie”. If you catch what I’m throwing.
Prep Time: 15 minutes | Cook Time: 10 minutes | Makes: About 3 dozen small cookies
I don’t know what it is about Christmas that brings out the raging craft monster in me, but it’s pretty much guaranteed that I’m covered head to toe in glitter and glue for the entire month of December. There are so many craft projects that I could never “find time” for during the rest of the year, but magically, they bubble up to the top of the priority list come Black Friday. Suddenly my brain is like, “Oh yeah, I know you have a deadline for an article, but the most important thing right now is for you to drink egg nog, listen to Christmas music and finish those red sparkly throw pillows for the couch. It’s vital. The world will end if these pillows aren’t done.” #truestory
One of the fun craft projects I took on this past weekend (after the pillows were done) was making cinnamon ornaments. If you’ve never made cinnamon ornaments, they’re crazy easy, smell amazing, and last for pretty much forever. They’re meant to look like gingerbread, but unlike the regular cookie version with sugar and butter and eggs and all that perishable stuff, these ornaments are made from only three ingredients—ground cinnamon, unsweetened applesauce, and craft glue—which helps them last for pretty much ever. You mix it all together into a dough, cut it out just like regular cookies, dry, decorate and hang. And you have a bunch of amazing smelling ornaments that will last for years and years!
Making these would be a super fun project with kids (keep in mind: although, the dough isn’t toxic, it also isn’t edible, keep little fingers from nibbling might be tricky). But of course, Craig and I had just as much fun decorating as any kid would have. It’s nice to have some fun homemade keepsakes on our tree that we can look back on and say, “Hey, remember that snowy afternoon when we brought out the puffy paints and glitter glue?”
There are a million different recipes and processes out there for how to make cinnamon ornaments, but let me show you how we did ours. Let’s get to crafting!
First up, as any good crafter knows, gather your stuff. You probably have just about everything you need already in the house.
As far as decorations go, these ornaments can really be as simple (just plain dried dough on a pretty ribbon) or as crazy (GLITTTEERRRRR!) as you’d like. I really like the use of puffy paint, because I think it looks like big, thick, creamy frosting when dried.
Alright, onto making the dough. First step, the applesauce, cinnamon and glue go into a mixing bowl.
And then, dig in there with your hands. This really isn’t the job for a spoon, you’re gonna need your fingers to get it all mixed it.
Depending on a number of factors (wetness of applesauce, humidity, etc.) you might need to add more applesauce or more cinnamon to make the dough come together. You want it to be just a touch dry (because it’ll dry faster), but you also want it to hold together enough to roll and cut.
When you can form it into a big ole ball, you’re done mixing. Go wash your hands.
Now it’s time to roll. To keep things clean and easy, I just take a hunk of dough (maybe 1/3 of the whole ball) and place it between two sheets of plastic wrap.
Now roll. You’re looking for between 1/4″ and 1/3″. The thinner you go, the quicker it will dry and the more ornaments you can get out of a batch, but it also makes them more fragile and less likely to last from year to year.
Remove the top layer of plastic wrap (set it aside to use on the next batch of dough), and then go at it with your cookie cutters.
Before you transfer your ornaments to baking racks, take the straw and poke holes where you want them to hang from.
Unfortunate gunshot wound gingerbread man.
If there is a shape you want to make but don’t have a cookie cutter for, no problamo. We’re actually using these ornaments as stocking markers, and we wanted dog and cat shaped ornaments for their respective stockings. So I just did a Google image search for ”dog silhouette” and “cat silhouette” until I found ones that resembled our furry family members. Then I printed them out at the size I wanted.
I cut the silhouettes out with scissors, then placed them on the dough and cut around them with an Xacto knife.
Once all the ornaments are cut out, they go onto a baking rack on a cookie sheet, if you want to bake them to dry them.
There are three methods that work for drying the ornaments:
I’m impatient, so we baked them.
After a glorious, snowy day nap with the scent of cinnamon wafting around, these ornaments were ready to get glammed up. Just let them cool out of the oven, and then you can start decorating. Or, if you prefer, you can just tie a pretty ribbon through the hole now and hang them.
But we glittered the heck of these guys.
You might notice that the edges of the ornaments look a little rough.
Nothing a quick buff with a fine-grit sandpaper won’t cure.
Then let your creativity go wild. If you like the shimmery, snow-fallen look, I highly recommend picking up an extra fine translucent glitter to go over everything. It makes everything look like it was kissed by a sunny snowy day.
This recipe makes about 20 or so medium-sized ornaments. Which just happens to be the perfect number of ornaments for two adults to decorate in about an hour.
Because we were heavy-handed with the glitter glue and puffy paints, we let them dry out on the kitchen table overnight.
And then we strung the ornaments with coordinating ribbon the next morning.
And wrote the year on the back with a Sharpie. Because it’s always nice to know when something handmade was handmade. I have a handmade ornament on our tree that I made in Kindergarten, and I always get a kick out of seeing the year “1989″ on the back.
And up on the tree they all went.
Making these was so fun and so delicious smelling that this might have to be a new yearly tradition for us. Although, our 9′ tree is so packed with ornaments (as you can see), that we might have to get a second one just for a cinnamon ornaments!