Cheddar-Pecan Biscuit Recipe fail
January 10, 2017 7:45 PM   Subscribe

I got these cookies for Christmas and OH MY GOD they were ridiculously good. I have been attempting to make a home version but, so far, utter failure. Hope me!

I used this recipe; most recipes I could find online were a variation of this. (I will in the future be halving the recipe, if that matters to your advice, but go ahead and give advice based on the full recipe amounts.)

1 pound butter, softened
1 pound sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (some recipes also have 1/2 t. garlic powder)
1 teaspoon salt
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Cream butter and cheese, add pecans, add spices and flour.
Roll into logs, refrigerate, slice 1/4", bake 12-13 minutes.

Okay, so, problems:
1) Not NEARLY enough heat; could barely taste it. I did try the version with the garlic powder which I think helped, but I think it probably needs quite a bit more cayenne ... but not sure how much. Relatedly, I just used Kraft sharp cheddar ... maybe a fancier cheese helps the heat come through? (But if I spend so much on cheese I'm approaching the cost of just buying them in bulk I'd rather just buy them in bulk.)

2) The texture was miserable. I used pre-shredded, finely-shredded cheese., but it just did not mix in. My kitchen was very cold that night, which was probably a contributor, but the butter was well-softened; it just would not work. I toasted and chopped my own pecans, which was fine. The rolled logs looked like mottled flesh-colored penises with the unincorporated cheese in among the butter, with pecan freckles. Very unappetizing.

3) The flour tastes RAW. My first batch at 12-13 minutes, almost all I could taste was the raw flour. I've baked as long as 20 minutes, until they're quite brown, and the flour taste is not still there. Like, maybe the recipe needs a fluid or something? (My oven's temperature is accurate, I checked that first.)

4) They're so crumbly. This wouldn't bother me in general since I just want them for me to snack on (not to be perfect Christmas cocktail party cookies or anything), but it may help you diagnose what is wrong with this recipe and how to fix it. Again, perhaps it needs a liquid? And at 4 cups of flour (not 4.5), the dough seemed so dry and lacking in cohesion that I stopped adding more.

I'm a pretty good baker but I've never had a shortbread-type cookie fail in SO MANY WAYS AT ONCE before (I even burned myself on the oven for good measure) so I'm not totally sure what's wrong here. Maybe you can tell by looking, or maybe you have a completely different recipe for cheddar-pecan biscuits that I could try because this one is just inherently terrible?

(I have a stand mixer but I do not have a food processor.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee to Food & Drink (21 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I routinely make a savory cheese roll thingie and the one lesson I've learned from that is that different cheeses bake *wildly* differently. These days I use 2/3 cheapest possible store-brand pre-shredded and 1/3 something very sharp and tasty - the oil from the cheap pre-shredded seems to be necessary to get the texture right. It's not the same recipe at all, but I bet trying a different brand of cheese will change your result.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:56 PM on January 10, 2017

Ooh ooh also the Kraft Finely Shredded Cheddar has a bunch of anti-caking agents that may account for both the lack of binding and the weird raw-flour taste.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:12 PM on January 10, 2017 [25 favorites]

Pre-shredded cheese is usually tossed in corn starch, potato starch or cellulose --which might be screwing things up considerably. Their main job is to absorb excess moisture, and they'll do that in your recipe, as well.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:14 PM on January 10, 2017 [13 favorites]

1) I think it's your cheese. Pre-shredded cheese is coated with cellulose so it won't stick together in the bag. I'd try just buying a block of cheddar and grating it yourself to see if that helps --- given that you're supposed to cream together the cheese and the butter, sounds like you want them to meld, and I think that'll go easier with the block cheddar.

I wouldn't go with super-fancy cheddar or anything --- the longer the cheese is aged the drier it will be. Cabot or Cracker Barrel would be fine. My supermarket's own brand is what I buy, they make a perfectly decent sharp cheddar.

2) spice: how old is your cayenne? Spices lose a lot of oomph as they age. If yours has been sitting in the back of the cabinet forever that could be it. At the end of the day, if it's not spicy enough for you, just add more pepper until it's where you like it. You might also consider adding a bit of dry mustard powder, such as Coleman's -- mustard plays really well with cheese, and that will add a bit of oomph as well.

3) flour: I'm a convert to scales when it comes to baking, helps a ton with tricky ingredients like flour. If you have one lying around you might try it again weighing out the flour. If that's too much of a PITA, you might cut the amount by a 1/2c (1/4c for a half-batch).

But I'd def try the cheese first. Basically these things are nothing but fat and flour; seems like it's the flour granules being fully coated with fat that helps cook out the raw flour taste. If your cheese isn't fully incorporating, maybe that's not happening. Different cheese may solve all your problems, basically.
posted by Diablevert at 8:14 PM on January 10, 2017 [7 favorites]

Also, that's an epic amount of flour for a pound of flour. That's half as much butter as my Scottish shortbread recipe uses for the same amount of flour and three times more flour than my whipped shortbread recipe uses for the same amount of butter.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:17 PM on January 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Great advice so far. I've found that replacing some of the cheddar with good Parmesan helps both the texture and flavor. It has to be grated by hand, though, the stuff out of the shaker won't work. Also, I freeze my log for an hour or two and that helps everything combine and stay that way.
posted by SakuraK at 8:19 PM on January 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm with everyone on the pre shredded cheddar.

I think a food processor is going to be much better here than the stand mixer. The cheese being finely divided is going to make it easier.

Also, the photo of the cookies on the website shows black pepper. I would add a healthy dose of freshly ground black pepper.
posted by gregr at 8:24 PM on January 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've found that cayenne pepper varies greatly in heat depending on where it comes from. I got a really fresh batch recently and wow, I can only use a tiny bit at a time. Could you seek out a fresher/hotter source?
posted by Toddles at 8:35 PM on January 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

How about using bread flour? The extra gluten may help them hold together. Maybe add a 1/4 cup of water or milk to make the dough a little more pliable. Refrigerate overnight to let the gluten to it's magic.
posted by Marky at 8:36 PM on January 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

With these ingredients it should taste good no matter how it's cooked. I suspect there's too much flour or not enough butter. Melted butter is a binding liquid and adding more will only make it more delicious.
posted by FallowKing at 8:42 PM on January 10, 2017

Thinking it over, actually, 1 tsp of cayenne for that amount of flour and cheese is really not a lot, especially if you want them to be a bit spicy and non just non-bland. If it were me I think I'd try a tablespoon. But I do speak as someone who currently has 6 different varieties of hot sauce in their fridge. There's no eggs or anything in this, I'd just taste it and adjust the seasoning as you go (bearing in mind that spices generally taste stronger after baking).

Also, as this is a essentially a savoury shortbread, I'd be leery of adding too much liquid, you'll wreck the crumbly texture. The cheese itself is adding a lot of fat to this dough (with a minor assist from the nuts).
posted by Diablevert at 8:48 PM on January 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Could you see pieces of cheddar in the original biscuits, or were they a uniform orange color? If they were uniform in color that could suggest that the cheese and butter were melted together. You could also add the cayenne to the melted butter to draw out some more flavor. Search for melted butter shortbread recipes for a starting point. Also, as mentioned above, the flour/butter ratio is too high.

Another possibility if the color was uniform, is that the recipe uses powdered cheese either melted or creamed into the butter.

And please post the recipe if you figure it out. Sounds delicious!
posted by defreckled at 8:52 PM on January 10, 2017

That seems like a ton of flour and relatively little wet ingredients. This recipe has far less flour in comparison.
posted by O9scar at 8:54 PM on January 10, 2017

Have used this recipe successfully: Lex Culinaria
posted by zepheria at 8:58 PM on January 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Hi! Please do not melt the butter and cheese together!

I love low country cuisine, but this is in fact a variation of a short bread recipe. I'm totally hip to what happened, if I may?

Yep. Using pre-shredded cheese was your only mistake, followed by not chilling the biscuits after forming, and/or chilling the dough before forming the biscuits. That's it. Your cayenne might be really old, so less pungent. A few years back I bought some cayenne that was fucking incendiary and I threw it out. So the recipe called for X amount of cayenne, but that's just a rough approximation based on the quality of the ingredient you are using....

If you google "Russian Tea Cakes" there is one standard recipe everywhere and it's similar to this recipe in ingredients and texture and technique, but your cheddar pecan recipe is savory. God yes, creaming the butter is part of the texture! Use a hand mixer for that part. Use hand grated cheese (it's cheaper by the block. BTW - TILLAMOOK MEDIUM CHEDDAR is damn cheap from Costco in the bigger block, and this cheese has the best flavor and melting capability. Sharp cheddar is not a great choice for flavor or melting, but especially for this technique, go with a medium cheddar. TJ's has OK inexpensive cheddars in blocks, but the quality, flavor, and price per pound on the Costco Tillamook Medium is where it's at) DO NOT OVERMIX THE FLOUR, that will make tough biscuits. Do chill after creaming the room temp butter and gently folding in the flour. Let that shit rest and chill before baking

Umm, what else?

When I recently made the Russian Tea Cake recipe I panicked a bit and added a touch more flour. This was wrong. Your biscuits were crumbly because of the additives to pre-shredded cheese. If you are married to using pre-shredded cheese, use a 1/8 cup less flour, or add 2 extra tablespoons of butter (and use a hand mixer!)

That's it. Chill before baking. ENJOY!!
posted by jbenben at 11:28 PM on January 10, 2017 [13 favorites]

I agree with everyone that 1- way too much flour, 2- don't use pre-shredded cheese, 3- use more/better cayenne and add black pepper.
The final component no one has mentioned is the pecans. The recipe you used calls for chopped, so the pecans just add chunky texture, but I wonder if they were more finely ground in the original? My mom makes pecan fingers where the pecans are finely ground in the food processor (or we use one of those mini choppers with just one button, they're only about $25-$30), so that they take the place of some of the flour. This both brings out more pecan flavor, and helps release the oil in the nuts and make the dough less dry. I'd try it that way, and reduce the flour even more, in addition to the other tips. (Or a mix of ground and chopped pecans, if you want that chunky texture.)
posted by catatethebird at 7:20 AM on January 11, 2017

Agreeing with those who blame the cheese (or really the anti-caking agents in the cheese).

When it comes to equipment though im not sure you want to hand great your cheese if you have a food processor with a shredder plate. Anyone who has used one can tell you about how it inevitably gets this build up of solid but deformed cheese paste - that's what you want here (its fine that other parts of it will be shredded but the food processer will help beat it up a bit before creaming it with the butter in a stand mixer).

Also agree that you want a cheaper medium cheddar and don't need anything too aged or fancy.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 7:23 AM on January 11, 2017

I swear I have seen a similar recipe, and I think this might be it. It looks like red pepper flakes might get the spiciness you're after.

Pecan Cheese Wafers from The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen
posted by apricot at 2:55 PM on January 11, 2017

Oh, also nthing that your cheese is probably the problem. It has a bunch of stuff in it that's going to affect the texture.
posted by apricot at 2:57 PM on January 11, 2017

As with cookies, to improve results, make the dough and refrigerate it for several hours or overnight.

I have always heard this type of thing called cheese straws, esp. in English novels. The NY Times, of course, has recipes. Laurie Colwin mentions them. If you have not read her books Home Cooking and More Home Cooking, they are really, really good.

posted by theora55 at 3:37 PM on January 11, 2017

My thoughts:
- Pre-shredded cheese and too much flour, as have been said above
- Using softened butter and creaming it with the cheese sounds weird, but then I don't know exactly what texture is right. I would try more of a biscuit technique, using cold butter and cutting it in.

But if I were you, I'd first try the Lee Bros. recipe mentioned by apricot above.
posted by chickenmagazine at 5:57 PM on January 11, 2017

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