It’s been a long summer of waiting, but today in Louisville, Kentucky, 20 thoroughbred horses will finally be turned loose in the 146th “Run for the Roses,” the Kentucky Derby.
For the race originally scheduled for the first Saturday in May, I had cooked up a storm for a Kentucky Derby Preview Party. If you missed those recipes, by all means check them out. You’ll get a chance to imagine two twists on the traditional Kentucky Hot Brown, and three fun cocktails that captured the essence and excitement of spring.
Today, I’m keeping it low key, with two special cocktails that celebrate the spirit of Kentucky Derby, with a late summer, headed-into-fall flavor palette. And because no party is complete without snacks, here’s my twist on southern classic cheese straws. These bite-sized biscuits are buttery and crisp, flavored with sharp cheddar (the standard for these down-south favorites) and gruyere, in a nod to the mornay sauce on a Kentucky Hot Brown sandwich. The biscuit is speckled with flecks of fresh rosemary, and crowned with a bourbon-bathed toasted pecan. Despite the flavor complexities and my over-the-top description, these were easy to make from simple ingredients and just a few special touches. They taste southern and look downright fancy, and they’re just the right bite to accompany my Run For the Roses 2.0 cocktails. Let’s make ’em!
About 1 cup pecan halves (approximately 30)
2 oz. bourbon
1 stick butter, softened*
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
8 oz. finely grated cheddar cheese* (see notes)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper*
pinch kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 tsp. bourbon
Use either salted or unsalted butter for these cookies. The butter should be softened enough to mix, but not room temperature or melted.
Substitute other cheeses as you wish, but stick with a cheese that has similar texture to cheddar. I found a terrific cheddar-gruyere blend at Trader Joe’s, and it immediately took me back to May when I made the Kentucky Hot Brown Benedict. It’s fun to be able to keep a theme when making food for a special occasion.
The cayenne is optional, but it does add a subtle hint of “kick” that is a nice balance to the cheese flavor.
- Sort the pecan halves to select the best looking pieces. Place pecans in a shallow glass dish, and pour the 2 oz. bourbon to evenly cover. Gently turn and toss the pecans to ensure they are uniformly soaked. Set aside for about one hour.
- Drain the bourbon off the pecans, and arrange the nut halves on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake at 300° F for about 12 minutes, until nuts are dry and just lightly toasted. Allow them to cool completely and store in a covered container until you’re ready to make the biscuit cookies.
For the cookies:
- Using a box grater or food processor, grate the entire amount of cheddar cheese. Use the smallest grating holes you have for a very finely textured cheese. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, combine flour, cayenne, rosemary, salt and pepper. Set aside.
- In a stand mixer or with an electric hand mixer, beat together the softened butter and worcestershire sauce until butter is light and somewhat fluffy.
- Add the cheese to the butter mixture and beat to combine. I found that the cheese virtually disappeared into the butter to become a very soft and spreadable consistency.
- Add the flour mixture to the cheese mixture all at once, and beat on low speed only until all the flour is incorporated. Do not overmix.
- Transfer to the mixture to a covered bowl and refrigerate at least three hours or overnight.
- Preheat oven to 350° F.
- If cookie dough has chilled overnight, it will be very firm. Remove from the fridge 15 minutes ahead of time before shaping.
- Combine brown sugar and 2 tsp. bourbon in a shallow dish. Place the cooled pecans, top side down, into the mixture. Gently shake the dish to ensure mixture gets worked into the nooks of the pecans, but only on one side. Allow them to rest in the bourbon sugar several minutes, about the same amount of time for shaping the cookies.
- Shape cheese mixture into 1″ balls and arrange on a parchment lined baking sheet, approximately 1″ apart. Use a fork to slightly flatten the balls into disc shapes, similar to making peanut butter cookies.
- Carefully press bourbon halves, top side up, onto the cookies. If cookies have become warm at all, place the tray in the freezer for 15 minutes to firm them.
- Bake cookies for 18-20 minutes, until set and lightly crispy at the edges.
- Transfer baked cookies to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.
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