There was a time in my life when I was baking for a living. Nothing special or elaborate — I was baking beer sticks and cookies and delivering them to the local coffee shops and watering holes. Those were the times… Money was tight, I needed to do my share to contribute to the household’s budget, and this baking idea hit me one day. Having negotiated a few simple deals with beer joint managers around town, I started my day with making an enormous batch of the dough. Then I would go to my music college for lectures, and come back home to cut and bake. I delivered my beer sticks in the afternoon.
I found the recipe in a random Russian cookbook called Cookies, Cakes and Sweets by A. Elenesku. We inherited this book from my late aunt Raissa, who was a phenomenal cook and a generous hostess. At first, I didn’t like the book at all — it didn’t seem well organized, recipes were short and looked more like suggestions rather than detailed execution plans. There was no familiar step-by-step format and no pictures. Even the recipe names were uninspiring. However, as I tried random things from the book, I grew to love it. Sure, I still had to figure a lot of things out in terms of execution, but once I did, things started looking really good.
I found true gems in there, such as a phenomenal sour cherry pie made with two different kinds of dough — one day I’ll get a hold of sour cherries and post it. I found a recipe for the rollup cookies with walnut merengue filling which resembled roses when finished. I adapted that one and sold it to several coffee shops. And of course I found this recipe for cheese sticks, which I scaled happily for my entrepreneurial needs.
The reason I chose this particular recipe is pretty obvious — 5 ingredients that scaled readily, no eggs — they were pretty expensive in those days (except the egg wash), and very predictable outcome with high yield-to-labor ratio. And of course, the cheese sticks are delicious. There were nothing like other cheese sticks that could be found in our cafes — not dense and chewy logs, but flaky, delicate, lightly crunchy and thoroughly cravable things. I added the coarse salt and caraway seed toppings, and cut them with the zigzag blade, and before I knew it, I was in business.
Scaling this is a breeze — just double or triple your ingredients in equal parts. And believe you me when I say — you will want to double and triple once you try them. They are amazing with ice cold beer, but surely you don’t have to limit yourself to this. Enjoy your sticks with consomme or soup, and just by themselves if you are in the mood.
Cheese Sticks With Caraway Seed
Adapted from Cookies, Cakes and Sweets by A. Elenesku
- 4 oz cold butter
- 4 oz farmer cheese, dry curd cottage cheese, or Feta cheese
- 4 oz all-purpose flour
- 3 tbsp warm milk
- 1/2 tsp instant dry yeast
- 1 egg, whisked with 1 tsp water and a small pinch of salt, for coating
- coarse salt, caraway seeds for sprinkling
- Sprinkle yeast grains on top of the warm milk in a cup and let sit while you are working the dough.
- Cut buter, cheese and flour on a board with a knife, until uniform fine crumb forms. If using farmer cheese or cottage cheese, add 1/4 tsp salt as well.
- Make an indentation in the middle of the crumb mass, and pour milk+yeast mix into it.
- Aiding yourself with the knife, mix everything together, scraping dough off the board frequently. Don’t over knead — you want the ingredients just combined to form the dough. Resist the urge to add flour, unless the cheese is very wet.
- On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a rectangle 1/4″ thick. The short side of the rectangle should be about 6-7″ long (the desired length of the stick).
- Using a sharp knife or a pizza cutter, cut off uneven edges of the rectangle and reserve.
- Spread the egg wash carefully over the dough. Sprinkle caraway seeds and coarse salt (if desired) evenly over.
- Using the knife or pizza cutter, cut the sticks to about 3/4″ wide.
- Transfer the sticks onto a dry baking sheet, leaving about 3/4″ interval between them (you can use parchment if you like).
- Roll the dough scraps into a sheet and proceed cutting as before, until all the dough is gone. You want to cut off the uneven portions before eggwashing every time, to keep the dough nice and clean.
- Preheat the oven to 400F (200C).
- Bake the sticks for about 13-15 minutes, until puffy and nicely golden.
- Cool on rack until manageable and enjoy.