Yield: Yields about 4 dozen
A sweet-tart apple purée, fennel seeds, and sharp Cheddar give crisp puff pastry straws big hits of flavor, both savory and sweet. The small holes of a box grater work best for grating the cheese; a rasp-style grater is too fine.
Purée the apples in a blender or food processor until very smooth. Taste the purée; it should be a little tart, but if it’s too tart, add a pinch of sugar. If it tastes a little flat, add another pinch of salt or a couple drops of fresh lemon juice, or both. Refrigerate until completely chilled, about 20 minutes.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll out one sheet of the puff pastry into a 12×14-inch rectangle. Brush off any excess flour. Orient the dough so a 12-inch side is parallel to the edge of your work surface. Spread a thin, even layer of the apple purée over the bottom half of the dough. Fold the other half of the dough over the purée so that the dough measures 12×7 inches. Trim the edges. Transfer the dough to a baking sheet lined with parchment and refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, roll out the other sheets of dough and repeat the process. (It may not be necessary to use all of the apple purée.)
Lightly brush one of the chilled dough rectangles with the egg. Sprinkle 1/2 tsp. of the fennel and then 1/2 oz. of the cheese in an even layer on top. Season lightly with salt. Gently run a rolling pin over the surface to press the seeds and cheese into the dough. Chill while you repeat with the remaining dough, fennel, and cheese.
Working with one rectangle at a time, slide the puff pastry onto a cutting board. Using a pizza cutter, cut the dough lengthwise into long, thin strips about 1/3 inch wide. Working with one strip at a time, hold both ends and twist slightly (if the dough is too firm to work with, give it a few minutes to soften). Transfer the twists to 3 unlined heavy-duty rimmed baking sheets, spacing them about 1/4 inch apart and pressing the ends of each strip onto the pan to help hold the shape while baking. Cover and refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes.
Position racks in the top, center, and bottom thirds of the oven and heat the oven to 425°F.
Put the cheese straws in the oven and reduce the heat to 375°F. Bake until golden, 20 to 23 minutes, swapping the sheets’ positions after 10 minutes. Turn off the oven, open the door, and leave the straws in the oven until very crisp, about 1 hour. Using a long metal spatula, carefully release the straws from the baking sheets. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Make Ahead Tips
These are best baked and eaten on the same day, but they can be shaped in advance on the baking sheets and refrigerated for up to 1 day or frozen for up to 1 week. Bake them directly from the freezer.
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Made this for a holiday party along with other desserts featured in the December 2010 Fine Cooking magazine. I agree with the other reviewers that the apple flavor tended to get over-ridden by the fennel and I didn't taste much of the cheese flavor. Even with a very good cheddar the flavor was over-ridden by the other components. I also agree that the apple flavor didn't come out as strongly as I would have hoped given the excellent taste it had after pureeing. Maybe it needs additional sugar and lemon to make the apple puree more tart. The straws came out fine but not sure I'd go through the effort in the future.
I made these one week ahead and froze them on pans as directed in the recipe. I was a bit worried about it but it worked out perfectly. They looked gorgeous and were crisp and light. I agree with the other reviewer that the cheese was masked even though I used a well aged cheddar. Actually, the apple flavor didn't really come through that well either. There was a note of tang but its origin was not as clear as I expected. I did use all of the puree but I wonder if I should have used a sweeter apple. For more about the party I had where this menu was featured, check out www.cookthestory.wordpress.com
This recipe was fairly easy to reproduce, and the results were very good. The fennel adds a nice touch to the apple, but the two combined hide the taste of the cheese. My family really enjoyed this recipe. As a note, they are OK the next day.
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