By: Lianna Lee
It is now officially summer and my interest in foods that have to be baked above 350 degrees F has disappeared. The oven is officially on summer break. Agua frescas, greens, fruit, and chips and salsa are in my daily eating rotations. All of us hit this ‘cooking’ slump when the farmer’s markets are flooded with the freshest and most vibrant produce we’ve seen in months.
As with any kind of burnout, you need something pretty damn delicious to lure you back into the game and giving it your best shot. My impetus arrived one day when I was invited to spend a long weekend at a good friend’s house in the mountains. Bringing a gift of food is my M.O. whenever I’m a house guest, and I always try to bring something yummy as a small thank you gift.
Racking my brain and bookshelf for inspiration, I hit upon making these beauties. Cheddar Swirls. They are the creme de la creme of savoriness, and take shape in an an unassuming roll that hits it out of the park every single time. Deb Perelman of “The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook,” amazingness is one of the reasons I began cooking seriously in the first place. I would solemnly swear anything food-related over this book, or if we couldn’t find a hard copy then over her ‘Smitten Kitchen’ blog. What I like about the cheddar swirls is that they can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. They’re a fun crowd pleaser and people are easily impressed by anything swirly.
3 C all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
Few grinds of black pepper
1 T sugar
2 1/4 tsp yeast, or 1 package of yeast
1 C milk
4 T unsalted butter, melted
1/2 C grated or finely chopped white onion
6 oz sharp cheddar cheese, Cabot is amazing for cheeses
2 tsp dill or any herb you like, I used rosemary
Few grinds of black pepper
Mix all of the dry ingredient (flour, salt, pepper, and sugar) together in a bowl. Add the yeast to the milk and whisk until it is fully dissolved. Combine all of the wet ingredients (milk, melted butter) with the dry mix. Stir until a sticky mass forms, then knead the dough until it is smooth to the touch. Drizzle a little olive oil in a bowl and make sure the sides are coated in a thin film of oil. Oiling a bowl seems silly but will keep your dough moist as it rises. Place your ball of dough in the bowl, cover with a towel, and allow to rise for 2 hours. The dough will double in size.
Grate or finely chop up your onion. Add in the grated cheese and your choice of herbs. This is a versatile recipe so allow your inner spice maven loose and have fun. Leave this mixture out at room temperature while you wait for the dough to finish rising.
Once the dough has finished rising, roll it out into a 12″ x 16″ rectangle on a floured surface.
Spread the cheese mixture all over the dough, and leave 1″ free of cheese on the 12″ ends. This will make the rolling process tidier. Pick up one of the short ends and tightly roll up your dough into a log.
Line a 9×13 baking pan or 2 8″ cake pans with parchment paper or lightly grease them to prevent sticking. Take a sharp knife, serrated is nice if you have one, cut off 1″ sections from the log, and arrange them on pan. Allow to rise for 1-2 more hours.
Preheat oven to 350. Put your cheddar swirls in, relax, and let the oven work its magic. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown and the cheese is beginning to bubble up deliciously. When you pull open the oven door, inhale deeply and appreciate the fantastic sweetness of sharp cheddar and simple white onions. Pick up a cheddar swirl that is freshly baked and eat it standing up at your kitchen counter without a plate. The cook gets to do quality control before anyone else. Then, as you crank up your fan, give yourself a pat on the back for turning up the heat and bringing your A-game back to town.
Lianna Lee is a 20-something graduate of Mount Holyoke College where she earned a degree in Environmental Studies. Currently she is serving as an AmeriCorps member with the Wildlands Trust as their Outreach Coordinator. Lee’s 2013 food goals include making gelato, successfully growing tomatoes, and eating a sublime bowl of chowdah.