I can’t think of anything more festive than cheese twists. They’ve always been the ultimate party food, showing up at kids’ birthday parties and grown-up ‘gatherings’ alike, never lasting long, the ultimate cheesy hit for small hands to grip or bolstering drink-soakage, whichever your perspective is.
They have a celebratory but rakishly casual feeling to them and are old fashioned in a Mad Men sort of way, but remain perfectly on trend. Like a Frank Sinatra song at Christmas – still the best idea there is.
They’re easy to make and they feel generous and special, which I think is exactly what’s needed this Christmas. They turn any meeting into a bit of a party, and if you have waited all year to see someone and are now knocking a back a cold glass of bubbles beside them on a (definitely) cold (and possibly wet?) bench, you might be glad of that feeling.
As well as just generally being a delicious and festively indulgent snack, they also taste really good with fizz, and in fact are often recommended as a pairing to certain sorts of champagne.
Side note: does anyone else enjoy reading festive drinks guides just for the poetry of the descriptions of the champagnes? Second side note: this is the song that runs through my head when I taste really good aged champagne.
While cheese twists are super easy, there are some important rules for making them really tasty.
1. You must use an ‘all butter’ puff pastry. I’d be inclined to say don’t bother making them if you can only find a puff pastry sheet made with vegetable oil. But I am a snob, and the above is not a helpful piece of advice WHEN YOU HAVE QUEUED FOR FORTY MINUTES TO GET INTO THE SUPERMARKET AND THERE IS A WOMAN HOVERING OVER THE LAST PUFF PASTRY SHEET. So instead, let’s both take a breath. Go check the freezer section first. Often smaller supermarkets stock a vegetable oil version in the chiller section and then the all butter type in the freezer section. If you can’t find an all butter version at all, I’d suggest just adding a bit more cheese to your inner layer (dare I say it, add a little grating of cheddar in there too and it will be grand)
2. Keep your parchment neat to the tin – overhangs will make the colour of the twists uneven. Make sure your oven is really hot before you put them in. Cool them fully on a rack before putting them in a box to transport or store so they don’t get soggy
3. I know it’s counterintuitive but don’t sprinkle over any flavours like dried herbs or chilli flakes till they have baked as the heat of the oven will burn the additions and make the twists taste bitter. If you really want to add some while cooking, you can a sprinkle to the inner layer but none on the outside
4. Be really generous with the cheese!
Gruyère & Thyme Cheese Twists
1 sheet of all-butter puff pastry
70g Gruyère or comte or other hard cheese, very finely grated
60g finely grated parmesan
1 egg, beaten
Fresh or dried thyme
Salt & pepper
Preheat your oven to 200c. Combine the two cheeses in a bowl. Unroll the pastry sheet or roll the block out to the thickness of about half a cm – quite thin basically, your sheet should be about the size of a magazine on the countertop. You may need a little flour on your surface if you’re rolling out one of the blocks. Brush a small amount of egg over the surface. Sprinkle over half the cheese and season with a little salt & pepper. Fold the sheet in half and press down tightly to seal. Using a sharp knife, cut this rectangle into long strips. Twist each strip tightly, I find that more twists look better but whatever you prefer. Lay each strip out on parchment-lined baking sheet (you will need a few trays or you might need to work in batches if you only have one tin), leaving a little space between them. Brush lightly with a little egg then sprinkle over the remaining cheese. Bake until deeply golden, around 15 minutes but watch the tins closely and move them around in the oven as needed. Once they’re ready, sprinkle the thyme over then leave to cool on a rack. Once they’re completely cool store them in an airtight box.