Entertaining 101: Sam’s Homemade Cheez-Its

White Cheddar and Poppy Seed Cheez-It's | A Sweet Spoonful

We had our annual mulled wine party (or winter party) a few weeks ago, a favorite of mine largely because it’s after all the holiday craziness and Sam likes to do a lot of the food, so I get to sit back and relax a bit. On the day-of, I ended up going for a long run, helping Sam with his famous Cheez-Its, buying flowers and chocolate and taking a nap — not a bad way to spend a Saturday. But having friends over to the house wasn’t always this easy: when I first moved to Seattle, I found hosting parties really stressful. I didn’t yet know Sam’s friends well enough to call them my own and was always unsure of what to make, or who I’d hit it off with, or what to expect. I think there were far too many unknowns, and I’m not particularly great with unknowns. Thankfully, Sam’s friends are now my friends too and entertaining has become much more laid back. Now it’s all about having people over — just simply getting people out of their comfortable houses in the dead of January — and making a huge pot of mulled wine (Polish-style grzaniec, Sam would point out, not that “awful german stuff”) and eating snacks and catching up. Some of our friends bring kids, some leave them at home. Some friends bring snacks to share, others flowers, or an old college friend, or a new date. There aren’t many lofty expectations other than wine and conversation, and it always ends up being one of my favorite nights of the season. 

White Cheddar and Poppy Seed Cheez It's | A Sweet Spoonful

It does seem that one of the keys to actually enjoying entertaining is a certain laissez-faire attitude. When I had parties in my San Francisco apartment years ago, I’d plan for a few days what I’d cook and bake, and spend at least a full day getting everything ready, making sure I had enough beverages and serving dishes and music and wine … and I realized that if I was honest with myself I felt about it much like I feel about long distance running: I don’t at all like doing it in the moment, but I love having done it. I wasn’t enjoying myself because I was always wondering if Friend A was uncomfortable sitting by herself in the corner, if the salad needed to be refilled, if the apartment was too hot, if the music was too whiney. It just wasn’t any fun.

When I’d visit Sam in Seattle when we were still dating, he’d have people over often which — initially — also stressed me out for the complete opposite reason: there was zero planning involved. We’d actually get into arguments when I’d attempt to plan the evening or ask too many questions; he’d always assure me it was casual and easy and it’d come together just fine. He’d start preparing food a few hours before everyone was to arrive which would cause me to pace and anxiously clean things that didn’t need cleaning. We once had an epic fight over cumin when our friends Sarah and Chris were slated to come over for dinner, and ended up having to cancel with them because we ultimately couldn’t get our act together (we now lovingly call that The Cumin Debacle). After instances like this, it became clear that our two styles were drastically different and we worried we’d never actually enjoy having people over together in a way that felt good for both of us.

White Cheddar and Poppy Seed Cheez It's | A Sweet Spoonful

Today: good news. We’ve come a long way. Because Sam genuinely enjoys preparing a lot of snacks and food, I step away from that a bit which makes me feel less stressed. And he now plans the evenings out more and preps things far in advance to make me feel more comfortable. We divvy up tasks and then just enjoy the day without feeling like we spent too much time fussing. And let me tell you: I actually enjoy parties now. Like really enjoy them. I don’t worry too much if we run out of cups or how people are getting along or faring; I don’t aim to make it something that it’s not. We just like to see more of our friends, make a few drinks and perhaps try out a new recipe or two. Or, in the case of the Mulled Wine Party a few weeks ago, stick with some old standbys like Sam’s homemade Cheez-Its.

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Sam’s been making these Cheez-Its for as long as I’ve known him; they make an appearance at all of our neighborhood block parties, potlucks, and gatherings at our place. I believe he originally saw the recipe in Ready Made Magazine (RIP) and has since tweaked them over the years. I took further liberties with them here, using all whole grain flours, a pinch of garlic powder, and a healthy handful of poppy and caraway seeds. I’m here to report that they’re even more party-worthy than the originals, and I think we’ll be sticking to this version from now on.

White Cheddar and Poppy Seed Cheez It's | A Sweet Spoonful

In addition to these incredibly cheesy, buttery crackers — if you’re looking for a few other recipes that are guaranteed party favorites, here is the classic canon as we see it:

Casselberry Biscuits (we made these for the Mulled Wine Party, too)
Deviled Eggs with Basil Aioli and Capers from Molly’s blog
Sam’s Hummus
Spinach, Feta and Artichoke Dip from Food 52 (we made this on New Year’s Eve)
Rosemary Dijon Gougeres
Soft Hazelnut Chocolate Cookies
Blood Orange Gin Sparkler from Heidi’s blog
Classic Negroni

I hope you’re all faring your way through January, staying warm, perhaps having a few friends over or simply drinking hot chocolate or something boozy all on your own. With each passing day, I can sense that we’re getting a little more light, and I’m getting more and more excited about spring (although I know we have a ways to go). But just think of all the outdoor parties that await!

White Csheddar and Poppy Seed Cheez-It'

White Csheddar and Poppy Seed Cheez-It'

  • Yield: About 10-12 dozen crackers
  • Prep time: 25 mins
  • Cook time: 12 mins
  • Inactive time: 1 hr 5 mins
  • Total time: 1 hr 42 mins

The combination of spelt and rye flours makes these crackers 100% whole grain, but you can also swap in some (or all) all-purpose flour if it’s what you have on hand. These are best the day they’re made, but if kept airtight at room temperature are perfectly fine for three days or so. For entertaining, we like to make the dough the day before and then roll and bake them off before the party.

Adapted from: Good Food Stories 

Ingredients

8 ounces white cheddar cheese, shredded
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) room temperature unsalted butter, cubed
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder (optional)
1/2 cup (60g) spelt flour
1/2 cup (65g) rye flour
4 tablespoons (30g) poppy seeds
2 tablespoons ice water
2 tablespoons milk
1-2 tablespoons caraway seeds

Instructions

Mix cheddar, butter, salt and garlic powder in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or using hand beaters) and beat until soft and combined. Add the flours and 3 tablespoons poppy seeds and mix until dry and pebbly. Add water slowly until dough just starts to come together, then gently gather together and press into a round, chubby disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 1 day.

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Divide the dough into two equal pieces, rolling each out into a thin rectangle (shoot for less than 1/8 – inch if you can). Trim away any ragged edges so you’re working with straight edges. Set trimmings aside. Lightly brush the dough with the milk and sprinkle tops with caraway seeds and remaining 1 tablespoon poppy seeds.

Using a fluted pastry wheel or knife, cut the dough into 1-inch squares and place on the baking sheets, leaving about 1/4-inch between each cracker (they don’t spread much at all). Use a fork to poke a few holes in the tops of each. Gather together any scraps and re-roll and cut as needed.

Bake for 12-13 minutes, or until slightly puffed on the tops and golden brown around the edges. At halfway through the bake time, rotate the baking pans to help with even baking. These crackers continue to firm up as they cool, so be careful not to overbake. Cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Comments

  1. Mardi (eat. live. travel. write.)

    Love the idea of a party after the craziness of December. January NEEDS parties! And the "laissez-faire" approach? I'm all over that. Also, these Cheez Its? Yes please.

  2. Stephanie

    I whole-heartedly agree about easing up on planning parties, and just having them. I'm also a natural planner but have really learned over the years that it's even better to leave a couple, non-stressful things undone and let guests help.

    And now I'm looking forward to trying your (and Sam's) cheez-its with gluten-free flours for my husband. Your idea of adding poppyseeds is genius!

  3. Susan

    Oh yes, I'll be making these and as I was reading:
    "I hope you’re all faring your way through January"
    I read 'farting' your way through January...LOVE it.
    Ok, time to shut off the beer :) thank you.

  4. Joshua Hampton

    I love reading stories of couples who've got their act together. And these homemade cheez-its are wonderful too. Thanks for sharing the recipe.

  5. Kate

    These look insanely good! I still am a bad party planner, but am working on it. I always get very stressed the day of and forget to enjoy myself, I guess I just need more practice!

  6. Elizabeth@foraginghere

    those look fantastic; i am so inspired to eat cheese and crackers and have a february party. up here on vancouver island its fog-fog-fog and why wait till bbq time? thanks. your post was a breath of fresh air amongst all the january cleanse posts.

  7. Ashley

    I'd love to know the recipe for the mulled wine. We had some while we were in Paris, and it was fantastic. I bet it's perfect for a cold, grey Seattle night. :)

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