My birthday celebration in Napa Valley last week started with a minor problem before we even drove off our driveway. My husband packed up our bikes hoping that we’d be able to get in a ride or two while in wine country. It was our first time lowering the rear seat backs in our station wagon (to accommodate the bikes) and my husband had forgotten that the car is pre-programmed to move the front passenger seat forward in order to avoid damage from the rear seat. There’s no fixing it by changing settings; we had to stop by the car dealership to have the programming changed, driving a half hour with my seat back positioned forward. Can you say uncomfortable?
As it turned out, we never clocked any miles on our bikes. It was wet and cold most of last weekend so we ditched the exercise in place of strolling the streets of Napa, Yountville and St. Helena. One of the shops we spent a bit more time in was Olivier (St. Helena). The shop is a must-visit for unique kitchen products and for countless varieties of olive oil, aged balsamic vinegar, chutneys, dips and crackers–have a free taste of some or all if you please. Eventually, I found myself at the cracker table nibbling on one piece after another. On our first visit I ended up picking up a bag of their Blue Cheese and Toasted Shallot biscuits–the little bite I had hinted at bold flavor and I thought they would go well with the bottle of wine the hotel gave us.
That evening I discovered that the biscuits were a bit too bold for my taste; I could only manage half a biscuit when normally I could have eaten half the bag. My husband took a bite and promptly rejected them. They weren’t bad…just a little overwhelming on the palate. I really liked the flavor combination of the biscuits so I decided to create my own version.
This is what I ended up with, conveniently using what I already had in my refrigerator. Sharp cheddar cheese, French feta cheese, herbs and the shallots (which anchor these crackers to the original), all ended up in my version. Where Olivier’s biscuits had a cookie-like, rich, butter texture these crackers are more mellow and crisp. The cheese component is subtle here and the caramelized shallots shine. In fact, be mindful not to overcook the shallots as the exposed bits get toasted while baking so you don’t want them to taste burned.
Full of flavor on their own, these crackers need no accompaniment besides your favorite wine or cocktail. If you’re still struggling to put together a menu for the holidays, these would be the perfect bite to serve when your family and friends arrive. For an impromptu dinner with friends last night I scooped up part of the batch in a bag and tied a holiday ribbon around it and voila! I had a nice hostess gift to present to our friends when we showed up at their door.
- ¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated finely
- 2 ounces feta cheese (I prefer the French sheeps milk feta), crumbled with your hands
- 1-2 shallots (depending on size), sliced thinly
- Olive oil
- 2 teaspoons chives, chopped
- Pinch kosher salt
- Couple turns freshly cracked black pepper
- 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
- To prepare the shallots, heat up about a teaspoon of olive oil in a small pan over medium heat. Sauté the sliced shallots until caramelized and golden, about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent burning. Drain any residual oil and allow to cool to room temperature.
- Cream the butter for about 1 minute in an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. With the mixer on low speed, add the cheeses, chives, salt, pepper and shallots and combine. Then add the flour, keeping the mixer on low and stop once the flour has been combined with the other ingredients and the mixture is in large crumbles, about 1 minute.
- Transfer the dough onto a lightly floured surface and press into a ball. Roll into a 9-inch log and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill for at least 30 minutes (or up to 4 days).
- Preheat your oven to 350°F. Slice the log into roughly 3/8-inch rounds and lay them on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Bake for 18-22 minutes or until very lightly browned. Rotate the pan halfway through baking. Cool and serve at room temperature.