It wouldn’t be the holidays if I didn’t present something a little fancy. This Little Gem Salad with Creamy Walnut-Apple Dressing and White Cheddar Crisps fits the bill. It’s a special salad, befitting the holidays, but it’s not too difficult to pull off because everything can be made ahead. This salad features little gem lettuce which can make any salad feel special. The creamy dressing is made memorable with chunks of apple and toasted walnuts. You can see that this is shaping up to be a fancy salad. But it’s the garnish I want to discuss. This post is really about how to make cheese crisps.
I’m not talking about crackers when I say cheese crisps. I’m talking about something a bit more special. You’ve probably been to a restaurant where a salad or some other savory bite came embellished with a delicate web of crispy cheese – like a Florentine cookie, only savory. It might surprise you to know that these cheesy little discs can be made at home. It’s literally as simple as sprinkling grated cheese on a silicone mat or parchment-lined baking sheet and popping in the oven for 10 minutes.
How to Make Cheese Crisps
Naturally, the first lesson on how to make cheese crisps starts with the cheese. The best cheese choices for cheese crisps are hard cheeses, like Parmesan, white Cheddar, and Manchego. From an aesthetic point of view, white cheese is better than orange cheese. Most importantly, avoid any sort of processed cheese. Even pre-grated cheese. Pre-grated cheese is mixed with a powdery substance to keep it from clumping. This powder also interferes with the process I’m about to describe.
Now, as with most “simple” things cheese crisps are only simple if you know a few quick tricks. First, you must line your baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. This trick is useful almost any time you’re baking. But it’s not merely useful when making cheese crisps; it’s crucial. If you don’t line your baking sheet with parchment, your cheese will attach itself to your cookware practically permanently.
Second, you need to fashion your piles of cheese carefully. Construct them into flat plateaus, not mounded hills. They will spread out as they bake, but they need to be delicate with some gaps between the strands of cheese, to begin with, or they’ll be burnt at the edges, gooey in the middle, and not at all lacey.
I say that the baking time is 10 minutes. But the actual time in the oven will depend on how dry the cheese is – Parmesan will cook faster than cheddar because it has less moisture. Manchego can have a little or a lot of moisture depending on how long it has been aged. The crisps are done when they’ve deepened to a uniform golden brown and have a lacy texture.
The rest of the salad takes no special skills, but I suggest you take time with the presentation. This Little Gem Salad with Creamy Walnut-Apple Dressing and White Cheddar Crisps is meant to be a fancy salad. GREG