Salty Parmesan Cubes

I mean, what’s not to like? Salt, cheese, flour, butter, cayenne pepper…

Tomorrow is Husband’s 40th birthday party–of bash proportions–and I pulled out the Woman’s Day Encyclopedia of Cookery, Volume 8 (of 12), the Second Edition from 1966. It’s serious stuff. I mean, there’s a recipe for squirrel in there (red, fricassed)!

So I dutifully mixed my dried onion soup into the tubs of sour cream, and arranged all my chopped olives and pimentos before I realized I had forgotten to buy the cream cheese, and poured my Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk into pie plates, balanced the pie plates precariously in baking tins, filled the shallow, topply pans with boiling hot water, and carried it to the oven without burning myself, which is good, because I already have a burn on my wrist from baking the pork chops in the omelet pan last week (that has thankfully stopped itching).

I am skeptical about the way I am caramelizing the sweetened condensed milk. I usually play the ka-boom numbers, which involves boiling the unopened cans for a few hours. I’ve always come up caramel rather than shards, but Mother didn’t like the idea of me exploding things in the house with the kids around. So I looked around and found this recipe for baking it, but it isn’t pleasing me. First, it wasn’t done after the indicated hour (although that could be my crappy oven, the lower one–the better one–was just as pale as the top one). Twenty minutes after that I pulled the pans out of the oven regardless. It is caramel colored, but it’s awfully liquidy. You’re supposed to let it cool for an hour and then refrigerate it, so maybe it will change forms, but it doesn’t look a thing like the gooey, golden dipping sauce you get when you boil the cans. I am harumphing right now in impatience. Don’t get me wrong… it tastes great… but it’s not what I was expecting. I want confirmation now that it worked and I really don’t think if I can get it. I am always pessimistic about recipes, and it’s pretty late right now, so maybe my judgment is clouded but maybe I baked a dud, too.

But the Salty Parmesan Cubes are one of the most intriguing things I’ve ever made. There is no picture for the recipe, and I can’t imagine what will happen to them after being baked. I’ve got a cookie sheet full of these teeny tiny squares of salty, cheesy dough sloppily covered with raw egg waiting for the oven to cool off fifty degrees so I can bake them. The suspense is killing me. These things are only about half an inch a side, and there’s nothing in them that is screaming to me that it will expand. Can egg puff up flour from the outside? There is only egg on the top. I’ve basically got squishy dice.

Because I am physically incapable of using a rolling pin to roll out dough into a square, I ended up with some awfully round edges and some badly misshapen pieces. So I ate them. These little mofos are gonna be good. They are salty. They are cheesy. They have just a little bit of cayenne aftertaste kick and they are on the list for one of the best things I have ever made in this book. (Not all of the recipes withstood the test of time. Food flavors go in and out of fashion, and either today’s cuisine is a lot fresher and creative or else I am chronologically provincial and a victim of my culinary culture. But come on! There’s a recipe for steak tartare in there: a little hill of ground beef served with a raw egg on top. Or, you could have a neatly stacked tower of blue crab salad, avocado, papaya-mango salsa, ahi tuna sashima, and banana chips.)

It was pretty easy to prep this recipe, so if it bakes nicely it is a winner.

Salty Parmesan Cubes

1 cup sifted flour

1/2 tsp salt

dash of cayenne pepper

2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup butter, softened

1 egg, slightly beaten

Mix the first four ingredients. Cut in butter. Knead with hands until smooth. Roll out on floured board to 1/2 inch thickness. Cut into 1/2 inch cubes. Place on greased cookie sheet and brush with egg. Bake at 375 for 20 minutes. Cool. Makes about 4 dozen.

Four dozen teeny tiny cubes. I doubled the recipe and it was no trouble at all. So I have eight dozen teeny tiny cubes in the oven. And I am craving blue crab salad with avocado and sushi. Doesn’t that sound good, too?

THE VERDICT: Well, they didn’t puff up. I’ve got a bunch of crispy to powdery teeny tiny cubes with that glossy, crusty sheen on the tip that egg gives some breads and rolls. They are spicier and saltier than the raw dough, and they are tasty. They do not, however, make a very good party food. Not a big party, anyway. They are so little and so not what people are looking for that I think they are going to get overlooked or gobbled up. I would definitely make these again, but I would serve them with a tomato soup. Maybe a red pepper soup. They aren’t crunchy, exactly, but I bet they would float in any kind of soup that was heavier than a broth. They vaguely remind me of oyster crackers (but much denser), but I think a chowder would be too rich. A chili might be good.

If we end up eating them as morning turns to lunch while setting up for the party, I won’t be that sad. People are definitely going to like these, and they’ll be able to tell me to my face!

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