Saturday, December 20, 2014

Cheddar Olives

Last Year's Post: Brie & Pomegranate Toasts
Two Years Ago:  Fondue

Cheddar olives were first popular a while back, and then they sort of went away for some reason.  I've started seeing them on restaurant menus again, and for good reason - they're perfect appetizers or tapas with beer or wine, and they're great on a cheese board or charcuterie board.  They can be prepared in advance and refrigerated or even frozen until time to bake, and they need to sit for 30 minutes after baking so you don't need to worry about baking them while your guests are around.

The one issue they used to have is that the cheddar dough tended to slide off when they were baked.  Leave it to the obsessed people at Cook's Illustrated to test ten jillion variations until they found one that solves the issue.  Having made cheddar olives before, I was a little surprised at the amount of dough they called for in their recipe; it seemed like you'd end up with a cheese biscuit with an olive center rather than an olive with a thin cheese exterior.  So, I decided to do my own test by doing half the olives their way, and half using a smaller amount of dough.

Starting back at the beginning, there are two important parts to making this recipe work well - using a good extra-sharp cheddar, and refrigerating the prepared olives before baking to allow the dough to set. The recipe calls for small pimento-stuffed green olives, but I've also made it with pitted black olives.  Green olives are sharper and saltier, black olives are milder.  You could even have fun and use some garlic-stuffed olives from the olive bar, but you'll need to increase the amount of dough if they're big. You typically find the smaller stuffed olives in jars; I found a 5.75 ounce jar of stuffed Manzanilla olives that ended up containing 48 olives, which perfectly used up my half-and-half recipe experiment's worth of dough.  If you use the lesser amount of dough per olive (which we preferred) you could probably do more than 50 olives.

You drain and roll the olives around on a towel to dry them, then grate the cheese and mix the dough in a food processor.  You shape the dough around the olive by first gathering about a teaspoonful in your hand, then roll it into a ball and flatten it into a disk.


 Place the olive on the disk and pull the dough up around the olive, then roll it around in your hand again until it forms a perfect little ball.  After you make one or two it becomes easy and it's actually kind of fun.  And magically, your hands don't even get all sticky.

Refrigerate for at least an hour, then bake and let rest for 30 minutes before serving.  Or, if you want to freeze them for later, freeze them separated on a plate or baking sheet before placing in a plastic bag so they don't all stick together.  You can bake them later directly from frozen which is really handy.

 In the first picture below, the olives with the larger amount of dough are on the top half of the baking sheet.  On the cooling rack, the bigger ones are on bottom part.  And on the picture at the top of this post, you can see the difference between the two cut olives.  As I said, we really preferred the version with less dough - it lets the olive be the star. So, I adjusted the recipe accordingly.

Cheddar Olives
Makes approximately 50 olives

50 small pimento-stuffed green olives, rinsed (about 6 ounce jar)
1 cup all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 7 pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Spread olives on a dish towel and roll around to dry.  Pulse flour, paprika, pepper and cayenne in food processor until combined, about 3 pulses.  Add cheddar and butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs, about 12 pulses.  Add egg, water, and Worcestershire and process until dough ball forms, about 20 seconds.

Working with 1 heaping teaspoon dough and 1 olive at a time, roll dough between your hands to form a ball, then flatten into a disk.  Place olive in the center of the disk and fold the dough around it, then roll it around in your hands again to make a uniform ball.  Place cheddar olives on a large parchment-lined baking sheet and refrigerate for 1 hour or up to 24 hours (or freeze to bake later).

Preheat oven to 350d.  (If the cheddar olives are close together on your baking sheet, remove half and bake half at a time or use two sheets so they’re spaced at least 1 ½” apart).  Bake until bottoms are well browned and tops are golden, 16 to 18 minutes (if baking from frozen, increase time to about 25 minutes).  Transfer olives to a wire rack after baking and let cool for 30 minutes before serving.

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