My grandmother, June, would not allow us to call her anything that might reveal her status as anyone's granny, so we were pretty much on a lifelong first name basis. She wasn't much of a cook, but June threw memorable cocktail parties. Diplomats and actresses mixed with playboys and socialites. When visiting June as children, my siblings and I were allowed to meet the guests, have a quick Shirley Temple and then observe the proceedings discreetly from the steps. That vantage point put us safely above the haze of cigarette smoke but close enough to get a feel for the action
At every party she served extravagant cocktails, like Pink Ladies and Orange Blossoms, accompanied by the perfect cocktail party snack, her signature cheese cookies. These delicate flakey discs were, quite simply, divine. Savory with just a hint of heat, they were cooked perfectly until the cheese flavor was buttery and smooth. I still remember the salty, piquant taste of the cookie juxtaposed with the sweetness of our children's cocktail.
June guarded this recipe in the same way she guarded her diamonds. Friends and family members implored her to share the secret, but neither cajoling nor begging ever persuaded June to reveal her recipe. "It's none of your business, Miss Nosey Parker," was her standard reply when asked for the keys to the cheese.
June died peacefully at age 94, beautifully coiffed and wearing a Chanel suit. She took the suit, and the recipe for the magic cheese cookies, to her grave.
I can't tell you the number of recipes I have tried in the intervening years, attempting to duplicate June's cookies, all to no avail. That is, until now.
I guess I was just trying too hard. I finally figured out that June's cookies were perfect in their simplicity. Just five ingredients and very little work are involved in recreating her savory treat. And while they are always a hit at cocktail parties, they also pair well with soups - split pea and cheese cookies are delightful combo - and salads.
June's Secret Cocktail Cookies
1/2 cup butter - room temperature
1 cup all purpose flour
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese - shredded
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
Preheat oven to 400º. Mix cayenne pepper and salt with flour. Cream butter and add to flour mixture. Add cheese and, with clean hands, mix to form dough. Roll dough into balls (grape-sized for cocktail cookies, larger for soups and salads) and flatten. Place on a non-stick cookie sheet and cook for 15 minutes or until golden. Cookies will be bitter if overcooked.
You can use any kind of cheddar you prefer. For this batch I used half Cabot Clothbound and half Cabot 50% Reduced Fat Jalapeno Cheddar for a little extra kick. Let you imagination be your guide.