Cooking with the (Silent) Stars: Florence Vidor’s Cheese Straws

Welcome back! I’m cooking my way through Photoplay’s 1929 star recipe cookbook and you’re invited to join me. This week, an appetizer from an elegant leading lady.

(You can catch up on all my past taste tests here.)

Florence Vidor is more famous these days for the men she married than her film career but she was a pretty big star. (In case you were curious, she was married to director King Vidor and then legendary violinist Jascha Heifetz.)

A Texas native, Vidor specialized in playing ladies in the classic sense of the word. Her sensitive beauty and natural elegance made her a perfect fit for historical dramas but she also played modern roles, such as Adolphe Menjou’s estranged wife in Are Parents People? and the leading lady of Ernst Lubitsch’s The Marriage Circle.

Without any Chinese people, apparently.
Without any Chinese people, apparently.

Florence Vidor is sometimes categorized as a star whose career was killed by sound. True, Chinatown Nights is hardly a masterpiece but any flaws in the picture are due to awkward shoehorned sound sequences. Vidor was dubbed by another actress and was generally soured by the whole experience. I can’t say that I blame her.

The entire moviemaking process changed completely from late 1927 to around 1930. Many performers chose to make a graceful retreat but this does not mean that they could not act in talkies or that they had funny voices. It was as if a group of ballerinas declined to switch over to tap or a group of sculptors declined to take up watercolor.

Well, we know Miss Vidor was talented on the screen but how is her appetizer game? We shall see!

Florence-Vidor-Cheese-Straws

A dash of cayenne doesn’t seem like much but you heard the lady. I tried my best to make the dough as pasty as possible:

florence-vidor-recipe-6

florence-vidor-recipe-5I baked the straws at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes and they came out looking fairly attractive, I must say. I tried to twist a few of them and they retained the shape in the oven.

Twisted!
Twisted!
Fancy wrapping (not really)
Fancy wrapping (not really)
A closer look
A closer look

Okay, now it’s time for the moment of truth: how do they taste?

Recipe Score: 1 out of 5. The cheese straws tasted okay if a little bland but the moment they were any temperature below piping hot, they turned into diamond-hard tooth-breakers. The recipe tells you that it is “well to heat them before serving.” Yeah, no kidding, Florence. If you eat these things cold, you had best have your dentist’s telephone number close at hand.

You're in for a world of pain.
You’re in for a world of pain.

What went wrong? Well, let’s look at the ingredients. Florence is holding her cheese straws together with a measly half-cup of fairly low-fat cheese, water, and one egg yolk. Most cheese straw recipes I have seen use fattier cheese (often cheddar) and measure butter in sticks. Fat is not just about flavor, it’s about tenderness (and, in the case of pie crusts, staying firm under a liquidy filling).

Too darn lean.
Too darn lean.

This is why those 90s low-fat recipes were so often dreadful. When you eliminate fat, you need something else to keep the resulting baked good tender, moist and generally not awful. For example, applesauce cakes use pureed fruit to retain moisture. It can be done but just cutting out a fatty ingredient is not the way to go about doing it. And there are just some recipes that require you to bite the bullet and consume a whole mess o’ fat. Flourless chocolate cake. Pie crust. Real cake frosting. Tamales. Do it right or don’t even bother.

Don’t worry, though, these cheese straws did not go to waste. As it turns out, humans have much weaker jaws than dogs and my lab mix went NUTS for this recipe. I just broke the straws into 2-inch pieces and he was happy for days. (He is a cheese addict but he runs it off at doggy daycare. He also likes carrots, strawberries, Korean pears, hot tea and anything with peanut butter.)

So, this recipe fails as an appetizer but succeeds as a puppy cookie! I would probably eliminate the cayenne, though.

10 Replies to “Cooking with the (Silent) Stars: Florence Vidor’s Cheese Straws”

  1. Oh, my- just the wrong cheese (straws need a nice grated cheddar or a cheddar/parm mix very heavy on the cheddar), and perhaps a few herbs in the dough (thyme, dill weed, or basil). Agree on losing the cayenne, but if you’re going hot how about a sprinkling of pepper flakes before baking. Most times I prefer not, as heat obscures that lovely crunchy, cheesy taste 🙂

    Glad at least your doggie enjoyed Flo Vidor’s recipe. Ever make your own dog biscuits (not inadvertently, I mean)? You can go such fun places with food combos that you never would for humans!

    1. Ooo, I am loving the idea of dill! Or maybe a dill and yogurt dip with the pepper flakes? But really, this recipe is so good when done right with just cheddar, butter and a dash of garlic.

      My old dog had a sensitive tummy that got worse with age and so I made his dog food for the last couple years of his life. His favorite combo was turkey, carrots, peas, rice and oatmeal with a dollop of plain yogurt on the side.

  2. That sounds like a lovely dip! Never did dip for cheese straws, but it’s a great idea, straws with a light savory dip.

    Yeah, we’ve also been there with old pooches having dodgy tummies, the poor things. Dogs do like their yogurt (and cheese!), so a tempting and digestible mix can be made including it or with a bit as garnish. Have made both dried fruit/chicken and veggies/dried fish biscuits with a yogurt base that our dogs loved.

    1. He’s a very classy dog but I’m afraid his manners do not extend to his tea drinking. He waits until someone puts down their cup and then he rushes over and drinks the whole thing in one fell slurp. I was a little worried but a vet column (from England, natch) said that a bit of tea won’t hurt him. He succeeds maybe once a month.

  3. Hmmm. I wonder if Parmesan was fattier back then? Then again… you do know some of it NOW has wood pulp as an ingredient (eww, but hey, it’s fiber!): http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-02-16/the-parmesan-cheese-you-sprinkle-on-your-penne-could-be-wood

    O_o

    So perhaps you made cheese pencils without the lead inside?

    Anyway, I could see Queen Vidor serving these to King and him rolling his eyes and thinking “Not these AGAIN!” as he fake-smiled his way through half a plate.

    And yep, I want to see your dog with a custom teacup water bowl.

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