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Build Your Own Ritz

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I had a party last weekend.

It was an early Sunday evening affair, at my local yoga studio, so a full-blown dinner was out of the question. Finger food it would have to be, but I didn't want to do the same old tired lineup of every party we've all been to -- the crudités, the chip dip, the baked brie. I wanted a combination of sweet and savory, I wanted vittles that would go well with wine and, most of all, I wanted culinary surprises, both for me and my guests. Of the seven items on the table, the biggest hit was a homemade take on a Ritz cracker.

Plenty cheesy, with strong pepper notes, this biscuit has just the right amount of crunch to knit the curious eyebrows of your party pals. Best of all, the dough is a snap to make and, unlike other buttery doughs, it's very unfussy -- so bag the cheese straws, y'all!

Peppery Cheddar Coins

Adapted from Cookies Unlimited by Nick Malgieri

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

4 ounces (about 1 cup) sharp Cheddar cheese, coarsely grated

8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces

• Combine flour, salt and pepper in a bowl; stir well to mix. In the bowl of a food processor, combine cheese and butter and pulse five or six times to mix.

• Scrape mixture out of food processor and into a mixing bowl. Add flour mixture and combine by hand, until mixture just forms a ball. Turn dough out onto a floured work surface and form it into a square about 1/2-inch thick.

• Cover dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm enough to roll, at least 30 minutes. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

• Divide dough in half; place one half on a lightly floured work surface and return the other half to the refrigerator until ready to use. Lightly flour the dough and roll out into a circle about 1/4-inch thick. Use a floured 2-inch plain or fluted round cutter to cut out the biscuits. Place biscuits on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Repeat with remaining dough; press together and reroll the scraps as much as possible.

• Bake biscuits for about 20 minutes, until firm and lightly golden. Slide parchment paper from pan and let cool on a rack. Store in an airtight container. Makes about 40 biscuits.

Culinary questions? Reach CL's Kitchen Witch at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.

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