Hanky-Pankies (Cheesy, Porky Caraway Bites)
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If you’re not familiar with the delightful finger food that is a hanky-panky, allow Adrienne Chatham to introduce you with this recipe from her new cookbook, Sunday Best. After all, what’s not to like about cheesy, pork-and-caraway-covered pumpernickel bites?
“I thought my family actually invented hanky-pankies,” Cheatham writes. “Every Thanksgiving, Easter, First Communion party or whatever, bringing the hanky-pankies was literally someone’s job. But after doing a bit of research in order to find ways to elevate them, I realized that we’re not alone. The tradition of celebrating functions with pumpernickel party breads (commonly found in supermarkets, they’re those sleeves of mini loaves cut into small squares) topped with a mix of melted Velveeta and sweet Italian sausage sold in a log (family divides are created over whether you toast the bread before or after topping) seems to be pretty widespread and runs generations deep.”
The final result doesn’t need any adornment, but pickled red onions add a nice acidity to balance out all that cheese. Psst: If it’s not your family’s tradition, we highly recommend you make it a new one.
Reprinted from Sunday Best. Copyright © 2022 Adrienne Cheatham with Sarah Zorn. Photographs © 2022 Kelly Marshall. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House.
1 pound ground pork
1 medium shallot, minced
1 tablespoon dried sage, rubbed in your palm to release the oils
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon caraway seeds
½ teaspoon light brown sugar
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup lager beer
1 cup grated good-quality sharp Cheddar cheese
½ teaspoon (or more, if you like) Tabasco sauce
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley, plus more for garnish
8 slices pumpernickel bread or 16 squares pumpernickel party bread
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and place the ground pork in the pan. Cook, breaking up the pork with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula, until the fat is rendered and the meat is beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the shallot, sage, salt, caraway, brown sugar, allspice and pepper. Reduce the heat a little and cook until the meat is browned and the spices are fragrant, about 5 minutes.
3. Evenly sprinkle the flour over the meat and stir to fully incorporate. Gradually pour in the beer, stirring and scraping up any stuck bits from the pan. Bring to a low simmer and cook until the beer is reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the cheese, stirring and folding to incorporate, creating a thick sauce. Stir in the Tabasco and parsley; taste and adjust the seasoning, if needed. Cool the mixture for a few minutes.
4. If using full-size pumpernickel bread, working with stacks of four slices, use a serrated knife to trim the crusts off.
5. Divide the pork-cheddar mixture among the pumpernickel slices and spread nearly to the edges. Cut the slices into quarters—or halves if you’re using party bread—and arrange on a rack placed over the prepared baking sheet (which makes for easier cleanup).
6. Bake the hanky-pankies until the cheese is bubbly and browned and the bread is toasted, 10 to 15 minutes. Garnish with chopped parsley and arrange on a serving tray. Enjoy immediately.
Note: I like to dry my bread scraps in a 325°F oven, then use the food processor to make breadcrumbs. Add whatever dried herbs and spices you like!