It might have been the name that drew me in. The Cheese Zombie. It was the wholehearted endorsement of those who had grown up on Cheese Zombies that hooked me. A Cheese Zombie is a sheet tray of home-made bread layered with an oozy, gooey American cheese and Cheese Zombies are sooo much better than they sound.
The Zombie is the kind of nostalgic down home recipe that by all rights should be awful yet somehow is a magical alchemy of ooey, gooey deliciousness. That suspicious orange cheese melds right into the home-made bread…oh my gosh are they good.
They’re ballpark hot dogs good. Theater popcorn good. Fried cheese-curds at the fair good. They’re gas station nachos at 2:00 a.m. after the bar closes good. Hey, I’m not admitting anything and that was way over 35 years ago! 🙂
The Cheese Zombie seems to have its origins in hot lunches made from an excess of government cheese available to the school’s hot lunch programs, way back in the day. They’re particular to areas along the west coat. And believe me, the Cheese Zombie is much beloved by those who were privileged enough to be served these sandwiches. Just google it! 🙂
I suspect the Cheese Zombie has its roots in the Bierock or Runza. The dough, and the concept, seems quite similar and whatever lunch lady first made these may have taken liberties in making one huge pan rather than individual rolls. I think that same lunch lady (see notes at bottom of page) may have taken liberties with the Runza name and modernized to to Zombie to intrigue the hot lunch crowd.
Patty’s Original Cheese Zombie makes individual Zombies that really look a LOT like a home-made Runza or Bierock. Anyhoo, that’s my theory and I’m sticking to it, although we may never know the full truth! The Zombie, by the way, is my answer to National Grilled Cheese Day, which was on April 12th. Missed it again, darn it all!! We’ve also started eating variations of the Zombie for breakfast sandwiches. Just freeze slices and put in a Ziploc, then heat in the microwave.
The recipes floating around are obviously cut back from a larger one & have odd measurements. I fiddled a bit & updated the method for the home kitchen. The Cheese Zombie is an ideal medium for all kinds of add ins and change ups. I’ve used Velveeta which is readily available but the standard “American Cheese” found in delis might be closer to the original. (Some say the Costco Kirkland Cheese is close.) But why not make it your own and add in whatever you’d like? I used some of my leftover Not Your Father’s Root Beer & Bourbon Glazed Ham for some of these!
Original Cheese Zombies
- 3 packets of active dry yeast or 2 and 3/4 tablespoons (just guestimate that 3/4 tablespoon)
- 2 1/4 cup warm (110 degrees) water
- scant 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- scant 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 3/4 cup instant non-fat powdered milk
- 6 1/2 cups flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/4 lb American Cheese (Velveeta)
- Other add-ins if desired
- oil or spray for rising bowls and sheet tray
- a little butter (brush on after baking – see note)
In a large mixing bowl, mix yeast with water, let sit five minutes. Add the sugar, oil and powdered milk and mix on low with a paddle attachment.
Change to a dough hook and add the flour and salt and knead about 8 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic
Divide into 2 equal parts, form each into a ball. Place each in a bowl sprayed with cooking spray or coated with oil, smooth side down, turning the smooth side back up (so it is covered with a light coating of the oil). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in warm place for an hour or so until doubled in size. When risen, save the plastic wrap to cover the tray of Zombies while it rises.
On a lightly sprayed or oiled half sheet pan (17 x 12 x 1), stretch one ball of dough evenly to the edges and slightly above. Top with sliced cheese and any other filling if using. Take the second ball and stretch it out on a counter next to the tray so it is a rectangle several inches smaller than the tray.
Pick it up (it will hopefully just stretch to about the size of the tray as you do so) and place over the top of the cheese. Gently, trying not to disturb the cheese, stretch and pinch the edges of the top layer to the bottom, sealing well.
Cover lightly with plastic wrap and let rest until doubled in size, about 30 minutes to an hour. Bake 18-20 minutes at 400 degrees until the top is golden brown, rotating the tray about 3/4’s way through.
Remove from oven and brush with butter, let cool several minutes, slice and serve.
- Scant 1/2 cup – just short the measurements by about a tablespoon.
- Butter – the easiest way to brush with butter is to open a stick of cold butter and rub the end across the top of the hot dough.
- Yeast – 2 3/4 tablespoon is slightly more than three packets, but is the measurement I use. If you’re using packets, it isn’t worth opening a 4th packet for the little bit of extra yeast.
- This seems like a lot of cheese, but don’t skimp or they’re really not as good.
- All kinds of add ins or change ups can be made to the original filling. Just be sure to use a good melty cheese.
- Zombies may be reheated in the microwave. Wrap in a napkin or paper towel, heat on 70 percent power for one minute, then turn and cook on high for 30 seconds.
- Zombies may be frozen, then wrapped, for later. Reheat from frozen, as above, on 70 percent power for one minute, then turn and cook on high for 45 seconds.
Notes on the Cheese Zombie
Who invented the Cheese Zombie (keeping in mind that sometimes recipes are thought up by more than one person in different areas)? According to one of the Cheese Zombie Facebook pages:
- When Dorothy Lucille Finch passed away in May of 2012, her obituary stated is was she who invented the Cheese Zombie.
- Another mentioned that it was not possible, and her Great Grandmother who turns 100 in January, and has the certificate from Betty Crocker and is the original seller of the recipe to the MDUSD back in the 1940’s.
MDUSD is Mount Diablo Unified School District (MDUSD), a public school district in Contra Costa County, California.
I’ll be sharing this post at Angie’s Fiesta Friday! I see some truly marvelous posts from other food bloggers there already!!