Baked Mozzarella Sticks
My book club has gotten into some spirited debates. Our most recent topic of contention: Baked Mozzarella Sticks.
What? You thought we debated the actual book? It’s not that kind of book club.
(Though, to be fair, I do read most of the books, including last month’s stellar pick. It’s heartbreaking but wonderful too.)
Instead of deliberating the main characters’ most tragic flaws or deciphering the emotions of the final scenes, we engaged in a heated discussion of which throwback childhood snack was the greatest.
After making our way through our list of favorite candies (Dots!) and lunchbox snacks (Nutter Butters all the way), we dove into the freezer section of our middle school days. The finalists were pizza bagels, toaster strudels, and Baked Mozzarella Sticks.
While I was never much a fan of the first and my mom rarely bought the second, Baked Mozzarella Sticks still hold a special place in my heart. I remember popping a pan into the oven at sleepovers as soon as my parents went to bed. Years later, my roommate and I would serve them as an emergency appetizer at our first “adult” dinner party after I burned the mini quiches.
I think our guests were happier with the mozzarella sticks anyway.
Unlike the mozzarella sticks you’ll find in a freezer box or on a bar menu, today’s homemade version isn’t fried at any point along the way. Instead, I baked them in the oven. They’re golden and crisp on the outside, delightfully stretchy and cheesy on the inside, and ideal for dunking.
Childhood Erin would have opted for ranch dressing as her dip of choice. Grownup Erin prefers tomato sauce, though if you passed her a plate of piping hot Baked Mozzarella Sticks and a cool bowl of dressing alongside it, I doubt she would say no.
Homemade Baked Mozzarella Sticks start with another fixture of my childhood, string cheese, which creates the ideal ultra-gooey center. I lightly breaded the cheese with seasoned whole wheat breadcrumbs, as if I were making my favorite Baked Chicken Parmesan. I was delighted by how crispy the outsides became. Every bite was just as addictive as the fried counterpart, but for a fraction of the calories. I think you know what that means…
Freedom to go in for seconds (and thirds!)
Whether you are looking for an appetizer for your next game day party or simply want to relive a little of your own childhood magic, these easy Baked Mozzarella Sticks are a tasty choice.
The recipe steps are straightforward, but you’ll want to plan ahead. The cheese needs to be frozen completely prior to breading, then again for a few hours after the breadcrumbs have been added. This ensures that the cheese doesn’t turn into a total pile of molten goo in the oven before the breadcrumbs have a chance to toast. The good news is that once the cheese sticks are breaded, you can freeze them unbaked for several months, though I doubt they will last that long.
- 12 sticks part-skim mozzarella string cheese
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 large egg
- 1 large egg white
- 2/3 cup Italian seasoned whole wheat breadcrumbs
- 1/3 cup whole wheat panko breadcrumbs
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- Olive oil cooking spray — or an olive oil mister like this one
- Marinara sauce — for serving (or ranch dressing if that's more your style)
- Slice each piece of cheese in half cross-wise so that you have 24 shorter pieces. Arrange the cheese in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet or plate, then freeze until completely solid, about 1 hour.
- When ready to bake, place the flour in a shallow bowl (a pie dish works well). In a separate shallow bowl, whisk the egg, egg white, and 1 tablespoon water until well combined. In a third shallow bowl, combine the whole wheat bread crumbs, panko, Italian seasoning, and garlic powder. Arrange the plates in line (flour, eggs, breadcrumbs). Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Working no more than 2 to 3 cheese sticks at a time, dip the frozen cheese sticks in the flour, shaking off excess, then into the egg, then place in the bowl with the crumbs and lightly pat to coat (if you tackle too many cheese sticks at a time, the egg will freeze right onto the cheese and no longer be sticky enough for the crumbs to adhere). Place the breaded cheese sticks on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat the process with the remaining cheese sticks. Place cheese back into the freezer for at least 2 hours or overnight (this is a MUST or the cheese will melt before the crumbs turn golden).
- When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400 degrees F and place an oven rack in the lower third of the oven. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil and coat with the olive oil spray. Arrange the frozen cheese sticks on the sheet, leaving about 3/4 inch between each. Lightly coat the tops of the sticks with the oil.
Bake in the lower third of your oven for 6 to 8 minutes, until the cheese is heated through and the crumbs are golden. Let stand 3 minutes. Serve warm with marinara sauce for dipping. (I like to heat the sauce up first.)
- Regular mozzarella cheese, cut into 4 inch by 1/2 inch sticks, can be substituted for the string cheese.
- TO MAKE AHEAD AND FREEZE: Cheese sticks can be prepared through Step 3 and frozen overnight. For longer-term storage, transfer the frozen sticks to a ziptop bag and freeze for several months. Bake directly from frozen.
- TO STORE: Mozzarella sticks are best enjoyed immediately after making. You can try saving the leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator, then reheating them gently in a 350 degree F oven until warmed through.
- Nutritional information has been calculated with half the amount of flour and bread crumb mixture, as not all of it is used, but you do need extra on each plate to be able to completely coat the cheese stick.
Nutrition InformationAmount per serving (1 stick, without dipping sauce) — Calories: 60, Fat: 3g, Saturated Fat: 2g, Cholesterol: 14mg, Sodium: 137mg, Potassium: 6mg, Carbohydrates: 4g, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 1g, Protein: 4g, Vitamin A: 10%, Vitamin C: 1%, Calcium: 14%, Iron: 1%
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