Monday, October 03, 2005

Bread Sticks

Soup put me in the mood for bread sticks. I vaguely remember making bread sticks once. I recall that they were soft and chewy rather than cracker-like. I went on a hunt through my cookbooks to find the recipe. I found it in a cookbook that I had forgotten that I owned: Beard on Bread. Remember when James Beard was popular? It turns out that I own a two book set, Beard on Bread and Beard on Pasta. The recipe looked familiar but these bread sticks are supposed to be crisp.

The dough was very easy to make and came together just as described. The recipe recommends setting aside 1/2 cup of flour for kneading. I ended using more for other reasons. Once I had shaped the dough into the 20" roll, I found that while the exterior of the dough was not sticky, the interior was making it difficult to cut. Putting some flour on the knife solved that problem. Shaping the bread sticks was not nearly as easy as described in the recipe. First, I needed to flour my hands to prevent the dough from sticking to them. Then rolling it between my palms just didn't work for me. I found that squeezing and stretching the dough into long, thin strips was the best I could do. The end result was not the nice round sticks I was aiming for. However, since artisan bread is so popular, I just called them "artisan bread sticks", very rustic and homemade looking.

Actually baking them is where I ran into trouble. The recipe calls for a slow 300F oven. Baking for the recommended 30 minutes resulted in soft, chewy bread sticks. I didn't want to leave them in any longer for fear of burning them. I think a hotter oven would have given me the crispness I was seeking. Regardless of the texture, the taste was delicious. And there is nothing wrong with bread instead of crackers with soup.

Verdict: Not bad, but I don't think I will be making this again.

Bread Sticks

(Source: Beard on Bread)

2 packages active dry yeast

1 tablesppon granulated sugar

2 teaspoons salt

1/4 cup olive oil

1 1/2 cups warm water (100F to 115F, approximately)

3 to 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 egg white beaten with 1 tablespoon water

Coarse salt, sesame seeds, poppy seeds (optional)

In a large mixing bowl combine the yeast, sugar, and salt. Add the oil and 1/4 cup of the water. Beat this mixture well with a wooden spoon for about 3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of the flour and continue beating with the wooden spoon. Aternately add flour, 1 cup at a time, and water until you have a fairly soft dough, reserving approximately 1/2 cup flour for kneading. Remove the dough to a floured surface, and knead for several minutes until it springs back very briskly when you press your fingers in. It must be smooth and satiny, and all the flour on the board should be absorbed.

Let the dough rest on the board, covered with a towel, for about 5 minutes, then shape it into a roll about 20 to 22 inches long. With a very sharp knife cut it into at least 20 equal pieces. Rest the dough again for 3 or 4 minutes, then, using the palms of your hands, roll out each piece as long as the baking sheet or sheets you will use. (Or roll them any size you like and cut them.) Oil or butter the baking sheet, sprinkle lightly with sesame or poppy seeds, and arrange the bread sticks on it about 1 inch apart. Let them sit about 20 minutes, until they just barely begin to rise. Just before putting them in the oven, brush them lightly with the egg and water mixture and sprinkle with coarse salt, sesame seeds, or poppy seeds. Bake in a slow oven (300F) for about 30 minutes, depending upon the size of the bread sticks. They should be nicely browned and very crisp.

NOTE These will stay crisp for several days, stored in an airtight container.

Recycle: olive oil bottle

Compost: eggshell

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