Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Fresh Breadsticks

I'm a bread person. The kind of bread person who goes to a restaurant and fills up on fresh, warm rolls before the appetizer has arrived. Some days, I just crave a little fresh-from-the-oven goodness. These bread sticks are for those days.

Fresh bread sticks in around two hours? Yes, please. One reason I like this recipe is the minimal pre-planning that's required. I can have that afternoon bread craving as late as 4:30 and still be able to bang these out and have them on the table for dinner. That's pretty much the scenario that led me to make them the first time. They totally delivered.

Now, I wouldn't say that this is the best bread I've ever eaten, and for good reason. Really excellent bread requires time to develop its flavor. That's why finicky bread recipes have you prepare your starter the night before and let the yeast slowly swell in the fridge for twelve hours. That method makes some great bread. But some of us don't have the foresight to prepare that starter the night before our bread cravings. This is a damn good alternative for those days.

I think, the next time I make these, I will halve the recipe. Two trays of bread sticks are a bit much for two people. However, we did learn how to effectively reheat them afterward. Stored in a tupperware and eaten at room temperature the next day, they're spongy and bland. But brushed with melted butter or olive oil and popped in the toaster, they regain their former magic. (Props to Jeff for going the extra mile to figure that out.)

Bread Sticks
From For the Love of Cooking.

1 1/2 c warm water (105-115°F)
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp active dry yeast
1/2 tsp salt
3-4 c flour (all-purpose worked fine)

Combine water, sugar and yeast in a bowl and let stand 10 min. (I prefer a measuring cup for this, since I use it to measure the water anyway. I don't know how most people gauge the 105-115°F; I certainly don't bother taking the temperature of my water. Since I know from my home inspection two years ago that the hot water from my sink runs at 120°, I let it heat up for a minute, then collect 1 1/2 c in my measuring cup. Since the glass is room temperature, by the time I set it down and measure out the yeast and sugar, it's probably in the right range for yeast activation. As you can see from the picture below, it works pretty well.)

Add 1 1/2 c flour to another bowl. Once the yeast mixture has rested, add the salt to it and stir to combine. Then pour the yeast mixture over the flour and stir well. Gradually work in more flour (switching from stirring to kneading when necessary - or following Grandma's advice to use your hands from the beginning) until the dough begins to pull away from the bowl and barely sticks to your finger.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl covered with a damp kitchen towel and proof until doubled, about 45 minutes (I do this in my oven, using its proofing function. If I didn't have that, I would once again follow Grandma's advice and have preheated my oven on its lowest setting for a few minutes, turned it off, and then set my dough there to rise).

Once the dough has risen, roll it out into a rectangle (or a large rectangley blob - whatever you can manage) and cut into strips with a pizza cutter.

Twist each strip and place on a baking sheet, leaving a bit of room between each one. Cover and let rise for another 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425°F. Brush each bread stick with olive oil and add toppings as desired (I made my bread sticks an assortment of flavors using a variety of dried herbs, garlic powder and Parmesan cheese. Don't forget the salt, either!) Bake 9-10 minutes, until golden brown. Enjoy piping hot from the oven or toasted the next day!

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