The best breadsticks I ever tasted was at an Italian restaurant in Langkawi Island a year ago. They were crunchy and so flavourful, I think I even asked for more and then some more. I ended up getting full on the breadsticks alone and left with ordering just a soup as my main. I can't remember the name of the restaurant — a shame — but I do remember the taste of those breadsticks and for some reason, I had a craving for them for the last couple of weeks.
I couldn't very well hop on a plane to Langkawi just for the breadsticks so I did the next best thing: I made some myself. I had bookmarked several recipes for grissini (as the breadsticks are known in Turin from where they originate) so I looked for them and decided on a seeded breadstick (poppy seed and caraway seed).
These traditional Italian breadsticks are basically dried bread that is roughly shaped into a long pencil-like sticks and baked till they're dry and can break in two with a crunch. The ones I ate in Langkawi were literally about as thin as a pencil but these aren't the only size the sticks come in. I decided that I wasn't going to make a skinny stick; nope, mine would be a sensible medium. The actual reason for this? I was too lazy to cut the dough into really thin strips!
You start out making just as if you're making bread but : the ingredients are more or less the sane — bread flour, yeast, salt, water, olive oil. The process however is much simpler. No need for two or three rises or intense kneading.
The recipe I settled on used a little bit of instant mashed potato mix for flavour along with olive oil and salt and pepper, of course. I decided to stick with the quantities of the recipe (which made 64 breadsticks in total) but divided the dough into two portions: one with the mash mix and one without. They both tasted good but the one with the mash perhaps had a little more flavour. You decided if you want to add the mash mix or not.
Caraway and Poppy Breadsticks
21/2 cups bread flour
11/4 cups tepid water
21/4 tsp instant yeast
1/4 cup instant mash potato mix
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp each poppy seeds and caraway seeds
Pour the tepid water into the bowl of your mixer and add the yeast and a third of the flour into the water. Set aside for the yeast to come alive and the mixture to get frothy — about ten minutes.
Next, add the remaining flour and the mash mix into the yeast mixture and turn the mixer on low (speed 2 or 4). If you omit the mash mix, add another 1/4 cup flour or slightly less. Mix until the dough becomes elastic. Add the seeds, salt and olive oil and mix till the seeds are evenly distributed.
The dough will be sticky so don't panic.
Transfer the dough to a well oiled bowl and cover to let it rise to double its size — about an hour.
When it's ready, preheat the oven to 130C.
Now turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for just a minute or so. Roll the dough so that it becomes a rectangle, about 1 cm thick.
Cut strips — the width depends on how thin you want your breadsticks to be. They expand a little in the oven so take that into consideration.
Arrange the strips on a lined baking sheet (you probably need 3 or 4) and bake for about an hour or till the sticks are nice and golden and can be snapped easily.
Eat them just as they are or stick them in your favourite dips or dunk them in your soup.