Makes twenty 1-by-12-inch breadsticks
More like small baguettes than the completely dry commercial breadsticks, these have a crisp crust and a chewy, bready interior. They have a nice, lingering, peppery aftertaste that complements most soups and salads, and aperitifs or cocktails, and they’re excellent picnic fare.
• 2 1/2 cups unbleached flour plus about 1/2 cup for kneading
• 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
• 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
• 1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
• Generous pinch sugar
• 1 1/2 cups warm water
• 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
• 2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
• 3 scallions, sliced thin (about 1/4 cup)
• 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
• 1 egg white lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water
• Kosher salt, optional
1. In a mixing bowl, combine 11/2 cups of the unbleached flour with the whole wheat flour and salt. Make a well in the flour and add the yeast, sugar, and 1/2 cup of the warm water. Let the yeast stand until foamy, about 5 to 10 minutes.
2. Stir in another 1/2 cup water and the oil. Add the remaining water, and stir the batter vigorously with a wooden spoon. Add 1/2 cup flour and beat well. Stir in the pepper, scallions, cheese, and another 1/2 cup flour and blend well.
3. Sprinkle about 1/4 cup of the flour for kneading on a pastry board or marble and turn the dough out onto it. Knead, adding the rest of the flour as needed, until the dough is smooth and homogeneous and springs back when pressed with your thumb. The dough will be slightly sticky, but should not be too sticky. Add a bit more flour if necessary.
4. Cover the dough with a clean, dry tea towel and let it rest 5 to 10 minutes. Roll it into a cylinder about 20 to 24 inches long and cut the cylinder into about 20 pieces with a sharp knife. Let the pieces rest, covered, for 5 minutes.
5. Lightly oil two baking sheets and sprinkle them lightly with cornmeal. Roll each piece of dough into a cylinder about 10 inches long and 3/4 inch wide, and place ten of them on each baking sheet. If you prefer smaller breadsticks, cut each one in half crosswise.
6. Preheat the oven to 350°F and set the baking sheets, covered with clean tea towels, in a warm place to rise. Gas ovens generate a warmth while preheating which is just right for raising the dough; just turn the baking sheets occasionally to ensure even heat. If you have an electric oven, choose a different place for raising. Let the sticks rise 25 to 30 minutes, until they have increased in size by about 50 per cent.
7. With a sharp knife, make five or six diagonal slashes on top of each breadstick. Brush them lightly with the egg white and water mixture. Sprinkle very lightly with the salt, if desired.
8. Bake the breadsticks for 20 to 25 minutes (16 to 20 minutes if you’ve cut them in half), changing the position of the baking sheets on the oven racks about halfway through baking time. The breadsticks should be golden brown. Eat them right away or let them cool and store them in tightly closed tins; wrapped tightly, they can be stored in the freezer for up to a month. Wrap them in foil and gently reheat at 300°F for 10 to 12 minutes (slightly longer if frozen) before serving.
Susan Belsinger and Carolyn Dille, respectively from Brookeville, Maryland, and San Jose, California, are innovative food developers and coauthors of such jewels as Herbs in the Kitchen (Loveland, Colorado: Interweave Press, 1992) and the spicy New Southwestern Cooking (New York: Macmillan, 1985).
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