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The life of a breadstick

Stix2aMy current favorite bread recipe is Pain a l’Ancienne from Peter Reinhart’s fantastic book, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. It’s a primal bread recipe, using only flour, water, yeast, and salt but it’s all about the technique. It is made using ice cold water, kept cold for most of the “fermentation” stage and doesn’t see much heat until it hits the oven for baking.

According to Brother Peter, this cold mix and ferment process “delays the activation of the yeast until the amylase enzymes have begun the work of breaking out sugar from the starch” and provides more sugar for flavor and caramelization during baking. According to the people who eat this bread, it’s simply amazing, with this full, deep, slightly sweet, grainy, nutty taste, a hugely open crumb, and crust to die for. (One of my apprentices just says, “…is that the special bread?”)

So I decided to make breadsticks with it. The rosemary blooming in my (tiny new) herb garden was further inspiration, nudging me to attempt a slightly modified version of Pain a l’Ancienne to create Crusty Rosemary Bread Sticks.

Crusty Rosemary Bread Sticks

2 1/2 cups ice water
6 1/4 cups bread flour (maybe a bit more)
Scant 2 tsp salt
1 3/4 tsp instant yeast (it may be labeled as “for bread machines” but it must be instant yeast, not active dry yeast)
1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary

  1. Combine water and flour and mix well. The dough should “clear the bowl” (i.e., come away from the bowl while mixing) on the sides but not the bottom. The dough will be very sticky and somewhat hard to handle. Depending on your bread-making skills (and comfort with wet dough) you may want to add a little more flour. I usually mix this for a total of 5 minutes or less in my KitchenAid mixer, or a bit more by hand. It sticks to the counter if kneaded by hand, requiring a bit of extra flour. You should use a minimum of extra flour to maximize the overall texture and holes in the finished bread. As I have made this recipe repeatedly I have reduced the amount of flour I have to add; you will probably find the same thing is true.
  2. Once you have manageable dough, add the yeast, salt, and rosemary and mix well, but quickly. This is not bread that needs to be kneaded endlessly or to a specific stage of doneness; it’s simple to make and very forgiving.
  3. When all of the ingredients are mixed in, place the dough in a well-oiled bowl, cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. It may rise a little bit, it may not…it doesn’t really matter.

The next day
Turn on the oven to preheat at 450 about an hour before you will be baking. Take the dough out of the refrigerator and leave it on the counter to warm up for an hour or so, just until it starts to rise noticeably.
Turn the dough out on a well-floured counter, gently flatten, and divide into quarters. (I have space in my refrigerator so I put the three pieces I am not working with back into the fridge until I need them. Otherwise, just set them aside.)
I assume you have a pizza stone—if not, use a cookie sheet. Cut a few pieces of parchment paper to fit your stone. You will be shaping the bread sticks on the parchment and transferring them to the stone while still on the paper.

(forgive the funky formatting around these images, I've been fighting to get things lined up, yet the margins remain as crooked as my breadsticks!)

Stix3Working with one quarter of the dough at a time, divide the piece of dough in half and place each half on a piece of parchment. It will look something like this.

Stix4Gently stretch the dough into a rectangle that covers most of the parchment.


Stix5Slice the dough into 3/4 inch strips and separate them as much as possible so they don’t bake into one big chunk. You can gently squish the strips side-to-side; these are very rustic breadsticks and shouldn’t be perfect straight to begin with.

Here’s where the peel comes in handy. Transfer the strips, still on the parchment, to the stone and quickly spray the walls of the oven. (Don’t spray the oven glass directly, it might shatter.) Close the oven door for sixty seconds then repeat misting. Wait another sixty seconds and mist once more. The additional moisture helps the dough rise (called “oven spring”) before the crust gelatinizes, which prevents much further rising.


These are the bread sticks after sixty seconds in the oven. (It’s not a great picture but you can see how much they have risen already.)

Stix7Bake for about 15 minutes, until golden brown. Cool briefly and serve.

These are best the same day they are baked. Recrisp for a few minutes in a 350 oven if serving them after that.


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