Wednesday, May 20, 2009


YEAST IS A GIRL’S BEST FRIEND (Yeastspotting, Mon Amour)

Whenever I make bread I feel like a Pioneer Woman, rising early in the morning (well, okay, not too early, and sometimes bread I had planned to bake for lunch is actually ready for dinner!), measuring, kneading, rolling, baking. Now, this is never necessary as I live in the Land of the Boulangerie. I can step out of our apartment building and walk 2 minutes in any direction and find a shop filled with baguettes, ficelles, flûtes, batards, boules and miches. Plain, sweet, whole wheat or multi-grain. And throw in a couple of pains au chocolat and a slice of flan to boot. So why do I bake? It is most definitely time consuming, not always cheaper than buying a loaf at the bakery even in these times of rising prices. I sometimes have to scramble around town hunting down familiar ingredients for a particular bread I have a craving for or simply suffer the headache of trying to imagine what everyone will happily eat.

The corner Boulangerie: C'est la vie!

I had gotten into the habit a few years ago of making a simple dough for homemade pizza, which we now have regularly for Pizza Night and the occasional focaccia. For a couple of years I baked a fresh egg Challah every Friday night for the Sabbath, trying different recipes until I had found the one I liked the best, and creating a wonderful sweet version for the New Year. But that was basically my bread baking experience. Yeast baking always made me nervous and I just always doubted my ability to do anything else.

Thus my passion for these food blogger on-line bread and yeast baking challenges. It’s like an epiphany! I make myself pull out the cookbooks and pull out the flour and yeast and jump right in. It’s like gathering up the courage to jump into a swimming pool or lake knowing that the water is icy cold, yet knowing that if you just go for it full speed ahead, cannonball, then you warm up almost immediately. After a mere few months, I feel so comfortable experimenting, confident in my ability and getting excellent results every time. I still have a way to go before my breads are perfect and there are still some things that I find a bit too daunting yet, but thanks to the food blog challenges, I live my newfound passion to the fullest.

Baking bread is such fun!

But why, you ask, do I bake? I skipped over the question, yet it all comes down to “Why take the trouble?” Because the simple pleasure of blending, the sensual pleasure of kneading, the enormous pleasure of watching dough rise and the pure gustatory pleasure of eating warm, fresh, soft bread, slathered with gently melting butter or my favorite jelly is worth any effort, time or cost, worth the dirty looks of an adolescent as he scoffs “baking again?!”, worth the time spent chasing a small dog out from under my feet as he desperately tries to lick up as much flour as possible off the floor before being noticed (little does he realize just how much noise he makes!) and the beautiful breads, in the end, are worth the wonderful odor wafting through the house, worth the sighs of satisfaction and well-being of a proud and food-loving husband, worth the feeling of a job well done, and, well, basically, worth the eating!

Homemade bread is coziness in a crust, as comforting as your favorite, well-worn sweater, the food equivalent of curling up on the sofa, wrapped in a down comforter and watching your favorite movie. It is heartwarming and welcoming, it is both familiar and surprising. It is home.

For this week’s Yeastspotting, a wonderful weekly challenge of all things yeast hosted by Susan of Wild Yeast, I have gone Italian! Grissini, often served as appetizers, are pencil-sized bread sticks, either thin and crispy or slightly thicker and tender. We all love these bread sticks, chomping them by the dozens, one after the other. They are wonderful wrapped in Speck or Bresaola, eaten with a mozzarella and tomato salad or dipped into any number of tasty sauces.

"Report to the General that the Yeast has been spotted somewhere over Italy!"

This is a classic focaccia recipe, rich with good olive oil, but I took the measurements and flavoring ideas from Laura Zavan’s Mon Cours de Cuisine: Les Basiques Italiens. I made three different flavored Grissini: oregano, Parmesan and sesame seed. They came out golden brown on the outside and wonderfully tender on the inside, full of flavor and memories.

GRISSINI for Yeastspotting
Oregano, Sesame and Parmesan Bread Sticks

1.2 lbs (500 g) flour
2 packets (0.7 oz/ 20 g) active dry yeast
1 cup (250 ml) warm water, or as much as needed
6 Tbs good quality olive oil
2 tsps salt
1 Tbs sugar

Flavorings :
1 tsp dried oregano
1 heaping Tbs sesame seeds and a bit more for rolling
2 Tbs grated Parmesan cheese and a bit more for rolling

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour and the salt.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the sugar, yeast and half of the warm water and allow to rest for 15 minutes until the yeast is activated and is all frothy.


...After about 10-15 minutes.

Add the rest of the warm water and the olive oil to the yeast mixture and stir well.

Add the liquid to the flour/salt and, using a wooden spoon, stir it all up until all of the flour is moistened. If you have pockets of dry flour, just add a little more warm water as needed. Remember, that once you begin the kneading process, if the dough is too wet or sticky you can correct it by kneading in more flour, but if the dough starts out too dry, there is not much you can do.

Once the flour is all moistened and it starts to pull together into a dough, turn it out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface. Now knead for 5 – 8 minutes, as long as your arms hold out, flouring the work surface as needed (if the dough is a bit sticky or it sticks to the work surface). Knead until you have a smooth, homogenous dough.

With a very sharp knife, divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Slightly flatten each piece and sprinkle one flavoring on each. Now knead until the flavoring is equally distributed throughout the piece of dough.

Place the 3 prepared balls of dough on an oiled (olive oil) baking pan or sheet, rolling each ball to coat lightly with oil. Cover the whole pan with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 1 hour until doubled in bulk.

After the first rise, working one dough at a time, gently knead for 30 seconds, then shape into a log. Slice the log into 10 or 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a long snake no thicker than ½ inch (1.5 cm), making them as long or as short as you like, but cutting them into 10 or 12 pieces, each stick should be about 7 or 8 inches (18 – 20 cm) long. Roll the pieces between your two palms like the way you used to make Play-doh snakes.

Continue with the other 2 balls of dough. Once I rolled out each Sesame-flavored Grissino, I then rolled or pressed it into more sesame seeds and as I rolled out each Parmesan-flavored Grissino I rolled/pressed it into extra grated Parmesan cheese.

Gently lay the Grissini onto a parchment-lined baking sheet or two, cover with plastic wrap again and allow to rest for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).

Bake each sheet of Grissini for about 15 minutes or until golden brown. As you can cut and roll out Grissini into any length or thickness you desire, just check and adjust baking times accordingly.

Remove the sheets of Grissini from the oven and allow to cool on cooling racks. These are best eaten fresh and warm. If you have any leftover, just gently reheat them in a hot oven.


Ciao Chow Linda said...

I love this post - and grissini - and those nostalgic b & w photos. Wherever do you find them? They are winners!

Donna-FFW said...

Jamie- These sound and look fantastic. Makes you feel like Pioneer Woman..:) Id love to try my hand at something like this, I seem to be no good working with yeast. I have yeast envy.

The Cooking Ninja said...

mmm... yummy. Looks fantastic. Yeah nothing beats eating your own bread and the house smells of bread baking - it's like walking into a room smelling coffee. :)

doggybloggy said...

I love coming here its always my kind of tedium - these grissini (never heard of them) looks great!

Mary said...

These turned out beautifully. The old photos were wonderful. I'm envious.

Elra said...

Gosh, thank you for mentioning "Yeast Spotting" today. I've made something already, and was wondering if I should submit it today or Friday. Maybe I'll submit it today. Your Grissini look so delicious, perfect for munchies in the afternoon. Yum!

bethany (dirtykitchensecrets) said...

you know bread making i've never ever attempted... you keep tempting me! Lovely!

girlichef said...

You are awesome...can you airmail me a platter just like that one!!?? YUMMY.

Maris said...

These look so much better than the grissini I've seen in stores. I just started baking bread and am so hooked. There is no comparison between homemade bread and store bought!

Culinary Wannabe said...

I have this long played image of myself impressing company who "just happened" to pop by right when I pulling freshly baked dough out of the oven. It's like the quintessential perfect wife/mother/woman moment. Alas, yeast scares me and the closest I've come to freshly baked bread is biscuits from a can!

Chef E said...

Gosh I have some blog catching up to do over here! I made some last week and keep forgetting to post them, but I see you went about making them a much easier way than I! I will have to re-try and make some like yours, as I read about them on another blog a month ago, so I most definitely like them!

Sara said...

I bake bread almost every week, but I have to say, I don't think I've ever made breadsticks before! Can't wait to try.

Sara said...

I just love the smell of fresh bread dough and fresh bread baking, it smells better than any pie or cake ever could. "Homemade bread is coziness in a crust" - well said, I love that.

trconnie said...

Oh, Jamie! This was fabulous. I only make one bread - a simple white bread (milk dough) that I've perfected over the years. It's simple comfort food and one that people beg me for as if it's some great rarity. Bread making is primal and I haven't met anyone who can resist the smell of baking bread. Slathered with butter warm from the heaven and even the crustiest curmudgeon melts.

And, um, BTW, I've awarded you the The Bella Award. :)

Sophie said...

Ooooooh,....Jamie: your grissini look fabulous! I love those yummie flavours too!

scraps said...

I like your description of rolling the dough, like snakes! I must try these, I want to make some fresh tomato sauce and spices and dunk them, yum!!

Susan/Wild Yeast said...

I am so enjoying following your bread baking journey. And I have said this before, but I love the way you write about the why of it all. Great grissini -- now I'm inspired to put flavorings *in* the dough instead of just on it!

Jamie said...

@ Susan/Wild Yeast - Thanks so much! Coming from you, the baking expert, that is such a compliment.

All of your great comments keep me going on this strange and wonderful journey and I am thrilled whenever you visit!

I do encourage all of you who haven't to try your hand at baking - patience (which I have very little of) and a lot of trial and error and you will be as happy as I am to bake!

@Connie - thank you my dear, wonderful friend. I will be accepting and ackowledging this wonderful award in a soon-to-be post :-)

@girlichef - no, these will not airmail, you will have to come here and get them yourself! Door is always open :-)

Sirenoftitan said...

You have surpassed yourself Jamie ! I love grissini and will try this recipe.
Thank you.

Elyse said...

These grissini look excellent!! I love yeast, too. There's absolutely something so wonderfully comforting about it. Great job!

Madam Chow said...

These look SO good, and your photos are wonderful!

Cindystar said...

Oh Jamie, my grissini-mate, I like so much the way you write, a warm good feeling comes out from your words, bravo!
And deliciuos grissini, so fun to make them!

The Cooking Photographer said...

Hi Jamie,

I missed a post? Soo glad I found it now!

Your grissini are neat. I understand why you bake, even though you have beautiful bread everywhere. It's such joy to make something beautiful that feeds ourselves, our creative soul, and those around us we love.


Karin said...

Just popped my Grissini in the oven, I'm drooling just waiting for them! Coming from an Italian family of bakers, all the old recipes like this were either memorized, or written in sizes fit for the bakery.; 1 gallon eggs, 10 lbs flour, etc. So excited to have found a recipe resembling the one my great aunt Olga made from memory, but never wrote down. Thanks!!


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