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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.