It’s been a proper soggy start to Summery June, especially this week (it’s been raining since Monday morning & barely stopped). The weekend gave us some glorious sunshine & the opportunity to mow the lawns, pot some plants & generally have a tidy up around the garden. The plants are loving the damp weather, flourishing & flowering all around (especially the peas who have pods on their vines!). Although we all moan about it, the gardens need a proper downpour every now & then to keep them hydrated & healthy.
On days like these, I like to make my own sunshine & bake some beautiful treats! Lusciously light sponge cakes, peachy fruit-packed pastries & velvety chocolate chip cookies all do the trick, especially with their heady perfume wafting through the house & the anticipation of tasting them later. Recently, I rediscovered a treat that we have not made for quite some time: the gorgeous grissini! These spindly, slender sticks of crisp, handmade bread are delicious with a few juicy olives, sundried tomatoes & of course a pan of my homemade tomato sauce for dunking. After a long day at work or as pre-dinner nibbles for your guests, these make the perfect carpet-picnic fayre to tide you over until dinner is ready – substantial enough to take the edge off being hungry, but light enough to not affect appetites too much.
Now I’m not going to give you false hope here – they are one of the easiest & tastiest treats to make, but you will need to set aside a whole morning or an afternoon (which is perfect for soggy days!). As each breadstick is handmade, there is a degree of patience required – you can’t rush this & I personally find it quite relaxing, therapeutic almost. No machine required, this is all done by pure elbow grease – in fact, the only thing I will recommend is a pastry scraper (an inexpensive flat, flexible piece of plastic that will multi-task in a number of baking jobs, including wiping up worktops afterwards). If you’re doing this alone, it can take a couple of hours to make a whole batch, so I would highly recommend getting the whole family involved (especially the children – this is great for helping them learn a basic life skill).
This recipe makes about 80-100 grissini, depending on how thin you roll them & I will tell you that the thicker ones have the most deliciously chewy texture, with just enough exterior crispiness too – these taste amazing dunked in a little aged Balsamic Vinegar & olive oil. Grissini are definitely a ‘prepare in advance’ snack, not for those requiring instant gratification, but the results of your hard work will be rather satisfying. Ready to get started? Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!
What you need:
570g Strong Bread Flour (with extra for rolling out, etc)
50g Fine Semolina Flour
350ml Lukewarm Water
12g Dried Yeast
1/2 teaspoon ground Sea Salt
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil (for brushing)
4 tablespoons Sesame Seeds
4 sprigs fresh Rosemary, chopped finely (just the leaves, not the stem) – you can use dried Rosemary, approx 2 tablespoons
What to do:
Firstly, mix the yeast with the lukewarm water to dissolve it. It should go a muddy, light coffee colour.
Tip the flour & semolina into a large mixing bowl, add the sea salt & stir well to combine everything.
Make a well in the middle & pour in the olive oil, followed by the yeast water. Stir everything with a fork, until it comes together into a nice big ball of rough dough. Make sure you wipe it around the inside of the bowl thoroughly to pick up any leftover ingredients, until the bowl is virtually clean.
Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Keep the bowl to one side. Start to knead the dough by placing it in front of you, pushing down & away from you with the heel of your hand. Then pull it back onto itself, give it a half turn on your worktop & repeat. Try to get into a rhythm, working at a nice pace & keep the dough moving (if you’re moving too slow here, the dough will stick to the worktop, so just slide the pastry scraper underneath & flip it back).
Give it a good ten minutes of kneading, as shown in the pictures here, using a little more flour if you need to, but try to avoid it if you can – a sticky dough is a stretchy dough & you need that stretch later on!
After ten minutes, your dough should be elasticated & have a bit of boing to it – roll it into a ball, press your finger gently on the top & if it springs back, it’s done.
Dust the inside of your bowl with a little flour & place the dough inside, giving a little dust of the fine semolina or flour on top. Smudge a little olive oil onto a sheet of cling film, cover the bowl loosely oil-side down & place in a draught-free, warm place for an hour (warm airing cupboards are brilliant if you have one). If you don’t have cling film, use a sheet of greaseproof paper oiled in the same way & cover with a tea towel.
While your dough is proving, pre-heat the oven to 220*C – you want it scorching hot for bread-making & this will give crispness to your grissini.
Prepare a few tins (you’re going to need them) – lightly dust a few flat baking trays with a little coarse semolina flour, just as you would for pizzas. You don’t need any fancy non-stick stuff, just a regular baking tray should suffice. Set to one side, ready for your grissini.
Once proved, your dough will have risen to at least double in size & will be slightly domed on top. Remove the clingfilm & pull the dough out onto a lightly floured worktop.
Using your pastry scraper, cut the dough into four & shape into oval balls – if you’re doing them all plain, just cut a quarter of the dough & leave the rest covered with a tea towel.
Again using that trusty pastry scraper, cut a finger thickness of dough from the ball & roll into a long slender sausage shape, the length of your baking tray. Use your fingers to pinch the ends off if too long, don’t cut them & keep the ends to one side to make more. You want your grissini to look rustic, handmade & not just squished out by a machine. Personally, I like to twist & twirl them to get a nice bobbly sort of texture when they’ve baked, but it’s up to you how you do it. Lay each one about half an inch apart, as they grow a little during baking.
You should end up with lots of slender stems of dough on your baking tray. Place in the centre of the oven for about 10-12 minutes, until lightly golden (if you’re making them slightly fatter, give them 12-14 minutes, but keep an eye on them so they don’t burn).
Remove & lift your grissini onto a cooling rack until ready to serve. Usually, I tend to bake them on a constant rotation of two trays in the oven while I’m prepping another two trays, until all the dough is used up.
If you’re going to add a little extra to your grissini, roll out as above & lay them on the prepared baking trays. Brush them with a little olive oil & generously shower with sesame seeds or the Rosemary (or both, which is very tasty). Bake as above. One of the best bonuses of this is when all your grissini are baked, there will be a tray of toasted sesame seeds & Rosemary leftover. These are truly splendid scattered over salads, cheese bakes, roasted tomatoes & even just for dunking a delicious tomato-sauce smothered grissini in. Keep leftover ones in a little ramekin or glass jar for this purpose.
Once you’re ready to dive into these delectable crisp delights, lay them on a large wooden board surrounded by a selection of petite pots, filled with sundried tomatoes, olives, artichokes & other such delicacies. If you’re serving these as a starter for a dinner party, add some slices of salami, proscuitto & an array of antipasto.
Make up a small batch of tomato sauce for dipping too (trust me, this is essential with fresh grissini!). Here’s an easy recipe that you can whip up in a few minutes. Tip a couple of tins of proper Italian plum tomatoes in a saucepan & squish into smaller pieces (get your hands in there, you’ll wash). Add a good squeeze of tomato puree, a couple of cloves of freshly chopped garlic, a few fresh Basil leaves (roughly shredded) & a pinch of sugar, along with a few firm twists of black pepper (freshly ground is best) & a pinch of sea salt. Stir everything together with a glug of olive oil & reduce on a medium heat for a few minutes. Once it’s all bubbling like glossy hot lava, it’s done! Turn off the heat, give it a good stir & let it cool for a couple of minutes (as with most hot lava-like sauces, let it rest). Taste it & adjust the seasoning if you need to, then serve!
Any leftover grissini should keep for a couple of days in an airtight container (I’m being optimistic here, because even though you’ve made what appears to be squillions of slender breadsticks, they will disappear as rapidly as if you only made four).
Next time it’s a soggy day, the kids are bored or you are just out of tasty treats or snacks, just “dough” it & bake a batch of gorgeous grissini! Heavenly, healthy & handmade – what’s not to love?! Have a fabulous week & stay hungry! Aimee 😉 x