Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Crispy Rye Breadsticks

I adore breadsticks. They're nice at the dinner table with just a touch of butter, and they're a great little snack. And they're a lot easier to make than most people imagine.

As a snack, breadsticks aren't the worst you could do. They're not as salt-laden as pretzels or chips, and they aren't sugary like cookies. And if you're making them yourself, you can opt for more whole grains, or top them with your favorite seeds or nuts.

For these, I used both caraway seeds and nigella seeds. Both are optional. I also added extra gluten, which is also optional. It makes these breadsticks easier to handle, but it's not critical if you don't have it on hand.

Another great thing about breadsticks is that the crispy version has an extremely long shelf life. Unlike a moist bread that can get moldy, these are dry, like crackers. And since they're already dry, they don't dry out and get stale. In theory, they can last a long time. In practice, they disappear pretty quickly.

Since I bake a lot of breadsticks, I have a breadstick pan with ridges that keep the breadsticks in place. That sort of pan isn't necessary; a standard baking sheet is just fine. You just need to leave enough room between them so they don't touch while they're baking.

These bake at a relatively low temperature for quite a long time, because you want them to dry all the way through. A completely cooked breadstick will be crispy and shattery. An undercooked one will be like I imagine those rawhide dog chews might be.

The only difficult part about making these is that there's a fine line between being completely cooked and being overbrowned. Once they start browning, don't walk away from them for too long.

Crispy Rye Breadsticks

1 cup lukewarm water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
2 teaspoons gluten
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1 cup (4 1/2 ounces)  rye flour
1 1/2 cups (6 3/4 ounces) bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
Caraway seeds (optional)
Nigella seeds (optional)

Combine the sugar, water, yeast, gluten, and rye flour in the bowl of your stand mixer, and set it aside until it gets fluffy and bubbly, about 10 minutes.

Add the bread flour and salt, and knead with the dough hook until the dough comes together, cleans the sides of the bowl, and begins to become elastic. Add the olive oil and continue kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic and is no longer sticky.

Form the dough into a ball, drizzle some oil into a bowl and put the dough back into the bowl, making sure it's coated all around. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside until it doubles in size, about an hour.

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.

Flour your work surface and knead the dough briefly. Unless your work area is huge, it will be easier to divide the dough in half.

Roll the dough so that it's 1/8 inch thick, or a little less, about 12 inches high, and as long as it needs to be to get those other dimensions correct. Try to keep it rectangular, but don't stress about it being irregular. If you're using seeds, sprinkle them on the dough before you finish rolling, so that the final rolling will embed the seeds into the dough. If you prefer, you can brush the dough with eggwash or water, but that makes them a bit stickier to handle.

Using a pastry cutter or pizza wheel, cut the dough in half lengthwise, so you've got 2 6-inch strips, then cut vertically into 1/4 inch strips. None of this needs to be precise. If you like longer or shorter breadsticks, adjust your cuts accordingly.

As you pick up each strip, twist it several times, so you have a spiral. The strips will stretch as you do this, so you'll end up with breadsticks that are about 9 inches long. Place them on a baking sheet, leaving at least an inch between them. They won't rise that much, but they tend to move around while they're baking.

As you fill each pan (you'll probably have four pans) put them in the oven. There's no need to let them rest or rise. Bake for 25-35 minutes. until they're lightly browned and crispy. Depending on how even your oven heat is, you may need to rotate the pans during baking, or move some sticks from the ends of the pan to the middle. If they brown too much on the bottom, you can flip them over.

Cool completely on a rack before you store them.

This was published on Serious Eats and has been submitted to Yeastspotting.