This cheesy breadstick recipe is based on one from ‘Dough’ by Richard Bertinet and started out life as a more grown-up food – generally flavoured with Parmesan, herbs and black olives, good for serving with drinks, or as part of a bigger spread. However, they are super versatile and you can flavour them with whatever you want.
My daughter Audrey is two and a half. Her favourite pastime is making life more challenging than it needs to be. We have daily battles over teeth-cleaning, going to the toilet, getting dressed, who gets to go down the stairs first…it’s not called the terrible twos for nothing! Having previously always been pretty good at eating and trying new foods, she has recently turned into a bit of a picky eater. Sandwiches, for example, get the fillings scraped out and (sometimes) eaten, but the bread gets discarded (smushed into the floor or hidden somewhere), and she is hungry again 20 minutes later. I’m always on the hunt for lunchtime alternatives.
I regularly make these breadsticks for Audrey’s lunches flavoured with tomato purée, cheese and/or ham and call them ‘Pizza Sticks’. They freeze really well too, so they can always be on hand for a quick, portable lunch. She likes them and I like them because they can’t be dismembered and discarded quite so easily as a sandwich.
In addition to the flavour ideas above, (for grown-ups) you could try:
- Harissa and sesame seed
- Blue cheese and walnut
- Pesto and Parma ham
- Cheddar and caramelised onion chutney
- Parmesan, anchovy and black olive
- 250g strong white bread flour
- Coarse ground polenta (approx 25g for sprinkling)
- 4g fast action yeast
- 5g salt
- 20g olive oil
- 160g water (hand hot)
- Your chosen flavourings (here I used Parmesan, leftover salami chopped up, and a roasted garlic paste that I had in the cupboard).
You will need to make a basic bread dough for this recipe. You can either do this by hand, or in a mixer. Either way, add your flour, yeast and salt to a mixing bowl, followed by 20g olive oil and 160g water. The water should be luke-warm, around body temperature. Either form a dough using the dough hook in your mixer, or, if making the dough by hand, bring all the ingredients together with one clean hand. Once the ingredients are mixed together and a dough is starting to form, tip it out onto a clean, lightly oiled work surface.
It is always better to knead the bread on a lightly oiled, rather than a floured, surface. It means you avoid adding additional flour to the dough which would alter the ratios and composition of the bread. All you need to do is pour a little oil (less than a teaspoon) directly onto the surface and spread it about with your hands (oiling your hands in the process). This will help to prevent your dough from sticking and make the kneading process easier. Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic to touch – it should take about 8-10 minutes.
The kneading process will develop the gluten in the bread. One way to check whether the gluten is sufficiently developed and you can stop kneading is to do the windowpane test: you should be able to break off a piece of dough and stretch it until it is paper thin – so thin that you can almost see through it. See this video for a demonstration: https://youtu.be/IdBP50GY0PU
Once your dough is sufficiently kneaded, shape it into a ball and cover it with the bowl on the work surface and leave it to prove. Once the dough has doubled in size (this should take about an hour), uncover it and lightly flour the work surface. Scatter a sprinkling of coarse polenta over the work surface too.
Stretch and pat the dough out until it is a rough rectangle shape and about 1 cm thick. You can use a rolling pin to do this if you like, but it is better to use your hands as this avoids squashing out too much of the air that your dough has worked so hard to develop in the first prove.
Time to add your chosen filling! If using anything spreadable like tomato purée or pesto, spread a couple of tablespoons of this across the whole surface of your dough rectangle. I use a flexible plastic dough scraper to do this, but a palette knife or spatula would work. Sprinkle your remaining toppings over the top, distributing evenly and right to the edges. Quantity is up to you – if I’m using cheese and olives, I tend to use circa 100g of cheese, grated, and 50g olives, chopped roughly into quarters. Anything chunky, like olives or walnuts will need chopping up into smaller pieces. Bear in mind that if you overfill, you will lose some of that filling to the baking tray when its in the oven! Once you are happy with the fillings, use both hands to press them gently into the dough.
With the long side of the rectangle facing you, take hold of one of the shorter sides and fold it two thirds of the way across the rectangle.
Fold the other side on top of it as per the picture below.
Turning the dough so that the long side is facing you again (you might need to reflour/repolenta the work surface if it is sticking a bit), cut it vertically into 12 equal sized pieces. The best way to do this as evenly as possible without measuring is to cut it in half, cut each half into quarters and cut each quarter into three. Dust a sprinkling of polenta over the top of the whole lot.
Take one of the twelve pieces and begin to gently twist and stretch, trying not to lose too much of the filling as you go. They can be as neat as you want to make them – I don’t worry about this too much, I think they look nice when a bit rustic, but if you want them uniform then you can take a bit longer over this bit! Keep stretching and twisting until each piece is approximately 15-20cm long (or as long as the width of your baking tray).
Either use a non-stick baking tray, or one that is lined with baking parchment or a silicon mat (I tend to use the latter as they are easy to clean and reusable). Line each of the 12 sticks up on your baking tray – you may need to use two trays here, and then cover with a clean tea towel.
Leave to prove for a further 30 minutes and pre-heat your oven to 220 degrees celsius. After the 30 minutes is up, your breadsticks should have risen slightly. Pop them into the hot oven and set a timer for 12 minutes. Check them after the 12 minutes is up, they may need a couple more minutes – you can take them out when golden brown and cooked through, or leave them slightly longer to crisp up more. the choice is yours!
Serve warm if possible, but they are still lovely cold. You can refresh them by sprinkling with a little cold water and putting them into a hot oven for just a couple of minutes before serving.