Soft Focaccia Breadsticks
When E and I go out for dinner we often like to eat at the bar rather than at a table for two, and we particularly gravitate to places where we can sit for a while with a few snacks before ordering. Some years ago one of our favorite places offered house-made soft focaccia breadsticks with a dipping bowl of balsamic-dotted olive oil and this seemed to us to be an almost perfect offering.
That place is gone now, but recently for a small gathering at our place I decided to try to reproduce those lovely soft sticks. I almost got it right the first time but after a couple of adjustments I can definitely say this is a winner...perfect for drinks before a dinner party. As a lighter alternate to the olive oil/balsamic dip, I frequently serve them with my Fresh Tomato-Basil Dipping Sauce.
Of course, for people looking to control blood-glucose levels or watch their weight, portion control is necessary with bread, so one of the things I like about these is that since each of the sticks is much smaller than an ordinary slice of bread I can enjoy a couple of them without totally blowing my diet. When I serve them I usually add some carrot or celery sticks, cherry tomatoes or blanched radishes to the table to give people a lighter choice for dipping and make a good looking display.
Soft Focaccia Breadsticks
Makes a single flat loaf 11" x 17" x 3/4" thick - yield: 44 pieces, each about 3/4" x 5 1/2"
- 2 3/4 cups bread flour + about 1/4 cup for the pan (Step 7)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast, such as SAF
- 2 cups + 2 tablespoons warm water (about 110º)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
1. Place 2 3/4 cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 2 1/2 teaspoons yeast in the bowl of a heavy duty mixer and stir with a spoon to combine.
2. Add the warm water (about 110º), stirring to mix. Dough will be very wet, more like a batter.
3. Knead with the dough hook 8 minutes at medium speed.
4. Add the olive oil and knead 2 more minutes with the hook.
5. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a draft-free location for 90 minutes.
6. Prepare an 11" x 17" jelly roll pan with cooking spray, then flour the pan lightly.
7. Turn the dough out into the pan. The dough will be very wet and sticky. Using the back of a floured wooden spoon, gently pat out the dough to fill the pan evenly. Sprinkle on a little more flour so the dough won't stick to a covering clean cloth. Allow to rise another 90 minutes.
8. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400º. Place an ovenproof skillet or baking dish, filled about 1 1/2" deep with water, on a lower shelf in the oven.
9. When the second rising is complete, remove the cover and gently press deep dimples into the dough with your fingers at intervals of about 2" before placing in the oven. Bake about 30 minutes, until the bread has turned a light golden brown.
To serve, allow to cool 20 minutes or so, then cut into sticks about 5 1/2" long by 3/4" wide and serve with olive oil and balsamic vinegar or other favorite dips.