Monday, January 13, 2014

Simple bread sticks, or -- "something nice to eat"

These very simple bread sticks come from one of our two or three kitchen Bibles -- Ruth Reichl's Gourmet and Madeleine Kamman's New Making of a Cook are the others -- this one being Marion Cunningham's 1986 Fannie Farmer Cookbook.  The recipe requires about four hours to prepare from start to finish, but of course most of that time will be spent in waiting for the dough to rise, not in actually working. During those hours just think what other fun and interesting things you may do. (Making that delicious tomato soup to go with the bread would be a good idea.)

Begin by stirring 1 package of dry yeast into 1/4 cup warm water. Let it stand for 5 minutes to dissolve.

Meanwhile, heat 1 cup of milk in a small saucepan with 4 Tablespoons of butter until the butter is melted. Pour this into a bowl and then mix in 1 and 1/2 Tablespoons sugar and 2 teaspoons salt. Add the dissolved yeast to the milk mixture -- it should be lukewarm now, not hot enough to kill the yeast -- and then stir in 2 cups of flour. Stir vigorously, and add enough of 1 more cup of flour so that the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board or table, knead for a minute or two, and let rest for 10 minutes.

Resume kneading until smooth and elastic, about ten minutes. Put into a buttered bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours or more.

Punch the dough down and roll it out with a rolling pin into a rectangle 1/2 inch thick. Use a pizza cutter to cut the dough widthwise into two long pieces, and then use the cutter to cut both long strips crosswise into a series of short sticks. Pick up each stick gently -- they stretch -- twist them, and place them 1 inch apart on buttered cookie sheets.

Cover them with a clean towel, and let them rise about half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 300 F. Brush the sticks with a glaze made of 1 egg white lightly beaten with 1 Tablespoon of cold water. Bake for 30 minutes, until lightly browned.

Variations: sprinkle the bread sticks with coarse salt before putting them in the oven; or, brush them with a little more egg white about five minutes before they have finished baking, and then sprinkle on poppy or sesame seeds.

I recall reading years ago that the meaning of the English word "lady" is loaf-giver, one who bakes and gives bread. Failing to find the quote I was looking for in the cookbooks where I thought it was, I turned to that surpassingly fine online source of food history, The Old Foodie. Of course she knows everything. Here the quote is, from John Ruskin in The Ethics of the Dust ("Ten Lectures to Little Housewives on the Elements of Crystallization"). What a gift the man had for titling his books! The Seven Lamps of Architecture, The Stones of Venice, The King of the Golden River. Here in the Ethics he is telling us what cookery is.

It means the knowledge of Medea, and of Circe, and of Calypso, and of Helen, and of Rebekah, and of the Queen of Sheba. It means the knowledge of all herbs, and fruits, and balms, and spices; and of all that is healing and sweet in fields and groves, and savory in meats, it means carefulness, and inventiveness, and watchfulness, and willingness, and readiness of appliance, it means the economy of your great-grandmothers, and the science of modern chemists; it means much tasting, and no wasting, it means English thoroughness, and French art, and Arabian hospitality, and it means, in fine, that you are to be perfectly and always "ladies" -"loaf-givers”; and you are to see … that everybody has something nice to eat.
 It seems pedestrian to check up on him, but we do now open the nearest dictionary. "Lady," according to Webster's, comes from the Middle English lavedi and thus from the Old English hlaefdige, lady, mistress, derived in turn from hlaf, loaf, and dige, bread-kneader; see "dough." So he's right. Nice.

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