September 27, 2023 | Rome, Italy

Playing at dough

By |2018-03-21T19:49:22+01:00April 9th, 2016|"Suzanne's Taste"|
Grissini in a vase, drawing by the author.

just saw that there’s a book out about making artisan breads in five minutes.

It’s what I wrote about some 10 years ago, but what goes round comes round, and it’ll be fun to see what someone else thinks that five minutes can accomplish.

I, for one, know that it’s great to be in the dough, whenever the spirit moves you. And to make it takes even less than five minutes.

All dough is incredibly versatile, inspiring, sexy, fragrant, and playful. It’s also a basic ingredient to keep around the kitchen for a variety of reasons.

Pizza, panzanella, focaccia, ciabatta, biscuits, crêpes, pancakes, socca, and baguettes can all made quickly with the right dough in your fridge. Getting there is basically a quick stir-up of flour, yeast, salt and water or milk (kept in a covered bowl until use).

Some of basic dough or batters can be kept for a few days, some overnight, some for weeks on end (sourdough starters, for example, which you can easily keep alive by feeding it with a spoon of flour and a little water every week).

My easy breadstick play-dough is made with 2 cups lukewarm water or milk, 1 package of dry yeast, 2 scant teaspoons of salt, 2 teaspoons of olive oil and 4 1/2 cups of flour, any old flour for these purposes, but you can use whole wheat or unbleached white or half and half or throw in some rye — whatever you wish as a mixture — except remember that the basic recipe is the best for fooling around.

Here’s my favorite game to play with this dough, and if you have kids around, get them into the kitchen because they’ll have great fun with what I call Batty Breadsticks.

Make the dough and let it rise once. Stirring up the dough takes about three minutes or less, then cover it and let it rise right then, or refrigerate it for the next day.

When the dough has risen, turn it out on a floured surface and grab a handful and set it aside. Continue this until you have lots of little patties of dough to form into wacky breadsticks.

Now, on a lightly-floured cookie sheet, start rolling each glop of dough into a long snake with a 1/2-inch diameter, making sure it does not stick to your hands by using just a bit more flour if needed. Now with each snake, take one end and bend it into anything you like — a flower shape, an initial, an “O” or just a wiggly, weird whatever but keep the other half of the snake straight. You can get about 4-5 breadsticks on a sheet or even more, depending on what shapes you choose to form.

When you’ve exhausted your creative juices and wish to stop, even if you haven’t used all the dough, place a thin cloth over your masterpieces and let them rise while the oven heats to 450F or 250C. When the oven is ready, pop the cookie sheets in the oven and bake until brown, about 15 minutes, watching to see that they don’t burn.

Turn off the oven, open the door slightly and let your breadsticks dry for about 15 minutes. Let them cool until you’re ready to use them.

I serve mine in a vase, like flowers, along with tapenade made from olives, capes and anchovies, or with guacamole, cheeses, soups or anything else a breadstick will love.

If you have leftover dough, you’ll probably have enough for little appetizer pizze (make flat circles with the dough and put whatever you want on them, then bake), crackers (roll the dough flat and then cut out whatever weird shapes you wish) or a tiny loaf of bread for a doll’s dinner (your kid can do this one).

The breadsticks may be brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with sesame seeds, pepper, coarse salt, chili powder, fresh rosemary (chopped very fine) or just about anything else your brilliant brain can come up with, even cinnamon and sugar for a morning break-stick.

The dough can be refrigerated for a couple of days until you figure out what to do with it, but after you taste the breadsticks, you’ll probably just want to jump in and play again!

About the Author:

Suzanne Dunaway, a longtime major magazine writer and artist, is the author and illustrator of "Rome, At Home, The Spirit of La Cucina Romana in Your Own Kitchen" (Broadway Books) and "No Need To Knead, Handmade Italian Breads in 90 Minutes" (Hyperion). She taught cooking for 15 years privately and at cooking schools in Los Angeles, and now maintains a personal website and a blog. She divides her time between southern France and Italy.