One of the stories about the origins of Grissini has a royal connection dating back to the 1680's. It seems that the son of Carlo Emanuele II (who was the Duke of Savoy) was a poor eater. The doctors were called and they suspected that the underlying problem was one of digestion, rather than temperament. The court baker was then asked by the Duke to make a light, crisp bread that was also easy to digest. After much thought, the baker finally came up with Grissini - the long baking time given to the thin strips of dough resulted in a product that was basically all crust. Even Napoleon couldn't resist their appeal going so far as to institute a fast postal service so they could be delivered daily to his court!
Just one taste of these will have you calling Fedex!
2 teaspoons dry yeast
250ml tepid water
500g plain flour, sifted with 1 teaspoon salt
40ml olive oil
4 Olives, pitted and finely chopped (optional)
2 tablespoon parmesan, finely grated (optional)
Mix the yeast with a quarter cup of tepid water and set aside in a warm place until it becomes frothy.
In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook, add the sifted flour/salt. Make a little well in the centre and pour in the activated yeast, olive oil and 250mls of tepid water. Mix on a low speed until the dough amalgamates and starts to form a smooth dough - this should probably take 5 minutes.
If you'd like plain Grissini, just skip the following step:
Stop the mixer and add the olives - begin mixing again on a low speed, the dough will tend to soften due to the moisture content of the olives - to counter this, sprinkle in the finely grated parmesan. Continue for another 4-5 minutes or until an elastic, smooth dough has formed.
Remove the dough onto a very lightly floured board and knead, only briefly, to form a ball. Place in an oiled bowl sealed with plastic wrap and let it rest in a warm spot until doubled in size.
There seems to be a couple of ways to form the Grissini - one method suggests pinching off a little dough and then rolling it into a long sausage. The other method, which I'm using here is the one that is traditionally used by bakers.
To make this method a little more manageable cut the dough into two.
With one half, roll out into a rectangle - this dough is extremely pliable and easily forms into the correct shape.
Taking a really sharp knife (a pizza cutter does an excellent job), cut the dough into thin strips - you should easily get 20 strips from each half.
Pick up a strip, holding an end in each hand and just pull it out until it's the length of your baking tray. If you find that it looks too thick, then cut it in half and pull again. If you like to have a bit of a twist, after stretching fold it in half, place on a board and using your hands just roll it out to form the desired shape and length. I tend to make them in differing lengths and thickness, I just think they look a little more interesting.
Place the grissini on baking paper lined trays as you make them. There's no need to have them rise again - you can cook them straight away. Place them in a preheated 180°C/350°F oven for approximately 20 minutes. The final product shouldn't have any moisture left - they should snap when broken in half. If you feel they are a little soft then turn the oven down to 160°C/320°F (you don't want them to brown too much) and cook for another 5-10 minutes or until they feel really light when you pick them up.
Place them on wire racks to cool.
Serve as is, as a companion to dips and cheeses, or with thin slices of prosciutto entwined around them. However you have them, they'd be thoroughly enjoyed.