Week 3 of Bread: Saffron Basil
Everybody ready? It’s time for SFTF’s third and final Week of Bread. Actually, I’m hoping I really can rein myself in to keep this to just one last week. You know me and bread; can’t get enough of the stuff. Luckily, if only for the sake of my hips, we’re not too far away from the start of the growing season so I can get back to recipes featuring fresh locally grown produce. The baby bok choy seeds are already pushing up out of the soil in their trays in the greenhouse just four days after we planted them. Talk about your “go-getters”!
With the promise of a new season, it becomes a little easier to stop rationing the preserves I put aside for winter. I have just a few cubes of frozen basil puree left, most of which I want to use in soup and pasta dishes. Since fresh basil is still a few months away, it might be brash to throw two more cubes into a second bread recipe (here’s the first recipe). But I couldn’t help myself as I really wanted to try these Saffron Basil Breadsticks.
Saffron is fascinating to me. It’s such a precious commodity, taken from the heart of beautiful crocus blossoms, with what I consider to be an effervescent earthy scent. I realize not everyone enjoys a smell reminiscent of fresh cut hay as much as I do – I am a farm girl at heart after all. But taking into account saffron’s history in which kings would send ships half way across the world to get it, paint pictures of it all over their palaces, and offer it to their gods, I’m obviously not a complete loon.
Fortunately for those of us who aren’t kings and thus have no armadas of ships to fetch our spices, there’s the good old internet. Buying saffron in bulk (and by “bulk” I simply mean getting more than a mere dozen overpriced strands) online makes this princely seasoning quite affordable for even a pauper. I got mine here and love using it lavishly without a single guilty twinge for my wallet.
Saffron and basil, with its peppery bright flavor, are happy companions in most any dish. They elevate these breadsticks from simple pasta accompaniments to an item on the menu worth noting. The recipe yields more breadsticks than any normal person, save for a party host, would need at one time. I froze half of mine and look forward to pulling a half dozen out at a time to bake off and serve with a weeknight dinner fit for a king!
Saffron Basil Breadsticks
Taken from The Practical Encyclopedia of Baking
1 t. saffron strands
2 T. hot water
4 c. white bread flour
1 t. salt
2 t. rapid-rise dry yeast
1 ¼ c. lukewarm water
3 T. extra virgin olive oil
2 T. frozen basil puree or 3 T. chopped fresh basil
Infuse the saffron strands in the hot water for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, sift the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the yeast and make a well in the center of the dry ingredients.
Pour in the saffron infusion and the lukewarm water. Begin to combine just a bit before adding the oil and basil. Continue mixing until a soft dough forms. Turn dough out on to a lightly floured counter. Knead for 10 minutes until smooth and elastic. Clean out the mixing bowl, spray lightly with oil, and place dough inside. Cover with a towel and let rise for about an hour or until doubled in size.
Punch down and knead dough for a minute or two before dividing in half. Working with one half of dough, divide again in half. Then divide each half into four equal pieces. Repeat this process until you have 32 small pieces of dough. Roll each piece between your hands to form a long snake of dough. Place on a greased baking sheet, leaving at least two inches between each piece. Let sit for 15 minutes to become puffy again.
Preheat oven to 425 F. Lightly spray dough with non-stick cooking spray. Bake breadsticks for 15 minutes until crispy and golden. Serve warm. Store in a ziplock bag for up to a week.
Since this recipe makes quite a few breadsticks, you can bake them for 10 minutes, let them cool, and then freeze them. When ready to use, heat the oven to 425 F and bake for 10 more minutes or until golden brown.