Most Americans know grissini as those pale breadsticks in the long waxen envelopes that appear on the tables of Italian restaurants, but those bear about as much resemblance to authentic grissini, or Italian breadsticks, as packaged industrial white bread does to true country loaves. Real grissini are made of yeast, flour, water, and either olive oil, lard, or butter. They are shaped between the hands by gently stretching the dough to about the span of the baker’s arms, and are then baked directly on the floor of a wood-burning oven. They are as thick and irregular as knobby fingers and look like cordwood when stacked. They have crunch and an earthy taste. Even when made at home with the methods and recipe that follow, they are still redolent of the countryside and the old ways.
Although there is some dispute about who came up with the first grissini, there is no question that they first appeared in Turin sometime in the 17th century. Some say that a baker in Turin invented them in 1668 in response to inquiries from the doctor of the young duke Vittorio Amedeo II, who had stomach disturbances, for a bread that would be good for the duke’s digestion. The baker stretched out the traditional local bread dough so long that it became a long, thin, crunchy stick that was essentially all crust. Although there is no word on their effect on the patient’s health, it is safe to assume that they met with great success, because grissini were well-known all over Italy by the next century, when Napoleon discovered “les petits bâtons de Turin.” Napoleon was so enthusiastic about the breadsticks that he instituted a fast postal service expressly for transporting them to court every day. The most popular rival story to that of the young duke credits a Florentine abbot on a diplomatic mission near Turin in 1643 with the discovery of a “thin bread as long as an arm and very, very fine.”
Serve grissini with eggs, green salad, prosciutto, and smoked beef, as well as with any kind of antipasti. Some Italians eat them for breakfast with milk or coffee, an old custom that was once widespread.–Carol Field
LC Naming Unconventions Note
Technically speaking, the proper name of these skinny, crunchy, yeasty, moan-inducingly lovely light sabers of bready goodness is grissini Torinesi. Confession: We’ve been referring to them simply as grissini, a word that rolls off the tongue in a way that “Torinesi” does not. Anyone who’s up for the challenge of a little advanced Italian can, of course, pronounce its full name over and over and over again, to his or her heart’s content, along with grissini Siciliani and grissini al papavera, two classic variations on this Italian breadstuff staple. You’ll find the how-tos for these variations beneath the breadsticks recipe that follows.
Italian Breadsticks | Grissini Torinesi
- Quick Glance
- 25 M
- 2 H
- Makes 20
Special Equipment: Baking stone (optional)
IngredientsEmail Grocery List
Make the dough with a stand mixer: Stir the yeast and malt into the warm water in a mixer bowl; let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. Mix in the oil with the paddle. Add the all-purpose flour and salt and mix until the dough comes together. Change to the dough hook and knead at low speed about 3 minutes. Finish kneading briefly by hand on a lightly floured surface.
Make the dough with a food processor: Stir the yeast and malt into the 1/4 cup warm water in a small bowl; let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. Place the all-purpose flour and salt in a standard food processor fitted with the dough blade or a large (over 7-cup capacity) processor fitted with the steel blade and process with several pulses to sift. Mix the 1 cup cold water and the oil in a small bowl. With the machine running, pour the water mixed with oil and the dissolved yeast through the feed tube and process until the dough comes together. Process 45 seconds longer to knead. Finish kneading briefly by hand on a lightly floured surface.
Italian Breadstick Variations
- Grissini Siciliani
Sprinkle the dough with 1/2 cup sesame seeds instead of cornmeal or semolina flour before cutting and shaping the breadsticks.
- Grissini al papavera
Sprinkle the dough with 1/2 cup poppy seeds instead of cornmeal or semolina flour before cutting and shaping the breadsticks.
Recipe Testers Reviews
This grissini recipe produced crunchy, authentic Italian grissini. I followed the recipe as written but did note some differences in the final product based on how the breadsticks were formed. I placed half on the sheet pan the short way and the other half on a different pan the long way. Those that were shorter and fatter had a much doughier consistency than the crunchier, longer batch made according to the recipe’s directions. The crunchier batch seemed more authentic to me. I also noticed that the semolina left a floury residue on the exterior, which I didn't love. Next time I'll cut down on the semolina by as much as half.