Thyme, Fennel Seed and Lavender Grissini

Over the past year baking homemade grissini has become a regular occurrence in my kitchen. I’ve been making pizzas for my family for years, but it wasn’t until I was looking for delicious, well-priced grissini, that I realised there weren’t any. So that started a bit of a trend, and a habit that I thoroughly enjoy. They last well in a sealed jar for two weeks, are perfect on their own with a glass of wine, even more delicious when wrapped with prosciutto or thin slices of grilled courgettes, or served with a bowl of homemade tapenade.

The dough I use is based on a Jamie Oliver recipe. It’s fabulous, and makes the amount I need, which is a lot, because the dough has to be enough for an evening pizza, as well as the grissini. Start off doing it this way, and have the supplies for pizza in your fridge, or freeze the rest of the dough to use later. It’s not something I really like to do, but I did try it recently, and there was no difference in the grissini I made with the frozen dough.

Now be a little cautious with the lavender as it can easily veer towards tasting like potpourri if you over do it, and a little goes a long way. As an alternative to lavender, consider crushed coriander seeds. Lovely as well, it’s such a gorgeous spice, and anyone who knows me has seen that I like to use it whenever I can.

For me, baking these is such a peaceful experience, very repetitive, and calming. I love the feel of the dough between my hands as I roll it into irregular pencil like shapes. No two are alike, some have more of the herb mix and salt, some have less. Not perfect, but just like life if you think about it.

For the dough

  • 30g/1oz fresh yeast, or 3 x 7g sachets dried yeast
  • 30g/1oz honey
  • 625ml/ just over 1 pint tepid water
  • 1kg/ just over 2lb Italian 00 flour
  • 30g/1oz salt
  • Extra flour for dusting
  • Olive oil

Flavourings for the Grissini, half the dough only

  • 1 large bunch of fresh thyme, leaves only and roughly chopped
  • ¼ cup fennel seeds
  • 1tbsp dried lavender (look for culinary purposes only)
  • Sea salt flakes
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Firstly, dissolve the yeast and honey in half the tepid water. Then, put the flour and salt into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour in all the dissolved yeast mixture. With 4 fingers of one hand, make circular movements from the centre moving outwards, slowly bringing in more and more of the flour until all the yeast mixture is soaked up. Now pour the other half of the tepid water into the centre and gradually incorporate all the flour to make a moist dough. Add a little more water if necessary.

Tip out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and start kneading, pushing and folding the dough over and over for about 5 minutes. (This will develop the gluten and structure of the dough.) Shape the dough into a round ball, lightly flour the top, then score the top into a deep cross and place back into a large bowl that you have lightly oiled. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave in a draught-free and warm place to prove: about an hour. It should double in size.

Meanwhile, combine the thyme leaves with the fennel seed and lavender, going easy on the lavender if you are unsure about its potency.

When the dough is ready, tip it out of the bowl onto a clean surface scattered with flour and cut it in half. Cover, and put half of it aside for pizza, or for more grissini if you wish.  Preheat the oven to 200C/ 400F and line a baking tray with baking paper.

With a sharp knife, cut pieces off the dough the size of a thick pencil, press them into the herb mix, and start rolling them between both your hands until you have a grissini no longer than 30cm/ 12 inches long, the diameter of a pencil, and imbedded with a few herbs. Lay them on the baking sheet, brush well with extra virgin olive oil and generously scatter with sea salt flakes. Put into the oven and bake for about 10-13 minutes. Grissini should feel firm to the touch and lightly golden in colour when ready. Remove from oven and cool on a rack. Store in a large well sealed jar for up to two weeks.