You think you know a person, and then you move into her house for a few weeks to keep the lights on and take in the mail while she's gone, and you realize: Salt. This person has a crush on salt. First you find kosher salt, in the big red box. Then a jar of pink-tinged Hawaiian red clay salt next to a white box of flaky English Maldon salt, the kind that Nigella Lawson likes to sprinkle over her soft-boiled Italian egg every morning. On the counter is a vase-shaped bottle of French sel gris, crunchy, chunky crystals with a whiff of seaweed, and a tiny, face-cream-sized jar of saffron salt. Next to the stove, two ceramic dishes stand ready to deliver up a pinch or two to the soup or scrambled eggs.
On the top shelf, there's even a cylinder of good old supermarket Morton's salt, dosed with iodine and still with the little rain-slickered girl on the dark-blue wrapper. (At least the freezer offers the girly reassurance of chocolate-peanut butter ice cream.) In the refrigerator, the crush veers over to umami, the Japanese-named "fifth taste" of mouth-watering savoriness: capers (2 jars), a wedge of real Parmesan, a chunk of smoked Gouda, soy sauce, cornichons, bread-and-butter pickles. In the pantry, canned trout filets and canned sardines, regular and smoked.
Short of licking one's fingers and working up a case-of-beer thirst, what to do with this grand bouffe of briny delights? There’s an old Jewish tradition that a guest always brings bread and salt to bless a new house. So what better way to make a house a home, just for a little while, than chewy breadsticks sparkling with any number of salts? And when the house’s owner comes back, she’ll find a bouquet of the same fresh salted bread waiting to welcome her back home.
Easy Salty Breadsticks
These are the perfect accompaniment to hearty winter soups and stews. You can also add some of the toppings--like caraway or poppy seeds--into the dough itself for more texture.
2 teaspoons dry yeast, dissolved in 1/4 cup lukewarm water 1 cup milk, warmed
4 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar or honey
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup cornmeal or rye flour
1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water
Salt, sesame seeds, caraway seeds, and/or poppy seeds
In a small bowl, sprinkle yeast over 1/4 cup lukewarm water. Set aside. In a large bowl, pour warm milk over butter, salt, and sugar or honey. Let sit until milk is lukewarm and butter is melted. Add yeast, white flour, 1 cup whole wheat flour, and cornmeal or rye flour. Add more whole wheat flour as needed to make a soft, shaggy dough. Knead for 6 to 8 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic. Let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 50 minutes.
Deflate the dough. Divide dough into small egg-shaped balls, stretching or twist into thin ropes. Lightly grease a baking sheet, or line with parchment. Lay ropes onto prepared baking sheet and let rise in a warm place until gently puffed, about 20 minutes. While breadsticks are rising, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Using a pastry brush or the back of a spoon, brush with glaze. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until set and just beginning to brown. Remove from the oven and brush again with glaze. Sprinkle with toppings. Return to the oven and bake an additional 8-10 minutes, until crust is crisp and deep golden brown.