The 19th-century writer Oscar Wilde once said that "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." I'm not sure of the context behind his statement, but I believe his observation certainly applies to the world of cooking and baking. For example, how many of us have proudly prepared a meal, or a special culinary treat for our friends or family, and then asked by a family member or friend to share the recipe? What a great feeling of self-satisfaction and a confirmation that what we made really is good! Similarly, we've all tasted a dish prepared by somebody else that was so delicious we asked for the recipe. Undoubtedly, the cook was flattered by the request, and, in most instances, graciously shared the recipe with you.
But what can you do when you want a recipe and can't locate the cook? This was my dilemma a couple months ago.
In early December, my family was growing increasingly frustrated by the fact that we hadn't eaten out at a restaurant in months. One day, as I was driving through Tumon, I noticed a sign that said Olive Garden was open for outdoor dining. Although the Olive Garden franchise had come to Guam a couple years before, we had never eaten there. As strange as this may sound, the reason we hadn't been there was because we liked it so much! Seriously! Let me explain.
When we travel back to the mainland, we frequently search for the nearest Olive Garden restaurant. For us, dining at an Olive Garden has become an integral part of our vacation experience. This experience was heightened by the fact that Guam didn't have one. For that reason, we had very mixed emotions when an Olive Garden opened here. We feared that if we ate there, the novelty of the Olive Garden experience would soon wear off. So we stayed away.
The pandemic situation made us reevaluate this situation. We really didn't care where we ate, as long as it wasn't at our house! Now that Olive Garden was open, we were going there no matter what! As always, we started with salad and breadsticks. Once we bit into the breadsticks, we remembered that this was a favorite part of our Olive Garden experience. We love the breadsticks! So much so, I wanted the recipe but knew no one at the restaurant would give it to me. So, while munching on them, I googled "Olive Garden breadstick recipe" and up popped several possibilities. Two nights later, I made the following recipe from the website Cooking Classy by Jaclyn, and it has become a family favorite. It may only be an imitation of the real deal, but it is a tasty imitation, so give it a try!
Week 18: Copycat Breadsticks
1 cup + 2 tablespoons warm water (110-115 degrees)
1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 tablespoons sugar, divided
3 to 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spoon and level!)
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer* whisk together warm water, yeast and 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar until yeast dissolves. Allow to rest for 10 minutes.
2. Add in remaining 1 tablespoon + 2 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar, 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 3/4 teaspoon salt and vegetable oil. Then fit mixer with paddle attachment and blend mixture until well-combined.
3. Switch mixer to dough hook attachment, add in remaining 1 1/2 cups flour and knead mixture on low speed, adding up to 1/4 cup additional flour as needed. Knead until dough is smooth and elastic. The dough should pull away from the sides of the bowl, but should still be slightly sticky. If you add too much flour the dough will become difficult to shape and the breadsticks will be dry and dense.
4. Transfer dough to a large buttered mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest in a warm place free from draft until double in size, about 1 1/2 hours.
5. Punch down risen dough**, divide into 12 equal portions (2 ounces each by weight). Keep them covered with plastic wrap as you work. Roll each piece into a 9-inch rope on a lightly floured surface***, then transfer them to two parchment paper-lined baking sheets.
6. Cover and let rise 1 hour. Preheat oven to 425 degrees during the last 10 minutes of rising.
7. Bake in preheated oven for 11-13 minutes until golden. Meanwhile, in a very small container, whisk together 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder.
8. Remove breadsticks from oven and brush each with melted butter, then immediately sprinkle with the garlic/salt mixture.
9. Serve warm.
* I do use a stand mixer when I make these breadsticks. However, I am sure that you can also use a bread machine, if you have one. But just let it run for about 10 minutes to mix the dough, then dump the dough into a buttered bowl and follow the rest of the directions. I am also sure that you can hand-knead the dough for 10 minutes if you prefer.
** I literally mean punch the dough two or three times then gently fold the dough into a ball, and then divide as indicated. You don't want to over-knead the bread or it will become difficult to roll out.
*** Use as little flour as possible to keep dough from sticking. If you use too much flour, you will have difficulty rolling out the dough and the baked breadsticks will be dry.