When my eyes first fell on the word fennel in the recipe, I was scanning for recipe variations right away. But I can assure you that the fennel was surprisingly good and these did not disappoint! Out of about 70 there are 5 left after my family was done with dinner. They made the chili I pulled out of the freezer taste like some world class recipe. They really reminded me of pretzels, but much easier. I found the dough very easy to work with and think this would be a great recipe to do with little kids. Round up those extra little hands and get these rolled out in no time. I'm posting the recipe below. It gave the option of using all water instead of part beer and that's what I did. I chose to sprinkle the top with coarse salt only and not extra fennel seeds. This recipe is straight from one of my favorite bread cookbooks by Bernard Clayton, Jr. The title is The Complete Book of Breads. It's the cookbook I use more than any other these days. I think you could modify this recipe with a number of spice combinations. I thought I might try onion salt or powder next. Directly from the book:
FENNEL AND SALT BREADSTICKS
These fennel breadsticks-sprinkled with fennel and coarse salt-have brown crisp crusts and tender speckled-white insides. They are rolled by hand which gives them a pleasant home-fashioned irregularity. I do half of them with coarse salt sprinkled on the crust and the balance with fennel. The beer is optional. Breadsticks accompany soups and salads well, and are fine to nudge into soft dips.
1 pkg dry yeast or 2 1/4 teas.
3/4 cup each: warm water, salad oil, and beer
1 1/2 teas. salt
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, approx.
glaze: 1 egg beaten w/1 Tabl. water
top: 1 Tabl. each coarse salt and fennel seed to sprinkle on breadsticks
Have ready, wire racks placed on baking sheets
In a large bowl, briskly stir yeast into water. Let stand for 3 or 4 minutes. Add salad oil, beer (or another 3/4 cup water), salt and fennel seed. With a large wooden spoon, beat in 3 cups of the flour-about 75 strokes.
Spread remaining flour on a bread board or counter top and turn out the soft dough into the center of it. Keeping the fingers and the edges of the dough coated with flour, fold the dough to the center, pushing down with the palms of the hands. Continue kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and put in a warm place (80-85 degrees) until doubled in bulk, about 50 minutes. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
If you have a kitchen or postal scale, use it to achieve some uniformity in the size of the breadsticks. Knead the dough for half a minute to push out the bubbles. Pinch off 1 1/2 in diameter balls, weigh them until you can judge them to be equal without weighing. (I did not weigh anything! We like the rustic look!) Roll the balls under the palms of the hands until each is a long slender pencil-shaped rope, about 18 inches. Snip in half. Roll each briefly again and place ropes on the wire racks, which will go into the oven. Space about half and inch apart. Carefully brush the tips with the egg-water mixture. Sprinkle some with fennel seeds and others with coarse salt. While finishing on batch, keep remaining dough covered in bowl. Repeat the shaping for the next and subsequent batches.
Bake in the oven until they are evenly browned, about 25 minutes. But watch them closely.
Remove breadsticks from the oven. Cool on wire racks and then place in sealed plastic bags. Store at room temperature for use within a week or so, or freeze.