In a large bowl sprinkle the yeast and a pinch of the 2 teaspoons sugar over the water; set aside until mixture bubbles slightly, about 6 minutes. Stir in olive oil and remaining sugar. Using an electric mixer, beat in 1 cup flour until mixture is smooth. Add salt and the remaining flour, beating until smooth, about 1 minute.
Knead dough on surface until it is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. (Lightly flour surface only if dough is very sticky.) Place in bowl, cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place (80°) until dough has doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. Punch dough down. On surface, divide dough in half, and divide each half into 18 equal pieces. Roll each, one at a time, between the palms of your hands into 7- to 8-inch slender ropes similar in shape to pencils. Place bread sticks side by side, about 1/2-inch apart on two greased baking sheets. Cover loosely with plastic; return to warm place until almost doubled in size, about 30 minutes. While rising, adjust rack to lower third of oven and preheat to 325°.
With fingertips, gently pick up each cylinder of dough, one at a time, and pull to extend each stick 2 to 3 inches longer before setting it back in its place on the baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 325° oven 25 minutes or until the sticks are light golden brown. Remove sticks to wire rack to cool. Store in airtight container or wrap in aluminum foil.
Makes 3 dozen.
Whole Wheat Italian Bread Sticks:
To make Whole Wheat Italian Bread Sticks, substitute 1 cup unsifted whole wheat flour for 1 cup of the unsifted all-purpose flour. The wheat gives these sticks an appealing flavor with extra crunch, almost nutty in texture.
Flo's tip: Whole wheat flour is a whole-grain flour that contains the oil-rich germ of the wheat and can quickly become rancid under ordinary storage conditions. Therefore, buy only as much as you will use within a couple of months and keep it in airtight container in the freezer.
Seeded Italian Bread Sticks:
Bread sticks may be flavored with garlic, onion, and even saffron. However, fennel, caraway, poppy or sesame seeds add both crunch and their own flavoring characteristics to bread sticks.
After punching the dough down in the bowl, knead in 5 teaspoons of one type of seeds. Cover loosely again with plastic wrap and rest an additional 10 minutes before proceeding to form bread sticks.