Preheat the oven to 350° and line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the water, yeast and 2 tablespoons of the flour and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining 3 cups of flour along with the shortening, salt and pepper and knead at medium speed until the dough is smooth and elastic, 7 to 8 minutes. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest for 15 minutes.
Turn the dough out onto an unfloured work surface and divide it into fourths. Cut each quarter into 8 pieces. Roll each piece into a 9-by-1/2-inch rope. Using a knife, trim the breadsticks to 8 inches; arrange on the baking sheets and bake for about 45 minutes, until golden and firm, shifting the pans halfway through baking. Transfer the breadsticks to racks and let cool before serving.