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Our friend yeast

Unproved bread dough

Proved bread dough

It doesn’t matter how many times I make bread, I always find the rising, the leavening, of dough enormously pleasing. The quiet industry of yeast is nothing short of a wonder, and our relationship with it remarkable.

Yeast is a microscopic type of fungus. Of course, “yeast” in the baking and brewing senses refers to a variety of different species of yeast. Predominantly, however, bakers’ yeast is a strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The main yeast used in brewing is also a strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae. It’s also a key player in winemaking.

Some etymology
Myco is the Greek for fungus (with mycology the discipline of studying fungus). Saccharo, like saccharine, is also from the Greek, for sugar. So Saccharomyces means sugar-fungus.

Cerevisiae is generally translated as meaning “of beer”, but to go a little deeper, it’s presumably related to Ceres, the Roman goddess of grain, agriculture, and fertility, and the origin of our word “cereal”. (Ceres is also the name of a yucky strong Danish lager much loved by undiscerning Italians, but we won’t go into that.)

Cerevisia / cervisia means “beer” in Latin, and is the origin of the Spanish cerveza and even the obscure Italian word cervogia. Indeed, struggling through an Italian etymological dictionary, the vis is the Latin for “force” or “strength”, so the Latin name for beer seems to literally mean “the drink containing the strength of cereal”.

This is one of those many occasions when I wished I’d studied Latin. I went to a flippin’ Catholic school for crying out loud, but we didn’t do Latin!

Anyway, for most of humanity’s long history of bread-making and brewing, we were oblivious not just to the specific strains of yeast, but even to the whole concept of microorganisms. And yet there they were, helping us access the nutritional qualities of grain through the millennia. Yeast was first observed in 1680, but not recognised as a living thing. Louis Pasteur identified yeast as the cause of alcoholic fermentation in 1857 and the cause of dough inflating a few years later.

Even today, there’s plenty of disagreement about certain aspects of the nature of yeast: according to various figures, in a single gram of yeast, for baking or brewing, there are between 8 and 20 billion cells.

Oh, and after all that Latin and Greek, the word yeast itself is from the Old English gist/gyst, with very similar words in other northern European languages and, it seems, a Sanskrit root – yásati, meaning “(to) boil” or “to bubble”

Fungus fun for all the family
So thanks yeast. Or yeasts, as it’s not just S. cerevisiae. Other Saccharomyces are used in the production of food and drink, such as S. pastorianus (the hybrid strain used for bottom-fermenting lagers and pilsners; formerly known as S. carlsbergensis), S. bayanus and S. uvarum.

Then there’s the whole Brettanomyces genus. This name means “British yeast” and was so-named during investigations into English ales at the Danish Carlsberg brewery in the early 20th century. B. bruxellensis is an essential element in the production of Belgian Lambics and related sour beers.

Then there are other genera like Kazachstania, with K. exigua, found in sourdough cultures and olive brine. Heck, even the Candida genus comes into play. Yes, C. humilis, a yeast from the genus responsible for a lot of fungal infection, and even wine spoilage, is considered the “dominant species” for the production of some sourdoughs.

I like dogs, but with their invaluable services in the production of staple food and drink, to leavening bread doughs and fermenting alcohols, perhaps these yeasts have a better claim to being man’s* best friend(s).

* Sorry, inherently sexist language. Can’t really sidestep this by putting mankind’s or humanity’s either.

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Black beer bread

Black beer bread

Readers of this blog may have already spotted that we’re ‘Game of Thrones’ fans. ‘Game of Thrones’ is not only the name of HBO’s excellent TV series, it’s also the title of the first book in George RR Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice cycle of books and it made a cameo appearance in this post, where we were lolling around in the park drinking Birra del Borgo’s Rubus, reading and enjoying the sun.

I can’t remember what hyperlinked amble took me there, but Inn At The Crossroads is the officially recognised blog for recipes based on foods found in A Song of Fire and Ice. Being a baker, my attention was immediately grabbed by their bread recipes. Specifically black bread – something that’s mentioned in the books as common fare of the people of Winterfell and the North.

Here is Inn At The Crossroads’ first Black bread, and here is their Black bread redux, aka Black beer bread. I wanted to try something similar, but not using commercial yeast – as this didn’t seem to fit into the whole quasi-Medieval vibe of Martin’s world. Instead, I wanted to use beer barm, a byproduct of fermentation.

My first experiment with a real barm bread was pretty successful, though I didn’t use any actual beer or dark flours to make it, so it wasn’t really a black bread or a black beer bread. This, however, is.

Again, I used Mulino Marino Pan di Sempre, a stoneground organic white flour that is made with a blend of Triticum aestivum (that is, common bread wheat), Triticum spelta (spelt wheat) and Triticum monococcum (einkorn wheat), but I also added some wholewheat flour.

I made a leaven with the same barm as before, feeding it up with flour over a few days, then I made up a dough, using beer as the only other liquid, not water.

Now, I mentioned that Dan Lepard’s ‘The Handmade Loaf’ has a recipe he calls “Barm bread”, though he makes it without actual barm, just beer and a leaven. He also heats the beer, killing the yeasts, but retaining the flavour. I wanted to retain the live yeasts from a bottle-conditioned beer, so didn’t heat it.

Flour, dark ale and barm leaven for my Winterfell black bread

The beer I used was Birrificio Math’s La 27, a 4.8% dark beer from the brewery near Florence. They call it a stout, but stout, traditionally, meant strong, and more recently has come to be associated with more full-bodied creamy porters. It’s neither.

The La 27 has a solid fruity smell: specifically black berries like blackberries (!), elderberries and blackcurrants, with a touch of smokiness and a little chocolate, but taste-wise it’s dull, a little charcoal, but not much more depth of flavour. The body was thin and watery, and over-carbonated. The aftertaste was oddly bitter. It was black though, or black enough for a black beer bread.

So anyway, here’s the recipe. If you try it, don’t be afraid to adjust the quantities, as I was very much experimenting when I made it.

I made my beer barm leaven with barm, flour and some cooking water from farro grain; I’d say it was about 80% hydration, effectively. If you can’t get hold of a beer barm, a normal leaven/sourdough starter will suffice, though it won’t be quite as fun.

For the beer, use a non-pasteurised, non-filtered, bottle-conditioned dark ale, stout or porter (not Guinness).

280g beer barm leaven
400g flour (a mixture of white and wholegrain)
10g salt
250g dark ale, stout or porter

1. Combine the salt and flours.
2. Combine the leaven and beer, stirring well.

Winterfell black bread
3. Pour the liquidy gloop into the flour.
4. Bring together the dough. It’ll be pretty sticky. Which is good, albeit tricky to handle. Don’t agonise.
Winterfell black bread

5. Form a ball with the dough, put it in a bowl or plastic container, cover with plastic or a lid, then put in the fridge.
6. Leave in the fridge for around 14 hours.

Winterfell black bread
7. Take the dough out of the fridge and allow to come to room temperature (around 20C ideally).

Winterfell black bread
8. Form a ball, then put it – smooth-side down – in a bowl or proving basket lined with a floured cloth.

Winterfell black bread
9. Prove again for about 5-8 hours more. This will depend on the temperature of your room, the liveliness of the yeasts, etc. You want to leave it until it’s doubled in size and is soft to the touch, nicely aerated.

Winterfell black bread, final prove
10. Preheat your oven to 240C.
11. Upturn the ball onto a baking sheet (so the smooth-side is up), slash, then bake for 20 minutes.

Black bread
12. Turn down the oven to 200C and bake for a further 20 minutes, or until the bread is done. This can be tricky to judge, but you want it to feel lighter, and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
13. Cool on a wire rack.

Black bread

Now, the finished loaf looked rather pleasing, and had a lovely smell of chocolate, a scent that you get with certain stouts. Oddly, this smell wasn’t strong with the beer itself, but it’s come through with the baking.

Winterfell black bread

Taste-wise, it’s certainly pretty rustic but is oddly bitter-sweet. I’m not a chemist, but I wonder if the bitterness is related to the alcohod.

I’m sure it would have served very nicely for the hungry Brothers of the Night’s Watch, freezing their behinds off on the Wall. We, on the other hand, enjoyed it for breakfast on a mild late-summer Roman morning slathered with honey. Then for lunch with a lovely crunchy, sharp medium aged pecorino.

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Real beer barm bread

Beer barm bread

Once Upon A Time
Once upon a time, breweries and bakeries lived side-by-side harmoniously. Brewers merrily went about their noble work, mashing, sparging, fermenting. One blessed by-product of the process was a foam that frothily formed on top of the fermenting liquor. The dusty baker from next door would welcome consignments of this malty foam – barm – and use its natural yeastiness to leaven his dough.

And so it went for long ages.

Until some learned men in the late 18th and 19th centuries improved humankind’s understanding of bacteria and yeasts. By the late 19th century, yeast specifically cultivated for bread-making had become commercially available in block, then in dry, granulated form. And slowly, sadly, the close bond between breweries and bakeries faded away.

This idea of bread being made with brewery by-products has intrigued me for ages, but not having had a ready supply of barm, I’ve never actually tried it before.

A Dan Lepard beer bread

Beer breads
Dan Lepard in ‘The Handmade Loafʼ does a loaf he calls “Barm bread”, but it’s made using a bottle conditioned beer, that is then heated. This seems counter-intuitive, as it kills the yeasts in the beer, but apparently it’s to cook off some of the alcohol, which retards the action of any yeast in the mix. Lepard was effectively using the beer as a flavouring, and then re-introducing yeasts, I believe; so however lovely the results were, it wasn’t a genuine barm bread. (One of my attempts using his method a few years ago is picture above.)

My recent enjoyment of Game of Thrones and the Song of Fire and Ice novels, the source for his great HBO TV series, lead me to the Inn At The Crossroads. This inspired blog features involves real-world interpretations of the fantasy world foods mentioned by George RR Martin in his books, and it got me thinking again about pre-industrial yeast bread-making.

Westeros’ finest
Specifically, I was checking out The Inn At The Crossroads’ bread recipes. They have a few for Martin’s black bread, with the second version made using dark ale, stout or porter. Okay, thought I, that looks fun. But I had one criticism. Surely in Martin’s quasi-Medieval world, they wouldn’t have had “1 packet yeast”; bread would surely have been made with the barm method.

I made a comment along these lines, and one of the site’s creators, Chelsea Monroe-Cassel replied, saying “I agree that this would be the very best way to make this bread!” She also said, “I’ve made several trub breads, with great success.” I’d not heard of trub bread too, but this one is made using the sediment from the fermenter.

Beer barm

My project slightly moved away from the black bread theme, though, as initially I just wanted to make a bread with barm, and with flour with older grain – ie arguably more medieval – varieties.

I bought some Mulino Marino Pan di Sempre, a stoneground organic flour that is made with a blend of Triticum aestivum (that is, common bread wheat), Triticum spelta (spelt wheat) and Triticum monococcum (einkorn wheat).

My friend Michele Sensidoni, a brewer, kindly furnished me with a bottle of barm. It wasn’t very prepossessing stuff: gloopy, brown and malty, separating slightly, but it was exciting to finally get my hands on the stuff.

Beer barm and Mulino Marino Pan di Sempre flour

So:
100g barm
100g flour
Mixed and left overnight. My kitchen was at around 23C. The next day this was clearly alive, and reasonably vigorous. Here’s the before and after shots:

Beer barm leaven Beer barm leaven

I formed a dough with:
200g barm leaven (ie, all of the above)
500g flour
10g salt
300g water

Adjust the water if necessary; you want a nice moist dough.

Beer barm bread, dough

I then put all this in a container and left it in the fridge for 24 hours.

I then took it out of the fridge, and let it come back to RT (again, around 23C).

Beer barm bread dough, before final prove

After a few hours, I formed a ball, and put it in a proving basket lined with a floured cloth.

I let it prove again at RT for around 9 hours.

Beer barm bread dough, proved

I preheated the oven to 230C.

Beer barm bread, pre-bake

When the dough was nice and swollen and soft, I baked it for 20 minutes, then turned down the oven to 210C and baked for another 20 minutes.

Beer barm bread, fresh from oven

The results are very pleasing. It’s got a chewy crust, a reasonably open crumb and a taste that’s subtly sour. Yay.

Crumb CU

Oh, and for etymology geeks (like me), the British English word barmy, meaning a bit bonkers, crazy, comes from barm. As a barm is the foamy scum that results from fermentation, someone who is barmy is a bit bubbly, excitable, unpredictable and possibly even frothing at the mouth. Don’t worry though, making and eating this bread won’t have that effect on you. [insert suitable smiley here to compensate for lame attempt at humour]

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Biga 2: making a loaf

freshly cut biga loaf

After visiting Il Vecchio Forno in Pescasseroli, Abruzzo, and getting advice from the master baker, I had to try making bread using a biga.

Although I’ve experimented a lot with natural leavens (sourdough), sponge and dough techniques and long fermentations of the finished dough (such as overnight in the fridge), I’ve never actually tried to make bread based specifically on the biga technique, that is using a low-hydration Italian style pre-ferment. This is still experimental though, as I’ve not made a strict biga – I had a healthy batch of leaven around, so I’ve added some of that. Also, I didn’t have enough of one type of flour, so I’ve done a mixture.

The flour types I used were a 0 grano tenero, at 11.5% protein, and a 0 Manitoba at 15.5% protein, W360-400. For an explanation of Italian flour types, see here. For a description of what the heck “W” means in this context, see my previous post.

mixing the biga

Biga

500g flour (370g grano tenero, 130g Manitoba)
250g water (cold, you don’t need to rush the yeast)
5g fresh yeast
30g leaven (at 80% hydration)

biga, before fermentation

1 Dissolve the yeast and leaven in the cold water, giving it a whisk.
2 Add the liquid to the flour in a roomy bowl, and combine.
3 Turn out the mixture onto a lightly oiled surface and bring the dough together. It’ll be quite firm, as it’s only 50% (give or take) hydration at this point
4 Put the biga in a container with a lid.
5 I left mine at room temperature to ferment for half an hour then put it in the fridge… because a) it’s warm here, around 25C (77F) and b) because I had to go out (to a gig).
6 Leave the biga in the fridge for 10-14 hours, until it is soft and relatively lively. It won’t be lively like a liquid leaven as it’s effectively a fairly dry dough.

biga, after fermentation

Bread dough

200g more flour (Manitoba/strong white bread flour)
200g water
10g salt

pieces of biga

1 Take the biga out of the fridge. You can leave it as is, but one site I read suggested cutting into pieces, which seemed like a good idea. Why? Because it’ll warm up more evenly that way and it’ll be easier to combine into the final dough.
2 Cover the pieces and leave to come up to room temperature for an hour or so.
3 In a roomy bowl, combine 200g flour, 200g water and 10g salt, making a pasty mixture.
4 Add all the biga pieces, and mix well, with a spatula and your hands. Really get in there and squeeze it all together, to help form one uniform dough.

making a biga dough
5 Turn the mixture out of the bowl onto a lightly oiled surface and bring together the dough. At this point, it’s around 65% hydration, so it should be moist without being totally sticky and awkward to handle.
6 Form a ball and return to the roomy bowl (lightly oiled).

dough, ball
7 Cover (I used a shower cap), and leave to prove until it’s doubled in size and soft. Time will vary but it took 1 1/2 hours for me. My kitchen was warm, up to 26C (79F).

dough, end of first prove
8 Turn out the dough. It should weigh around 1.2kg, so you could make two smaller loaves, but I wanted to make one large-ish loaf. Form a ball, then leave to rest for about 10 minutes.
9 Form a baton, then place, seam-side up, in a proving basket lined with a floured cloth.

baton
10 Prove again. I left mine for half an hour in the warm kitchen, and it was nice and soft (morbido). I probably could have left it a bit longer – you want it soft and springy.

final prove
11 Turn the dough out onto a baking sheet lined with parchment (I sprinkled mine with coarse cornmeal). Slash the top in your preferred manner.

ready to bake
12 Put a dish of boiling water in the bottom of the oven to fill the oven with steam, preheated to 220C. My oven takes ages to come to temperature but you might have a new-fangled type that heats in 10 minutes. Lucky you.
13 Bake for 25 minutes, then turn the heat down to 200C and keep baking for another 20 minutes. I left mine another 10 minutes, trying to get some colour on top.

Results

All in all, this is one of the better loaves I’ve made recently. Despite our oven not really having any top heat to colour the crust, the rudimentary steam system (domestically, I prefer to use a mister spray, but I ain’t got one at the moment) gave the crust a reasonable crisp crunchiness. The crumb isn’t particularly open, but it’s soft.

Best of all, I got a decent oven spring! I’ve been struggling with the form of my loaves recently. I doubt this decent shape is the result of the biga per se, it may well be more because the dough was a lower hydration than other doughs I’ve made recently (more usually 70% hydration) and because the Manitoba is easier to handle and glutinous then the farro flours and whatnot I’ve been playing with.

I’m not sure my loaf is really a genuine rustic Italian style bread: with its fairly close and soft crumb, it’s more like a classic British bloomer. But hey, I’m happy with that for a first try.

Oh, and yes, from the cracking it was clearly a little underproved, but not radically so.

fresh from oven

Bakers’ percentages

If you’re not familiar with bakers’ percentages, they’re just a way of expressing the proportion of ingredients as a percentage of the flour – or more precisely a percentage of the flour weight. This blog provides a good explanation, if you’re in the mood for some maths.

So, the total ingredients here, including both the biga and the final dough are:

700g flour
450g water
30g leaven
5g yeast (fresh yeast, aka lievito di birra)
10g salt

However, if I break down the leaven, more accurately this means:
717g flour
463g water
5g yeast
10g salt

As bakers’ percentages this is:
100% flour
65% water
0.7% yeast
1.4% salt

Having said all that, I’m sure I’ll keep playing with this technique, and experiment more with quantities – playing with the qb, or quantobasta. This is the “how much is enough”, the quantities that, more intuitively, feel right. (Something that’s discussed by Rachel over here). For starters I think the biga I made was too low hydration, despite the maestro’s advice. So I’ll increase the water, or, if I’m using more of my high hydration leaven (to make a semi-biga, semi-madre), add more of that. Vediamo!

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Italian flour: types and terminology

A selection of flours

Today’s bread is being made with farina di farro biologica from the Coop supermarket’s own brand, farina integrale di segale di agricoltura biologica from the Il Frantoio brand, and “Setaccio” farina semi-integrale di grano tenero from Mulino Marino. There really is no shortage of types of flour (farina) to experiment with here in Italy, if you’re into baking and bread-making. In fact, there so many flour varieties and variables it can be boggling.

Over the 20 months or so I’ve lived in Italy I’ve used many of them, but I still get confused. Previously, for example, I wrote about the various types of grain (and flour) known as farro to try and clarify what they were – as they’re often, erroneously, just translated into English as “spelt”. Here I hope to clarify a little more the other types of grain and flour you might encounter in Italy, or be able to buy as imports in other parts of the world.

Anyway.

Italian words for grains and more

A caveat – these are standard Italian words. There are doubtless a gazillion local dialect words as well, but let’s stay on target.

The wheat family:

The word grano (plural grani) means grain, though it’s frequently used as a synonym for wheat.
Frumento is the more specific word for wheat. In the modern world, wheat generally means bread wheat (Triticum aestivum), which accounts for 95% of global production.
Farro is name given to three, older members of the wheat family, “heritage grains”. Briefly it can refer to:
Farro piccolo (“small”) or farro monococco (Triticum monococcum) – that is, domesticated einkorn wheat, also known as enkir.
Farro medio (“medium”) or farro dicocco (Triticum dicoccum, aka Triticum turgidum var. dicoccon) – that is, emmer.
Farro grande (“large”) or farro spelta (Triticum spelta, aka Triticum aestivum var. spelta ) – that is, spelt. (Also known as dinkel.)

Grano turanicum – a name for Khorosan wheat (Triticum turanicum), another ancient grain type.
Kamut – the trade name for Khorasan wheat (Triticum turanicum).
Manitoba – the Italian name for bread flours with a higher percentage of protein, like what we’d call strong bread flour in the UK. It may or may not be from Manitoba province in Canada. Indeed, according to a blurb on a pack of Ecor brand flour, Manitoba flour is also known as farina americana.
Saragolla – another one I’ve encountered, which is proving tricky to identify with any real certainty. One Italian source says it’s similar Khorasan wheat (Triticum turanicum, but refers to it as Triticum polonicum, Polish wheat.

I’ve also seen things labelled with grano antico, which isn’t very helpful, as it could refer to any one of these ancient wheat species.

two old grains

Non-wheat cereals:
Avena is oats. Fiocchi di avena are oatflakes, or porridge oats.
Orzo is barley.
Miglio is millet.
Riso is rice.
Segale is rye.

Wholegrain rye flour

And not forgetting the that poster boy of industrialised, ecosystem-destroying, logical-economics-manipulating monocrop agriculture: maize (Zea mays), or corn: mais in Italian, also granone (“big grain”), granturco, granoturco and various other dialect names.

Polenta is, of course, made from maize, which arrived in Europe from the Americas in the 15th century, replacing earlier gruels made of orzo or emmer. Polenta (cornmeal) comes in various degrees of coarseness, some quite gritty, some more floury. You can also buy amido di mais, which what we’d call cornflour in the UK, or (more descriptively) corn starch in the US.

Other non-cereal flours you may encounter could be made from:
Amaranto – amaranth (Amaranthus caudatus).
Castagna – chestnut (used for Pane di San Martino).
Saraceno – buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum). Buckwheat isn’t a member of the grass family like the above grains. Instead, it’s a member of the Polygonaceae family and related to things like rhubarb.

There are see flours made from legumes such as:
Ceci – chickpea (Cicer arietinum).
Lenticchia – lentil (Lens culinaris).
Soia – soya, soybean (Glycine max).

Marino closer

Other useful terms:
amido – starch.
biga – type of low hydration, firm preferment, which can made with a sourdough starter or commercial yeast.
biologico – organic, organically farmed or produced.
chicco – grain (also bean, pellet, bead), eg chicco di grano, grain of wheat
crusca – bran.
germe – germ, eg germe di grano.
glutine – gluten.
integrale – wholegrain, eg farina di segale integrale.
lievito – yeast, raising agent.
lievito madre – “mother yeast”, meaning a natural leaven or sourdough culture.
lievitare – to rise, to raise, to grow (with a raising agent).
lievito naturale – natural leaven or sourdough.
macinata a pietra – stoneground. Always good, as it doesn’t damage the grain as much as modern milling with massive steel rollers, as such maintaining more nutrients and more flavour.
macinare – to mill (flour).
mulino – mill, eg uno mulino a vento is a windmill.
pagnotta – loaf.
pane – bread.
semi-integrale – semi-wholegrain. I’m not entirely sure what the preparation of such a flour involves – more sieving? Or blending?

Hard and soft

You’ll often see farina di grano duro and farina di grano tenero on packets of Italian flours. These translate as “hard wheat flour” and “soft wheat flour” (or, more literally, as “hard grain flour” and “tender grain flour”), but shouldn’t be confused with what we consider “hard” wheat in English, which is generally a higher protein bread flour.

Farina di grano duro is flour milled from the wheat species Triticum durum (aka Triticum turgidum var. durum), with durum and duro meaning “hard” in Latin and standard Italian respectively. Triticum durum is most commonly used for making pasta. It is the second most significant type of wheat grown globally, accounting for about 5% of production. It is ground into products of varying coarseness:
Farina di grano duro – the finest, most floury
Farina di semola – a slightly coarser flour
Semolina – the coarser middlings and yes, the stuff used for old-fashioned British puddings, (though the term is also used generically to refer to other wheat middlings).

Farina di grano tenero is flour milled from a subspecies of the wheat species Triticum aestivum, the most commonly cultivated strain of this useful grass. Also known as bread wheat. In Italy, it generally has a medium protein percentage, around 12%, though it can vary greatly. As with farina di grano duro, it is milled into products of varying degrees of coarseness, which is where the whole “00” thing comes into play. Read on…

Mulino Marino 00

Licensed to bake: the “00” system

When you see a flour graded as 00, it’s not a reference to a particular type of grain or species of wheat, it’s simply a reference to how finely the flour has been milled, and how much bran and germ has sieved out, and what sort of colour the flour is as a result.

The various types are: 00 (doppio zero, the finest grade), 0, 1, 2 (the coarsest grade, more akin to a meal). The coarsest grain is effectively integrale, that is, wholegrain.

Although 0 and 00 are commonly used for bread-baking, both are loosely interchangeable with British plain flour or US all-purpose flour. Indeed, if you look at the dark blue packet in the photo at the top of this page, the Barilla brand flour is labelled per tutte le preparazioni, which could be translated as “all-purpose”, and it’s a grano tenero 00.

The blurb on the side of a pack of ‘Ecor’ flour I mentioned above, also explains that il grado di raffinazione indica la quantità di farina ottenuta macinando 100kg di chicchi. Tanto più alto è questo indice tanto più grezza è la farina: the grade of refining indicates the quantity of flour obtained from grinding 100kg of grain. The higher the grade, the coarser the flour.”

Also, as the first table on this rather technical page indicates, the higher the grade, the higher the ash content and protein of the flour. Though these Italian flours are all still fairly low protein, between 9% and 12%, and different grains would give different results – that is, this table’s data has to be taken with a pinch of salt.

And the rest

I’ve probably missed all sorts of pertinent things, but can add them as and when I encounter them. For specific types of Italian bread and baked goods, I may mention them elsewhere on the site. In the meantime, if, like me, you’re into baking and an English-speaking learning Italian (there must be a few of us in that demographic out there), I hope this has been useful.

Pandi Sempre

Love this spiel “This flour recounts the (his)story of cereal crops. It’s composed of the most ancient grain, Enkir, of farro, and of a careful selection of soft wheats, all naturally stone-ground without the addition of additives or ‘improvers’. Thanks to its varied composition, it’s ideal for every use.”

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Handmade loaves

Although I blog about my baking over at Cake-Off (now gone), the emphasis there is on cakes, cupcakes, tray-baked cakes, biscuits, cookies and all things sweet and yummy. For my bread-making, I’m going to try and write about it a little more here.

I’ve been making bread on and off most of my adult life, starting, like much of my more homely, traditional interests, with the time I spent on small organic farms in the Buller Gorge, South Island, New Zealand in the late 1980s and 1990s (a couple of years in total, on about off). There, mentored and encouraged by first Mr Stephen McGraph of Newton Livery then, more significantly, by Ms Nadia Jowsey of Old Man Mountain, a highly accomplished baker and chef, I started to learn all about making real bread.

Last year, I was given a copy of The Handmade Loaf as a present. This excellent book is by Dan Lepard, the master baker who has been writing the baking column in the Weekend Guardian the past few years. Its emphasis is on using a natural leaven – aka levain, aka ferment – in your breads. I’m not sure I can entirely summarise the difference in results between a homemade loaf made with just commercial yeast (be in easy-blend, dried or fresh) and one made with your own leaven, but it certainly adds different qualities: you can achieve very different textures, but the main difference is probably a depth of flavour. Plus, where making your own bread is always deeply satisfying, that feeling is multiplied when the only raising agent you’re using is a natural yeast you’ve cultivated yourself. There are different methods of doing this, but Lepard’s basically involves using the natural yeasts presents on the skin of raisins, feeding it with flour and water, and nurturing it over a week or so.

Not all my experiments with the recipes from The Handmade Loaf have been a resounding success, but all have been informative experiences. And some of them have resulted in some of the best breads I’ve ever made.

Here are just a few examples from the past few months.

The mill loaf
This is second recipe in The Handmade Loaf. It uses leaven made with white flour (you can make rye leavens, etc), alongside white flour, wholewheat flour and rye flour. It’s a great all-rounder, for wholesome sarnies, top toast or just a few slices with a meal. It’s one of the recipes in the book I make the most, though for home use I half the book’s quantities, which call for half a kilo of levian, along with a kilo of flours (combined), and more than half a kilo of water.

Onion and bay loaf
This is a yummy loaf where you chop some onion, then head it, along with some bay leaves, in milk. You then cool the milk and use it for the dough’s only liquid. The finished loaf is a lovely savoury affair, that’s both nice and alliumy and instilled with the distinctive sweetness of bay. This one uses both some white levain and some fresh yeast.

Lemon barley cob
Made this one a while back. It uses white leavain and some fresh yeast, combined with 100g barley flour and 150g white flour. A little lemon juice and zest gives it, in combination with the barley flour, gives it a slight tang. Need to practice this one a bit more.

Ale bread with wheat grains
This is a great one, though takes a little more advanced planning. Its given distinction by the addition of wheat grains, which you simmer, then soak overnight in ale. I love ale. I love bread. And of course the two are closely related – or at least they used to be, before the advent of commercial yeast when much baking would apparently involve using the barm from beer-making for your yeast starter.

Rolled oat and apple bread
This is one of my favourites from The Handmade Loaf, so far. Adding the remains of the porridge to the bread dough was one of the things I learned from Stephen and Nadia, and this recipe incorporates a similar process – making some semi-porridge by soaking oats in boiling water. The apple here also keeps the loaf loaf and moist and soft. The recipe uses grated apple, but I had some pureed remains of our apples in the freezer, and added that instead on one occasion; the results were similarly successful.

Barm bread
Another connection with the old tradition of making beer with beer barm. Here, you make a barm by mixing bottle-conditioned ale with some white flour and white leaven the leaving it overnight. The loaf itself just uses this barm, water, strong white flour, and a little salt. Yum. Check out the texture – I’ve never achieved anything like that with a non-leaven bread. Though again, this needs a little practice, as it’s a bit too crusty.

Bottom line: get this book. And get baking! That said though, what’s with the prices on that book now? Mitchel Beazley – do another print run for crying out loud!

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Filed under Baking, Breads