Tag Archives: farro

Birra del Borgo’s Rubus in Villa Doria Pamphili Park

Rubus beer, Birra del Borgo

Fruit beers. Strange drinks frequently made by simply adding fruit extracts or syrups to a finished brew, resulting in concoctions that are basically just flavoured beer.  Something I’ve never had any inclination to drink. But there are also other, more sophisticated fruit beers, where the fruit – real, unmolested fruit – plays an essential role in the brewing process.

Belgian lambics are the most famous of these beers, utilising wild yeasts and bacteria present on the skins of fruit for spontaneous fermentation. That is, rather than using a domesticated strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae – mankind’s longtime ally (or slave) in brewing, baking and winemaking – the wild yeasts and bacteria are used for the fermentation and give the brews distinctively different flavours, along with any flavour from the actual fruit used.

Birra del Borgo‘s Rubus may not stricly be a lambic – it doesn’t use the specific yeasts and bacteria of those Belgian beers – but it’s certainly a close relative. It’s made with raspberries (lamponi), which have just come into season here in Lazio. The ratio of fruit to beer in the brew is a about 10 per cent (” 100 grams of fresh fruit are added for every litre of beer”; a litre of liquid basically weighs a kilo) and does involve a controlled spontaneous fermentation.

No one seems quite sure how to define it though. While RateBeer does simply call it a Fruit Beer, on Birra del Borgo’s own site, it’s classified as a Spiced Ale, though spice isn’t the defining factor. BeerAdvocate, meanwhile, categorises it as an American Wild Ale – another related type of beer that’s been influenced by lambics. However it’s best categories, Rubus is a unique brew.

It’s based on Birra del Borgo’s classic Duchessa – a kind of saison that’s already fairly fruity, and is made not with malted barley but with an ancient wheat strain known in Italy as farro. Now, In Italy, the word farro is used to refer to three strains of wheat: Triticum monococcum (einkorn); Triticum dicoccum (emmer); and Triticum spelta (spelt). As Borgo make another brew specifically called Enkir with einkorn, I guesssed Duchessa is made either with emmer or spelt. But guessing’s not as good as hard facts, so I emailed the brewery and Luciana Squadrilli kindly replied and clarified: “Per la Duchessa utilizziamo il Triticum Dicoccum.” So it’s made with emmer. She explained it’s a traditional crop from Rietino, in Rieta, the province where the brewery is local.  Originally they bought from a small supplier near the brewery, but in the past few years as they’ve grown, they’ve started sourcing the grain from just over the border, in Abruzzo. Whether the grain used is from Lazio or Abruzzo, Duchessa is a great summer ale – smooth yet crisp and refreshing. Rubus is possibly even more so.

Birra del Borgo Cortigiana on tap, Rome farmers market

We had a chat with the girl selling Birra del Borgo’s wares at the famers’ market near Circo Massimo (Circus Maximus) in central Rome the other day. I’d been intrigued reading about their latest monthly “bizarre beer” – in this case, Duchessic, a collaboration with Cantillon in Brussels, which blends Duchessa with a lambic – and wondered if it was available. She said no, as it was a small-scale experiment in the brewery, but recommended Rubus as an alternative. As we were planning a picnic, a fresh fruity beer seemed like a good idea. Though I also bought their Hoppy Cat Cascadian Dark Ale / IBA / BIPA,  just for comparison with the B Space Invader I wrote about a few days ago. She also gave us a sample of Cortigiana, their smooth, sweet golden ale.

So yesterday afternoon, we headed up to the park: the grounds of Villa Doria Pamphili in the west of Rome. It’s a great place, Rome’s equivalent of London’s Hampstead Heath. In the summer it’s frequented by sunbathers, families, men in ridiculous lycra on mountain bikes, shirtless runners showing off their physiques in the heat, Rome’s south Asian community having protracted games of cricket, Rome’s Pilipino community having vast get-togethers. Although there’s the occasional slightly dodgy area where the path peters out in undergrowth or a seemingly pleasant walk among the oleander turns into a giant toilet, it’s generally pleasant, especially on a hot day, with fountains, uncrowded fields, shady deciduous woods and stands of pines, and a lake. There’s even a nice café-bistro that uses organic produce and whatnot.

Pine trees in Villa Doria Pamphili park

We headed for our usual spot near the chapel in front of the villa, and got settled in, hoping our crappy busta termica (cooler bag) would do the job in the 35C heat while we waited for our friends. We couldn’t quite wait though, and had to crack open the Rubus while it was still hot. Clearly from the photo (top of post) we weren’t usual the ideal receptacles – plastic beakers don’t exactly offer a refined organoleptic experience – but they did the job nicely, as this did indeed turn out to be a suitable picnic beer.

It’s not a beer that’s all about the subtle interplay of hops and malt. It’s a well-carbonated, crisp drink that has more in common with a sparkling wine than a  beer, as it really is defined by fruit not grain or hop. Indeed, aside from the fact that it’s 5.8% ABV, it’s very easy to drink, it’s almost like a fizzy soda pop. It’s got a gently fruity, berry perfume, a loose, loose head that subsides fast and the taste tart, but not overly so. Any sourness is well balanced with a sweetness.

Looking at people’s reviews on RateBeer and BeerAdvocate, I get the impression that it’s a fairly different experience when it’s on tap, so I will add an addendum if I get to try it alla spina. Previously, I’d rarely have chosen a fruit beer, but my enjoyment of this bottle of Rubus might help me push through any lingering prejudices.


Circo Massimo farmers market / Il Mercato di Campagna Amica del Circo Massimo
Via di San Teodoro 74, 00186 Rome
Open Saturdays 9am-6pm, Sundays 9am-4pm. July: Saturdays only. August: closed.
Birra del Borgo’s stall is usually at the back.

Birra del Borgo
Birradelborgo.it (English site) | 07 463 1287 | info@birradelborgo.it

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Filed under Ale, beer

Casa Veccia’s Formenton and Dazio at Oasi della Birra, Testaccio, Rome


Haven’t been to Oasi della Birra in Testaccio for what seems like an age. It had become something of a regular haunt, but then something in the aperitivo buffet wasn’t quite right, then other life-things got busy, and well, months went by. But last night I found myself back there, enjoying the evening sun – after a faltering spring, the Roman summer has arrived – and wondering what had become of my chum Cameron. (Never did get those texts.)

On a previous visit, we’d tried a called Molo, a stout made with port from a confusingly named brewery that’s either called Casa Veccia or Ivan Borsato Casa Veccia or Casa Veccia Ivan Borsato Birraio. I’m afraid I hadn’t heard of Ivan Borsato before,  but I like your beers, Ivan, and I like their branding… even if the bottles neglect to actually include such salient information as what type of beer is contained therein.

So this time round, I asked one of the guys from the Oasi what Formenton was, clearly having forgotten what I wrote on my own blog in March. He said it was made with farro (I didn’t get into the issue of what specific farro). As I like my ancient wheat varieties, and it was a warm evening, that seemed like a good place to start. Like many wheat beers, it’s a beautiful bright golden yellow, especially when suffused with the Roman evening sun. I should probably mention the head, as Italian beer reviews always talk about the quality of the schiuma, but what can I say? It’s frothy. But not as frothy as the second beer (see below).

The taste is typically fruity. Cameron  and my wife Fran thankfully arrived before I got too sozzled drinking alone. They both talked about the banana notes (typical to weissbier), but I reckon it had a whole macedonia – that’s Italian for fruit salad – in there, with melon, grapefruit, orange zest, and apple flavours, and even a bit of ginger. At 5.5% it’s not exactly weak, but it’s refreshing and very drinkable, with negligible hoppiness.

Oh, and if you’re really serious about your wheat and white beers, and understand the difference, and can read Italian, there’s a spiel on the brewery’s site about how Formenton “was created from the union of two beers that marked the history of beer: weissbier [wheat beer] and blanchebier [white beer].” Now, I never really had a strong sense of the difference between these beers, as both exist under the wheat beer aegis. But according to the Borsato spiel, and a quick spin around online, the former are more German in origin, cleaner, simpler, with minimal hoppiness and, most of all, are defined by the proportion of wheat in place of some of the (malted) barley. The latter are more Belgian (and Dutch), and may have been made without hops – using herbs instead in something called a gruit. Modern gruit may involve herbs, but also citrus and hops. Both are top-fermented. And, frankly, in this era of innovative craft beers, the dividing line between them is blurred. Formenton, for example, made a point of it. That’s something that’s so good about Italian craft brewing; as the country doesn’t have laboriously rigid brewing heritage and tradition, it’s unafraid to mix things up. Yay. I imagine the two Matt Groening style cartoon chaps on the bottle saying an Italian “yay” at their success with Formenton.

Dazio with OTT head

The second Casa Veccia we tried, and is here featured in a terrible out of focus photo (crappy new phone), showing how I’d rushed to pour it and creating and ridiculous head, was the 6.2% ABV Dazio. The guy in Oasi said it was an ambrata (amber) ale but the Casa Veccia site specifies it’s an APA. As I was talking about yesterday, APA seem to be a very popular style in the Italian birra artigianale scene. And very nice they can be too. And again, unlike in other brewing traditions where beardy specialists might dogmatically insist there’s a distinction between an APA and an amber ale, in Italy it seems an APA can be ambrata.

Dazio was also delicious but very different. Arguably, it’s not as obvious a summer drink, with hints of toffee apple and such autumnal things , along with cinnamon and ginger, but it did the job very nicely thanks last night. Oh, and flavour-wise, Fran said “Turkish delight”, while the Casa Veccia site itself talks about this beer – “in an English style with American hops” – having Profumi terziari come pepe, cuoio, chiodi di garofano, liquirizia: “Tertiary aromas of black pepper, leather, cloves, liquorice.” I didn’t get all that myself, but fair enough. I like the idea of a leather-scented ale. The site also talks about its hoppiness and bitter flavour, but I felt it was pretty mild and mellow. The site also provides a nice bit of history about how the APA evolved from the IPA and the IPA evolved out necessity, with British soldiers in India craving beer, but the long voyage souring the milder ales of home. The solution was more hops, to better preserve the ale. Thanks Ivan and everyone in the Vetch House. Quite why the Dazio label features a cartoon astronaut I don’t know.


Filed under Ale, beer

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.


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.”


Filed under Discussion, Flour & grain

Durum wheat bread with linseed and farro grains

grano duro, farro, linseed bread

Another one of my bread experiments. For some reason I’d ended up with two packets of farina di grano duro – that is, flour made from Triticum durum wheat (with duro meaning “hard” in Italian and Latin respectively.) It’s more typically used for making pasta, but it seems to be a reasonable bread component too and is used fairly widely. I have used it in the mix with good results before, such as in my Absurdly wholesome multigrain, multiseed loaf, but this one made with a much higher proportion of farina di grano duro.

So anyway.

100g farro grains. I used farro perlato. With farro here meaning farro dicocco (Triticum dicoccum), also known in English as emmer. You could use any type of wheat grain (such as spelt grains), or even, say, pearl barley.
50g linseed (“good for you mane and tail” as my friend Stephen McGrath of Newton Livery, NZ, once told me)
8g fresh yeast
300g cooking liquid from the grain (see below)
80g leaven
100g strong white flour (I used what’s known as “Manitoba” in Italy)
400g farina di grano duro / durum wheat flour or fine semolina flour
10g fine sea salt

1. Cook the farro grains in water until they’re soft but a little chewy. This can take around 20 minutes, but will more likely be more. Keep tasting them to check.
2. Strain the cooked grains, reserving the cooking water.
3. Weight out 150g of the cooked farro grains. (You can use any leftovers for other breads, or add them to salads.)

Cooked farro grain
4. Grind the linseed to break it up a bit but don’t completely pulverise. You can use a pestle and mortar, coffee grinder or even a liquidiser goblet.
5. Cover the broken linseed with a little of the cooking water. (This will help soften it up slightly before it’s added to the dough, but arguably isn’t strictly necessary.)
6. Combine the yeast, 300g of the grain cooking water and leaven and whisk together.
7. Put the flours and salt in a large bowl and mix slightly to distribute the salt.
8. Add the yeasty mix to the flours and bring to a dough.
9. Turn out onto a lightly oiled work surface and knead to combine. As this bread is using so much durum wheat, the dough won’t be as springy and stretchy as one made with a strong white bread flour.
10. Form a ball and return the dough to the bowl (cleaned). Rest for ten minutes, then knead again briefly. Repeat this process once more.
11. Gently stretch out the dough, then add the seeds and grains. Knead to combine.
12. Leave the dough to prove in a bowl covered with a clean cloth until it’s doubled in size. Times will vary, according to the temperature and the liveliness of your leaven.
13. Once the dough has doubled, take it out of the bowl and knead briefly and gently before forming a ball. Cover and rest for 10 minutes.
14. Tighten up the ball, then place in a proving basket or bowl lined with a floured cloth, with the smooth surface downwards and the “tucked” surface upwards.
15. Cover and prove again until doubled in size.
16. Preheat your oven to 220C.
17. Turn out the dough on onto a lined baking tray.
18. I brushed mine with egg white as I had some spare, but you could use whole egg or milk to give slightly different glazes.
19. Cut a cross.
20. Put in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200C and bake for a further 20 minutes.
21. If it’s baked enough (tap the bottom, check the colour; don’t be afraid to overbake a bit more if you’re not sure it’s done), take out and cool on a wire rack.
22. Eat as you see fit.

Prosciutto sandwich

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Filed under Breads, Recipes

Absurdly wholesome multigrain, multiseed bread

Multigrain, multiseed wholesome bread
I had a load of cooked farro grains left over, and needed some bread, so this came into being. It wasn’t an entirely happy experience. The dough was very moist and sticky, and I’ve really lost my moulding mojo recently, so there was a bit of a (one-man) scene in the kitchen. Then it didn’t really have much in the way of oven spring*, hence the slightly sad shape. BUT, and here’s the important thing, it tastes great.

It’s a ridiculously wholesome loaf that would make a spongey British “Granary” go and hang its head in shame. It’s firm, moist, with a good crust and eminently satisfying to bite. Great with cheese or for a peanut butter sarnie.

And yes, I might be a food blogger based Rome, but this isn’t a Roman bread. I made it up, in part inspired by Dan Lepard‘s Five-grain loaf (in The Handmade Loaf). As Mr Lepard spent a lot of time in Italy learning his trade, I suspect he took his inspiration for that loaf in part from Italian multicereali (multigrain) breads. So this is a distant cousin to, say, the wonderful multicereali that you can get from Roscioli, or the multicereali I got last week from the Testaccio Ex-Mattatoio farmers market, which the baker called Pane di brigante. He explained he called it that as his area, in the hills south of Rome, used to be full of brandits, brigands.

As I made it up on the fly, these quantities can’t pretend to be exact. You want a nice moisty dough, but don’t get yourself in a lather (like I did). If it feels too wet, add some more flour. And use whatever seeds you have to hand.

400g cooked spelt grains (Dry grain simmered in water until soft, then drained – reserving the cooking water. I used farro perlato.)

Mix in a large bowl:
300g white spelt flour. I used stoneground organic farina di farro bianco.
300g fine durum wheat flour. I used a stoneground organic farina di grano duro.
10g sea salt

Combine in another bowl:
15g fresh yeast, crumbled
100g leaven (100% hydration. I’ve done it with leavens fed on emmer, spelt or modern wheat)
50g honey
350g grain cooking water (tepid, not hot), made up with ordinary water if necessary

Combine in small bowl and add a little water (to soften):
20g linseed (broken up slighty with a pestle and mortar or in a coffee grinder)
20g  poppyseeds
20g  sunflower seeds
20g pumpkin seeds
20g sesame seeds

1 Make the dough by adding the ferment (yeast, water, leaven etc) to the flours and salt mix.
2 Mix well with a spatula or spoon, then turn out on to worksurface.
3 Knead until well combined.
4 Stretch the dough, add the grain and seeds.
5 Fold over the dough, then gently kneed again to combine the grain and seeds.
6 Adjust the dough if it’s too wet or indeed too dry by adding more flour or liquid accordingly.
7 Form into a ball, then leave to rest in a bowl covered with a moist tea towel.
8 After 10 minutes, give it another knead.
9 Rest another 10 minutes.
10 Give it another gentle knead.
11 Return to the bowl, cover and prove until doubled in volume.
12 Turn out the dough, and press it out to equalise the gas pockets. (We always called this “knocking back” in British baking, but that encourages unnecessary violence towards your tender dough.)
13 Weigh dough and divide into two equal portions, each around 850g.
14 Shape each portion into a ball, then leave to rest for 10 minutes, covered.
15 Shape as you like. I was planning batons, but after my tantrum I went with the easy option: tin loaves.
16 Preheat oven to 220C.
17 Prove again until ready to bake: the dough should be wobbly, plump and soft.
18 Brush with beaten egg, sprinkle with seeds. Cut along the length (my cut was pathetic).
19 Bake 20 minutes, then turn down the heat to 200C.
20 Remove from the tins then retun to the oven for another 10 minutes or so. (As the dough was damp, and contained the moist farro grains, I reasoned it could do with a little more time to bake through.)
21 Cool on a wire rack.
22 Enjoy.

(Part of the reason I’m pleased with this one is that it reminds me of the bread made by my friend and sometime cooking mentor Nadia, all the way over there in New Zealand. It looks quite similar to her bread, and even tastes similar despite the distance and different provenance of the ingredients. Arohanui to Nadia and all the Aotearoa whanau!)

Making this again today, 6 February 2013, and noticed a few errors, now amended. I also thought it was about time I added bakers’ percentages. So here we go.

Note, the seeds are soaked in water to soften them slightly, but I think the amount is negligible so I’ve not factored it in.

Basic percentages (ie not factoring in the leaven composition)

Ingredient Weight Bakers’ percentage
Spelt grains 400g 67%
Flour 600g 100%
Salt 10g 1.7%
Fresh yeast 15g 2.5%
Leaven (at 100%) 100g 17%
Honey 50g 8.3%
Water 350g 58%
Linseeds 20g 3.3%
Poppyseeds 20g 3.3%
Sunflower seeds 20g 3.3%
Pumpkin seeds 20g 3.3%
Sesame seeds 20g 3.3%

Percentages factoring in the leaven composition (100g at 100%, ie add 50g to water weight, 50g to flour weight)

Ingredient Weight Bakers’ percentage
Spelt grains 400g 62%
Flour 650g 100%
Salt 10g 1.5%
Fresh yeast 15g 2.3%
Honey 50g 7.7%
Water 400g 62%
Linseeds 20g 3%
Poppyseeds 20g 3%
Sunflower seeds 20g 3%
Pumpkin seeds 20g 3%
Sesame seeds 20g 3%

It doesn’t seem like a very high hydration recipe, but bear in mind it contains a lot of cooked spelt grain: and this is very moist.



* Oven spring – the final burst of growth made by bread dough when it goes into the oven. It’s caused by the heat exciting the yeast, which gets all hyperactive, farts out more gas, causing the dough to rise rapidly. Then the yeast dies is killed, when it gets heated over around 60C. Boo hoo. And gets eaten. The horror! You can get better oven spring with steam (it moistens the dough, conducting the heat into it more efficiiently). However, getting reliable steam in a domestic oven is a bit hit and miss, despite what people suggest about pouring boiling water into trays anor using a mister-spray.


Filed under Baking, Breads, Recipes

Spelt experiments, or When bread goes wrong, and the dilemma of blogging the failures

So I was feeling experimental this week. I’d been both looking at old photos of breads I’ve made the past few years and browsing my favourite baking book, looking for inspiration. One of the breads I liked but haven’t tried too often is a 100 percent sourdough with some potato in the mix. I’d had great results once – a bread with a great, irregular crumb, which is something of a holy grail for bakers like me. It requires a high hydration dough and, generally, a natural leaven. It’s not something I’ve had much luck with lately, but I had done back in Blighty with a better kitchen and more familiar ingredients. I can’t find a photo of the bread in question, but here’s one with the kind of crumb I mean.

Okay, thought I, I’ll try that again – but with farro flour. Indeed, I’m going through a bit of a phase trying to use farro bianco all over the place, where, if I was still living in the UK, I’d use strong white or even plain flour.

I revived my leaven over a few days, then got stuck in. Feeling optimistic, taking photos to record the process, thinking I could proudly blog the results, imagining cutting open a loaf with a crunchy crust and finding that wonderful irregular crumb structure again.

Except it didn’t go well. The bread is borderline terrible. Dense, heavy, and clearly lacking in life, with no oven spring. It tastes strangely like a teabread.

This left me with a dilemma. It’s one that’s probably faced by anyone who likes to make food and blog about it. If you make something, and it’s crap, should you blog about it? You of course want you food to look marvellous when you shove it out here on the interweb. But then I thought, Hang-on, this isn’t a glossy magazine or a recipe book, it’s a blog. It’s record of my endeavours, and not just the successes. So why shouldn’t I blog the failures? Or at least talk about the agonies of deciding whether to go public with the failures. And if by some miracle this is read by experts, perhaps that can give advice. (Yeah, right. Ed.)

So anyway, this is the recipe I used, a variation on Dan Lepard’s Crusty potato bread
250g leaven (mine was fed with farro, 80% hydration)
280g water
25g honey
75g unpeeled potato, scrubbed and grated
500g farro bianco flour
10g fine sea salt

1 Combine the leaven, water, honey and potato.
2 Add the flour and salt and blend to create a wet, sticky dough.
3 Rest for 10-15 minutes.
4 Turn out onto a lightly oiled work surface and give it a brief knead.
5 Return to a lightly oiled bowl and rest for around 10-15 minutes.
6 Repeat this process (it’s Dan L’s process, developed while he worked in a busy kitchen. In some ways it’s irritating – kneading, cleaning up, waiting, kneading, cleaning up, waiting – but in others it’s great. It seems particularly good for handling wetter doughs).
7 Repeat again 2-3 more times, then leave the dough covered for half an hour. Give the dough a fold if you like.
8 Divide the dough into two equal pieces and shape each into a ball.
9 Rest the balls, again covered, for about 10-15 minutes.
10 Shape batons, then place then in proving baskets lined with floured clothes, or if you ain’t gone none, place side my side on floured clothes, covered.
11 Leave again until doubled in size. This will vary according to the temperature of your room, but if it’s warm (around 20C) it’ll be around 4-5 hours.
12 Heat oven to 220C.
13 Turn out the loaves onto a baking sheet lined with parchment and dusted with semolina.
14 Bake for 20 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200C and bake for another 20 minutes.

So anyway, after all that, mine didn’t work. But if you use strong white flour instead, there’s a chance yours could. And if they do, it’s a lovely lovely bread.

Now for some diagnosis, some thoughts about why my bread didn’t work
1 The recipe really doesn’t like spelt flour. Although spelt has a not dissimilar proportion of protein to a strong white bread flour (around 14-15%), it has different proteins, which some sources refer to as “extremely fragile”. Compared to modern wheat varieties, it has less gluten, particularly gliadin, the protein that is integral to making easy stretchy white doughs. I’ve made plenty of decent loaves with spelt in the mix recently (like this one), but I think this is my first 100 percent spelt, 100 percent naturally leavened.
Which leads me to…
2 The leaven wasn’t sufficiently active. I perhaps should have fed and refreshed it over a few more days. Or maybe its current residents just aren’t happy with their conditions. It is Rome after all – so maybe it’s some kind of yeasty sciopero.
3 Or if I didn’t refresh it enough, I should have at least left the dough fermenting longer. It’s the winter, and our kitchen isn’t that warm, probably only around 15C (until I put the oven on). So yes, if it’s cold, it’ll take longer to ferment.
4 Except I also worry that if I left it fermenting too long, the yeasts would finish gorging themselves and any rise achieved would collapse back in on itself.
5 Some sources also talk about how you have to adjust the water. Well, I reduced it slightly from Dan L’s original recipe, and the dough did feel pretty good while I was working it. I dunno though , this place says “Too much [water], and the dough is sticky and weak and will not be able to hold the gasses that are produced during the fermentation process.”
6 Some other random factor. Like some unprecedented chemical reaction between the spud and the spelt. I know not.

Anyway, if you are a baker, and have any thoughts about what might have gone wrong here, please share!

In the meantime, I have to decide whether to continue my spelt experiments (I also used them in some brownies yesterday) or retreat to the comfort of strong white bread flour, or Manitoba as it’s known here in Italy, with its reliable if dietarily dubious gliadin and glutenin content.


Here’s the recipe as baker’s percentages. I’m doing this partly because I’m getting out of practice and partly in response to talking to Jeremy.

250/500 = 0.5 x 100 = 50% leaven
280/500 = 0.56 x 100 = 56% water
25/500 = 0.05 x 100= 5% honey
75/500 = 0.15 x 100= 15% potato
500/500 = 1 x 100 = 100% flour
10/500 = 0.02 x 100 = 2% salt

Or if we’re getting serious (and it looks like we are), and factoring in the leaven… 250g leaven at 80% hydration = 112g water + 138g flour (rounded), so the total water is actually
392g, and the total flour is 638g.

392/638 = 0.61 x 100 = 61% water
25/638 = 0.039 x 100 = 3.9% honey
75/638 = 0.118 x 100 = 11.8% potato
638/638 = 1 x 100 = 100% flour
10/638 = 0.015 x 100 = 1.6% salt

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Filed under Breads, Discussion, Flour & grain, Recipes

What is “farro”? Wheat names in English and Italian

100% spelt loaf, sliced

This is my latest loaf. It’s made with 100 per cent farro biano flour. Farro is the Italian word for spelt. Or is it? This is something that’s been nagging me for a while.

Farro is a big part of various Italian regional cuisines. So, for example, there’s the classic Tuscan zuppa di farro e fagioli – spelt grain and bean soup. When I first tried to make zuppa di farro e fagioli, back when my poor Italian was even worse, it inevitably involved trying to work out what specific grain to buy. As well as having to try and work out the difference between farro perlato and farro decorticato (more on which later). This also led me to double-checking the assumption that farro is literally translatable as “spelt”.

I knew spelt was an ancient strain of wheat, that is a member of the Triticum genus of the Poaceae (or Gramineae) family of grasses, but it’s also known as dinkel wheat, and its proper scientific name is Triticum spelta. Okay, “Spelt wheat”, check. But when I checked “farro” on Italian Wikipedia it informed me that Italian uses the word to describe three species of wheat.

These are:
1 farro piccolo or farro monococco
2 farro medio or farro dicocco
3 farro grande or farro spelta

Oh dear. How confusing.

Now, I’m not a scientist, but I am interested in taxonomy and how it aids clarity and accuracy when, for example, discussing the production of a type of bread. When I first encountered these Latin names, I was mildly exasperated that when I buy the packets of farro flour, the packaging blurb doesn’t include the specific species. Normally, I like to buy stoneground organic flours from renowned or local producers. I have, for example, been buying my flour from Mulino Marino (though, yes, they’re in Piedmont, so not exactly local to Roma. I must find a supply of Lazio grains milled in Lazio) and their packets just say Farro bianco etc. Today, however, I noticed the Coop supermarket’s organic farro flour is labelled with “Farro spelta”, so I think it would be fair to assume that is Triticum spelta.

A little more investigation, meanwhile, reveals that farro piccolo, aka small farro, aka farro monococco, aka Triticum monococcum is the ancient wheat species we know in English as einkorn. Though, to add to the confusion, in English Einkorn can also refer to its wild cousin, Triticum boeoticum.

Checking Triticum dicoccum, meanwhile, reveals that Farro medio, aka medium farro, aka farro dicocco, is what we know in English as emmer (the name is related to the Hebrew for “mother”). Oh, and according to the Slow Food book ‘Pane, pizze e focacce’, it’s also known as spelta, just to add to the confusion, while Triticum spelta is also known as spelta maggiore. It’s an awned wheat, that is with most bristles on the ear. Apparently, when Italians refer to farro, it’s most commonly used to mean this grain. So it’s likely that in the abovementioned soup, for example, the grain will be Triticum dicoccum, emmer.

Oh, and while I’m at it with the ancient wheat species, another flour I encounter in Italy is KAMUT. This is a trade name for Khorasan wheat, aka Triticum turanicum. Khorosan is the name of a region in northeast Iran, just to the east of the ancient Fertile Crescent where so many of today’s most common food crops were first cultivated, notably grains.

Just when I think I’m achieving some clarity with this issue though, I have to return to the question of perlato and decorticato. Perlato literally means “pearly” and as such relates to pearl barley, a traditional ingredient in British cuisine, such as the lamb knuckle stews I hated so much as a kid. Pearled grain has in fact not just been hulled, or husked (that is de-hulled, de-husked), it’s also been polished to remove the bran. Farro perlato cooks down to fairly mushy in about 20 minutes. According to the handy glossary in Zuppe, the soup book from the Rome Sustainable Food Project, farro perlato is emmer.

Decortico literally means husked too, and English does have an equivalent word, decorticated. But the difference here is that it’s not been polished, and when farro decorticato is cooked, it takes longer to soften, and indeed retains more bite even after about 45 minutes. In Britain, we’d make the distinction between pearl barley and hulled barley. The other English name for these hulled grains is groats.


Meanwhile, as wheat is the third biggest stable crop in the world, after maize and rice, I just want to mention a few more species.

The most commonly cultivated wheat is Triticum aestivum, known, unsurprisingly, as bread wheat or common wheat. It was first cultivated in the prehistoric period, though it’s been bred rapidly since the 1960s to increase the amount of endosperm, the starchy part of the grain, for white flours. Another major wheat species is Triticum durum, durum wheat, a descendent of emmer that is used for dried pasta, semolina and couscous. You can buy both semolina and durum flour here; the latter is what’s known as farina di grano duro: hard grain (wheat) flour. The hard here is not used in the same sense as in English: when we describe a flour as hard, we mean it’s high protein, high in gluten.

Right. That’s quite enough of all that. I’m not even going to touch the question of hexaploid, tetraploid and duploid wheats, or the matter of seasonable wheats. I’ll save those subjects of another day. Plus, I’ll also save a discussion of why I’m making the transition away from modern baking with modern wheat varieties for another post.

At least now I’m fairly confident that when I buy farro flour, it is indeed spelt: Triticum spelta. Though when I buy farro perlato, it’s quite likely to be emmer: Triticum dicoccum. Maybe.

Just to reiterate:
1 farro piccolo or farro monococco = einkorn (Triticum monococcum)
2 farro medio or farro dicocco or spelta = emmer (Triticum dicoccum, or Triticum turgidum var dicoccon)
3 farro grande or granfarro or farro spelta or spelta maggiore = spelt (Triticum spelta or Triticum aestivum var spelta)


Filed under Breads, Discussion, Flour & grain

Ciambelline con farro e miele (Ring cookies with farro and honey)

This is my first recipe from Biscotti: Recipes from the Kitchen of the American Academy in Rome, Rome Sustainable Food Project. The Academy is a handsome institution just along the hill from where I live. Since 2007, its kitchens have been run along sustainable lines, with an emphasis on local and seasonal ingredients. The Rome Sustainable Food Project has (so far) produced two recipe books, Biscotti and Zuppe (“Soup”).

Much as I love a good soup, that’s not the subject of this blog!

Anyway. These are lovely wholesome cookies, their flavour defined by the use of spelt (farro) flour and by your choice of honey. I used an Italian woodland honey, which is dark and has a deep robust flavour, almost smoky; if you used say a light, floral honey the flavour would be more subtle.

I tend to adjust recipes as I go along, so the below isn’t identical to what you’d find in the book. For example, I added some extra sesame seeds to the dough, as I like them.

200g spelt flour (I used farro bianco – white spelt)
240g plain flour
12g baking powder
215g butter (if you use unsalted, you can add a pinch of salt to the recipe)
100g caster sugar
2 eggs
80g honey
15g vanilla extract
30g raw sesame seeds
1 egg, beaten
Extra raw sesame seeds and granulated sugar

1. Sieve together the flours and baking powder.
2. Cream together the butter and caster sugar, then beat in the egg, honey and vanilla.
3. Mix in 30g sesame seeds.
4. Make a dough by adding the flour to the creamed mixture.
5. Bring together then wrap in cling film and chill around half an hour.
6. Preheat the oven to 180C.
7. Line baking sheet(s) with parchment.
9. To make the cookies, pinch off lumps of dough around the size of a walnut. I went for 40g each, but I think 30g 10. might be nicer, for a slightly less macho cookie.
11. Roll the lump into a rope around 15cm long, then twist around the ends and pinch together.
12. Repeat until your baking tray is full.
13. I added an egg glaze to the original recipe to help with the adherence of the sesame seeds and granulated sugar that you sprinkle on the cookies.
14. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until golden.

Unfortunately, my oven has a fierce bottom heat, and no fan, so the bottoms tend to brown before the tops, hence the variation in colour you see in the pic. No matter though – still yummy.


Filed under Biscuits, cookies, Recipes

Wholewheat farro bread


Invented this one as I had some farro grain, which I’d bought when I was trying to make the Tuscan zuppa di fagioli e farro, aka bean and farro soup. Farro itself is a type of wheat grain, though the word can also be used to refer to barley and other grains, depending on where you are in Italy or who you’re talking to. Wikipedia has a good page, which doesn’t really clarify!

I played it by ear (well, by fingers) with some of the quantities, and I wanted to keep the dough very soft and wet – hence it flattened slightly when I moved it from the proving basket to bake. But flavour-wise, it’s great.

I’ve been struggling to get used to Italian flours. Many of them are low protein, unlike your standard British bread flour, which is ground from harder wheat. Harder wheat produces stronger flour, with more protein, say 13% or higher – giving the requisite gluten proteins to create certain bread structures, for the types of bread we’re more used to making in the UK.

Anyway, the recipe:

Cook about 50g of farro in water, simmering for about 45 minutes, until the grain is soft.
(You could use the cooking water for the sponge, though I didn’t in this case. You can also soak the grain overnight in ale, wine or friuit juice, if you’re interested in experimenting! Also, if you can’t get farro, wheat grains, aka wheat berries, would be fine.)

Make a sponge with:
360g water
250g wholewheat flour (I used an Italian integrale)
10g fresh yeast (or say 5g ADY if you can’t find fresh)

Leave the sponge to ferment for 8-12 hours. I did it overnight, in a fairly cold kitchen. (We’re in Rome, but it is January – nights getting down to around 0C.)

Make up the dough with:
The sponge
10g salt
150g wholewheat flour
100g white bread flour (I used an Italian bread which, despite being called “Farina di grano duro” – flour from hard wheat – and professing to be “per pane, focacce e dolci” – for bread, foccacia and sweets – is only 10% protein. See my perplexity? It worked ok though, so you could use a British plain flour.)

Bring the dough together and add the farro grains.
Knead. It’s sticky, that’s good, don’t worry!
Clean off your hands with some extra flour and bring the dough to a ball.
Ferment, covered, for about 4 hours, or until doubled in size.
I gave mine a few turns.
Turn out, form a ball, and rest for 10 minutes.
I formed a baton and proved it in a 36cm (14″) long basket.
Final prove until doubled in volume.
I turned it onto a baking sheet and made one long dorsal cut.

Bake in a preheated oven at 220C for 20 minutes, then turn down to 200C and bake for another 20 minutes. Or thereabouts.


Filed under Baking, Main thread