Tag Archives: flour

Holey-er than thou

Holey bread 1

A lot of my recent bread has been fairly dense, with a close crumb. I like bread like this, especially with wholegrain breads like the 100% wholegrain wheat and spelt I’ve been making recently. They’ve tasted great and when fresh aren’t bad for open sandwiches and when a bit old they’re perfect for toast. But the favoured style of “artisan” bread these days is all about the open crumb. A nice crisp crust and an open, irregular crumb with a variety of big holes.

I know I’ve made holey bread like that in the past, but, I dunno, through all my experiments the past few years with seriously rustic flours, bought from farmers’ markets in Rome and here in Sussex, I seem to have lost the knack slightly. Learning to bake is one of those life-long challenges, especially if you’re a home baker and aren’t churning out massive batches. But it’s funny to feel you’ve learned something then forgotten it again.

High extraction challenge
It does seem that holey breads are a particular challenge if you’re using flour with a high extraction rate. The extraction rate is the amount of the grain that remains in the milled flour. So a genuinely wholegrain flour in principle should be 100% extraction. Modern, industrial, nominally brown flours, however, may only be about 80-85% extraction, whereas white flours, which have been sieved or bolted1 may be closer to 70% extraction – with the bran and germ (ie, the healthiest bits) removed and just the starches and proteins remaining. 

I’m sure the masters of the contemporary bread scene, especially those who work with ancient and heritage grains (like Chad Robertson of Tartine and the bakers producing the great looking results of the Brockwell Bake) could get a nice open, irregular holey crumb from 100% extraction flours, but not me. The wholegrain flours I’ve been buying lately have been very branny, stoneground, and I suspect probably close to 100% extraction. They taste great, but I need to get at it to open that crumb out.

I did go back to a classic Dan Lepard 100% white sourdough recipe the other day, and did get a holey crumb. Bit it’s wholly too holey. Holey-er than though. With giant crazy giant holes. So I’ve gone from one extreme to the other.

I reckon the next few weeks, I’m going to try and make breads that are 50/50 white and wholegrain and try the so-called “no knead” method. This seems to be very popular among US bakers and does seem to give holey crumb loaves. It involves mixing up the dough, resting it, and giving it a few stretch-and-folds over time. This does seem very similar to Dan L’s method of mixing, doing a short knead, resting it, and doing another short knead, then repeating, as those kneads basically just involve folding over the dough. I generally use Dan L’s method, with a few stretch-and-folds anyway. And there’s arguably a fine line between “kneading” and “folding”.

In the meantime, here are some pics of my comically holey bread. The flour was nothing fancy2, but the loaves still tasted pretty good. Even if they weren’t idea for making sarnies.

Holey bread 2


1 Etymology geek chums, bolting generally means sieving – or indeed sifting – through cloth. The word comes from 12th century Middle English bulten, from the old French bulter, which is probably from the Old High German būtil, meaning bag.)

2 Strong white from Waitrose supermarket. Although Waitrose/John Lewis does has its own farm,  the Leckford Estate in Hampshire, my home county, and to the west of Sussex in the south of England, they don’t seem to grow wheat that produces a strong white bread flour. The Waitrose own brand strong white is “produce of more than one country” – they, and even the likes of Dove’s Farm and Shipton Mill, Britain’s two big organic flour brands, don’t seem to be forthcoming about which countries. Presumably Canada, Kazakhstan, India, etc. I’ve now ordered some strong white flour from Stoate & Sons now instead. I believe they do manage to locally source and mill  a strong, high protein variety of wheat  in Dorset, the next country along from Hampshire.)


Filed under Baking, Breads, Discussion, Flour & grain

Converting plain to self-raising flour

SR flour

Catchy title eh?

A lot of UK recipes call for self-raising flour. Self-raising flour is nothing fancy – it’s just plain (all-purpose) flour with a chemical raising agent, baking powder, already in the mix.

Self-raising flour was invented by Bristol baker Henry Jones, who patented it in 1845. It played a role in phasing out the notoriously solid ship’s biscuits and replacing them with an alternative: chemically leavened “bread” baked fresh at sea or even on the battlefront. Apparently his work was championed by Florence Nightingale and I believe self-raising flour was used to bake “bread” in the Crimean War.

I’m not sure about “bread” made with SR flour – it’d be much more like soda bread or scone that real bread – but it’s useful stuff for cakes and the like. A lot of bakers, however, prefer to just use plain flour then add the raising agent separately. This makes sense, as the chemicals in raising agents can lose their potency making resulting cakes inconsistent. Or home bakers might just have run out.

If you don’t have an SR flour, it’s easy to convert plain and use that in its place. Though as with so many of these things, online information isn’t always in agreement. So I’m going to work it out for myself.

Varying sources say: add 1 teaspoon to 110g, or 2 teaspoons for 150g (1t to 75g), or 2 1/2 to 500g flour (that is, 1t to 200g), and, in that strange world without sane metric measures, another says 2 teaspoons to a cup.

Converting one US cup of flour into grams is open to disagreement too. Online sources give the flour weight as between 120g and 150g. I’ve got a cup measure – marked as 236.64ml, the customary US cup size* – and in a very scientific experiment involving filling it with flour, tapping it to settle it then smoothing off the top, I got 144g. Then I did it again and got 133g. This variable is due to how compacted the powder is, and is one of the reasons using weighing your ingredients is, frankly, more accurate. So anyway, let’s say 140g. So 2t to one cup is 2t to 140g (or 1t to 70g).

Cup measures

Then there’s the whole question of how many grams are in a teaspoon of a powder like baking powder. Again, sources differ online. But a teaspoon is 5cc/5ml (even in the US it’s basically the same, 4.92892159375ml**). Doing another quick, very scientific experiment, I filled my 5ml teaspoon measure with baking powder, smoothed it off, and weighed it. I did the same with baking soda. Both came in at just shy of 5g, so 5g is good enough for me.

Now, I work in decimal and percentage terms, having grown up with silly old ounces and whatnot but left them behind when I discovered the comparitive simplicity of metric measures. It’s so much easier when you’re converting and scaling recipes too.

The percentages you want of the above suggestions of teaspoons per grams would be based on the combined weight of the two ingredients, ie how many percent is 5g (1t) baking powder of the 115g of flour plus baking powder?

Here are all the abovementioned amounts in percentage calculations:
5g of 75g = 5 ÷ 75 x 100 = 6.7%
5g of 80g = 5 ÷ 80 x100 = 6.3g
5g of 115g = 5 ÷ 115 x 100 = 4.3%
5g of 205g = 5 ÷ 205 x 100 = 2.4%
(figures rounded)

Personally, I’m inclined to split the difference, and indeed some older notes of mine say 4%, and another person online breaking it down comes out with 4.5%. So averaging out the above figures, you get 4.9%. For the sake of ease, let’s say 5%.

So if a recipe calls for 250g of self-raising flour, and you only have plain, you need 5% of that 250g to be baking powder. That’s 12.5g of baking powder. So 12.5g BP added to 237.5g plain flour makes 250g stand-in self-raising flour. Even a digital scale, however, doesn’t usually do half grams, so let’s say 12g to 238g. And if you really want to short-cut it, just use 2 well-filled teaspoons to the 238g.


Cup plain flour

* A US legal cup is 240ml, an Australian/NZ etc cup is 250ml.
** Technically a US teaspoon relates to another strange archaic measure – it’s 1/3 US fluid dram.


Filed under Baking, Flour & grain, Misc

Durum wheat sponge and dough bread

Baked and cut durum and Manitoba bread

After my recent, pleasingly successful experiment with a biga, I made a couple of loaves that seemed wonderful, but one turned out to be under-baked (shame on me), and the second just went weird after a few days. I think, like me, it can’t really handle the heat, as the Roman summer inches towards the trials of August, with  its high-30s (100 ish and more old money) temperatures, and thriving tiger mosquito population.

I made a multigrain seeded loaf that seemed great the first few slices, but didn’t like being taken to the park for a picnic in 35C temperatures (followed by a massive storm). The previously nice, firm crumb collapsed and went kind of fizzy. Again, it was as it if had been under-baked. And possibly even under-proved, though this is bizarre as it’d had a nice long prove, mostly in the fridge as the 25C kitchen was too warm.

To try and diagnose this mystery, I vowed I’d make a nice simple white loaf, just with strong white flour (or Manitoba as it’s known in Italy) and see how it coped with the heat.

Farina di grano duro and farina di Manitoba

Every time I open my flour bin, however, I see a pack of something that needs a bit of stock-rotation. In this case, I wanted to use up some of a bag of grano duro flour, that is durum wheat, (Triticum durum). It’s a type of flour that is more typically used for pasta, but I’ve baked with it before. I also had a bag of rice flour hanging around, so some of that went in too.

Also, following the biga experiment, I decided to do a sponge and dough method. Just to see if it coped better with the heat than the previous two loaves, that were made with the bulk fermentation method (BFM).

The BFM is your basic bread-making that involves creating a dough with all the flour, all the water, all the yeast, and processing that: first prove, shaping, second prove, bake. The sponge and dough method, on the other hand, involves using liquid (all or most of it) and part of the flour, with the yeast, then fermenting that more liquid mixture, called the sponge, before adding the rest of the flour and proceeding with a dough, proving, shaping and baking. Like a biga, a sponge is a type of pre-ferment.

Duro-Manitoba sponge

A note on the yeast
I use fresh yeast. It’s known as lievito di birra in Italy, or cake yeast in North America.

If you’ve only got active dried yeast (ADY), use 4g. If you’ve only got instant/easyblend yeast, use 3g. Add the latter directly to the part of the flour you’re mixing with the liquid to make the sponge.

A basic rule of thumb for conversion is x3: that is, 3g ADY = 9g fresh yeast. You need less instant yeast than ADY. But I wouldn’t agonise: as long as your least is alive and well and happy, it’ll do what it needs to do even with a few gram’s variation. The time it takes the dough to ferment and prove will also vary depending on the temperature of water you use, the temperature of your kitchen, etc.

200g grano duro/durum wheat flour
50g rice flour
250g strong white/Manitoba flour (00 or 0 grade)
350g water (tepid)
10g fresh yeast
10g fine sea salt

Dough, unkneaded

1. Combine the water and yeast in a bowl. Whisk slightly to break up the yeast.
2. Combine all the flours in a bowl.
3. Put half of the flour mix in another bowl. Add the water/yeast mixture.
4. Stir together the flour and water/yeast to make a sponge.
5. Leave the sponge , covered, to ferment. I left mine for about 80 minutes in a warm kitchen. It should look nice and bubbly and active when it’s ready.
6. Add the salt to the remaining dry flour, mix it in, then add this to the sponge.
7. Bring the dough together in the bowl, turning it out when it’s mostly combined.
8. Knead the dough until smooth. You can do a longer knead once, or the Dan Lepard method of short kneads three times in half an hour.

Dough, kneaded
9. Form a ball of dough and place it in a clean bowl. I add a drop of veg oil to the bowl for nonstickiness.
10. Cover and leave to prove until doubled in size. Again, depends on temps etc, so check every now and then. It’ll probably be around one and a half hours if it’s in a warm place.

Dough, first prove
11. Turn out the dough, and form a ball.
12. Leave the ball to rest for 10 minutes.
13. Form a baton.
14. Leave the baton to prove again, ideally in a basket or banneton lined with floured cloth.

Dough, in proving basket
15. Pre-heat oven to 220C.
16. When the baton is doubled in size and soft to the touch, turn out onto a baking sheet.
17. Bake for around 25 minutes, then turn down the heat to 200C and bake for another 20 minutes, or until the loaf is well-browned and feels fairly light and ‘hollow’ when picked up.
18. Cool on a wire rack.

Dough, in proving basket, proved

Thus far, this bread has been behaving – and not giving me any insights into what went wrong with my previous loaf. If the crumb suddenly collapses and starts to ferment, I’ll report back.

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Filed under Breads, Recipes

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

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 (but appears to be at the heart of the increasing prevalence of coeliac/celiac disease). 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