Pane Grano Arso - Burnt Wheat Bread
First a shout out to JustJoel whose post lit a fire under me to get this post finished!
A few years ago I visited Puglia (Apulia) in Southern Italy, where I was introduced to grano arso. Translated as "burnt wheat," it is the flour made from the few grain kernels remaining after the farmers burned the stalks in the fields but before they were plowed under to prepare for a new planting. The poor workers would collect these grains and use them to supplement their already meager subsistence by incorporating them into pasta and bread products. I was able to find and bring home a small amount of grano arso semola which was made from durum wheat. I used it in making some very good pasta, but did not have enough for bread. I tried to reproduce the flavor by roasting some extra fancy durum flour in a smoker for several hours. It worked, kinda sorta.
Fast forward to couple of weeks ago when I saw this article that rekindled my interest. The difference between now and a few years ago is that I have acquired a grain mill in the interim, so now I could roast whole berries and then mill them, which makes the process much more like the original. I experimented with a couple of bread bakes using Italian emmer wheat (farro medio), which I had on hand (and I think is more flavorful than the hard white or red varieties of wheat berries).
Preparing the burnt wheat was a fairly straightforward process. I placed the berries in a single layer on a cookie sheet into an oven heated to 375˚F for 13-18 min. The berries darkened considerably and started to smoke after around 10 min. I called them done when they were a light chestnut color, though I believe I could have roasted them even darker for more flavor. They were milled finely in a single pass using a Mockmill. The grains lost about 11% of their starting weight after roasting, probably mostly the loss of water from within the grain.
I assumed that the roasting process would destroy the glutens, so most of the flour was white and whole wheat with the grano arso contributing only to the taste and presumably not to the structure or texture. I blended in about 13% of the total flour weight for the first bake. The grano arso was also quite thirsty, so I kept adding water until it "felt right" and I reached almost 100% hydration. In retrospect, this was a bit too much water and although the gluten developed quite well and the crumb was very open, the loaf was a bit flatter than I had hoped.
This is what the first loaves and crumb looked like. The crumb was extremely creamy, as you would expect with such a high hydration. The crust was good but softened fairly quickly. The taste of the grano arso was immediately apparent, not unlike burned popcorn, but in a nice way. In the crumb shot there are black specks that I believe are from the grano arso. The loaf was very tasty, but I think the grano arso was a little too much and the sweetness of the other grains was overpowered. But I do love the rich coffee color the grano arso brings to the loaves.
For the next attempt I reduced the hydration a bit and also reduced the grano arso to under 8% to make the flavor a bit more in the background. This worked flavor-wise: the burnt flavor was more subtle so it paired well with more foods. I kept the salt low for these first bakes, but I think the grano arso can take a fair amount of salt, maybe up to 2.5%.
I used a lower hydration because of the reduced grano arso, but I think I went a bit too far in the opposite direction. The gluten was well developed but the crumb structure was not quite so open. I think between the two bakes I've seen the upper and lower limits of hydration, so the next bake will be somewhere in the middle.
The two loaves on the left of this photo are made with grano arso. The other two are basically the same formula using einkorn flour that I made in case the first ones didn't work out.
There is a huge flavor range to explore here - different grains, different roasting times, different percentages depending on what it will be served with. I look forward to the challenge.