How to choose the right Italian flour!
So you’re ready to try your hand at making fresh pasta. Or maybe you’re going to tackle focaccia, or try Giada’s internet-famous orange olive oil cake, and you go to reach for some Italian flour to make your creation all the more authentic. Immediately, you’re faced with a wall of options, labeled with strings of numbers. Where to begin?
For those of us used to the straightforward flour labeling common in the U.S., where your options are all-purpose, cake, or bread, the Italian numerical system can be overwhelming at first. But once you’ve cracked the code, you’ll find that Italian flours are super easy to understand—and will help you make the best baked goods of your life!
The first thing to know is that there are two kinds of wheat grown in Italy: grano duro (“hard wheat”), often called semola or semolina and sometimes known here as durum wheat; and grano tenero (“soft wheat”), also known as common wheat, the variety we known . (For the scientifically minded, these are two different species in the wheat family, triticum turgidum durum and triticum aestivum—this family also includes farro, einkorn, and spelt.)
If you are an avid bread baker, you might know that our bread flours are made from “hard” wheat. Don’t be confused! This is not grano duro, just a variety of grano tenero that has been bred to have a higher protein content, creating that satisfyingly stretchy dough.
So what is grano duro used for? Semola and semolina flour are mainly used for making pasta, couscous, and some rustic cakes. Semolina has a coarse texture similar to polenta, while semola is flour. You might use semolina to make a breakfast porridge or sweet pudding, or under your pizza dough to keep it from sticking. If you’re making fresh pasta, you’d reach for semola flour, usually in combination with a grano tenero flour to make it easier to work with. True to its name, it makes a very stiff dough!
For most baking projects, you’ll turn to a grano tenero flour. These are organized using a numbered system to describe how finely milled the wheat is, which in turn tells you how it should be used. When it’s first harvested, the wheat grain is encased in a hard outer shell (the bran) alongside the germ, the part that fuels the plant’s growth. Milling wheat consists of removing the bran and germ from the pure starchy inner part of the grain; the more finely milled a flour is, the more powdery and white it will appear.
Here’s how each of the varieties is used:
The finest of all, this is even more delicate than American cake flour. It’s made from a high-protein variant, which is why it’s used for fresh pasta, where you want to be able to stretch the dough to its limits.