Two and one-half years ago I began my quest to make the best loaf of sourdough bread for my family. My daughter was suffering from multiple sinus infections. A year after placing her on the GAPS diet and healing her gut, she was finally ready to have truly fermented sourdough bread. Unfortunately, bread made without commercial yeast was very difficult to find, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. After two months of daily experimenting, I was able to achieve a wonderfully light loaf of sourdough bread; one that was mild in flavor with a moist, open crumb and great keeping quality. What I didn’t know at the time was that once I started on this bread-making journey, I would soon find myself immersed in the tradition that surrounded this craft and the endless possibilities with ancient and heritage grains.
THE BEAUTY OF EINKORN
Enter einkorn. I had heard about this grain but had shied away from it, mostly because of its cost and difficulty to obtain. Fortunately for us, there has recently been a great movement of artisanal bread crafting in this country. And the farm-to-table movement, which originally focused mainly on produce and meats, has expanded to include grains as well. More farmers are willing to grow ancient and heritage grains instead of the high-yield modern wheat varieties, and bakers are willing to pay for these specialty grains because of their superior qualities and flavor.
Einkorn is the original unhybridized wild wheat that grew in the Fertile Crescent of modern day Iraq and Syria. It produces well in harsh conditions due to a strong root system, allowing it to uptake more nutrients from the soil. This ability makes einkorn superior in nutrition, containing higher levels of lutein, iron, phosphorus, potassium, thiamin, beta-carotene and vitamin E, to name a few. It also has 30 percent more protein and is 15 percent lower in starch than modern wheat. Until recently einkorn has been unpopular to cultivate commercially due to its low yield (just twenty percent of modern wheat) and its small size (one-third the size of modern wheat kernels). It also has a durable husk which protects the grain against mycotoxins and the formation molds (a common problem with wheat) that must be removed for human consumption, adding another step to the harvesting process.
Many books on bread baking consider einkorn flour unsuitable for making bread. To understand why, we need to look at the nature of gluten. Dry flour doesn’t actually contain gluten, but two proteins, gliadin and glutenin. These two proteins form gluten when mixed with water or other liquid. It’s a gluey network that gives dough the ability to trap air bubbles, aiding in the leavening of bread. Gliadin provides the dough with extensibility, which is the ability of the dough to stretch. Glutenin helps with the development of dough structure, providing elasticity, which is the ability of the dough to bounce back after being stretched. Einkorn is low in glutenins and contains a more brittle form (low-molecular-weight glutenin) compared to modern wheat, which is higher in strong glutenins (high-molecular-weight glutenin). This brittle form of glutenin, however, makes einkorn easier to digest. The gliadin-glutenin ratio of einkorn is 2:1, compared to modern hard red wheat, which is 0.8:1. This ratio means the einkorn makes a very slack dough that is more difficult for the baker to work with.
This aspect of the grain presented a challenge for me but I was fortunate enough to take a bread workshop with one of my bread heroes, Dave Miller. Dave runs his bakehouse out of his garage in Chico, California and has a passion for ancient grains. He inspired me to give this grain a try. The method I use today is a variation of his original formula.
After doing more research, I also learned that people who are extremely sensitive to other forms of wheat are often able to digest einkorn very well.
An interesting note for celiac disease (CD) sufferers is the fact that einkorn does not contain the alpha-gliadin genes on wheat chromosome 6D, which are found in modern wheat and which trigger an autoimmune response. There are more studies showing promise for einkorn being a new grain option for CD sufferers and gluten-sensitive individuals. Adding sourdough culture to this type of flour amplifies the superior qualities of the grain. When dough is acidified with a sourdough culture, the pH level is similar to that of germination and activates the phytase found in the bran, deactivating phytic acid and eliminating its adverse effects. Phytic acid binds nutrients in the grain for the plant’s growth but can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium and copper. Once deactivated, the nutrients are made available for our bodies to absorb. This type of bread also provides us with prebiotics, which feed our good gut bacteria.
Einkorn has a wonderful sweet flavor and eating it makes you feel truly nourished. It has become my favorite bread to make and eat.
First you need to establish a sourdough starter. I prefer using a stiff rye starter. Rye is very high in nutrients and fermentable sugars. With the challenges of dealing with such a slack dough as einkorn, this type of starter is more potent for raising bread, especially whole grain loaves. It is very difficult if not impossible to begin a starter with all-purpose flour.
Within a week your starter should be ready to use for making bread, although it will be more reliable and have a better profile of flavors by week three. In the first week there will be more homofermentative bacteria (lactic acid with an abundance of yeast) and in a few weeks, more heterofermentative bacteria (lactic acid and acetic acid for a better balance of yeast and bacteria) will have taken hold, giving the bread more complex flavor. Once established, you can continue to feed the starter with your flour of choice as well as adjust the hydration to your liking.
A note on measuring: I always recommend investing in a digital scale that measures in grams and that can be zeroed out. It is truly an invaluable tool and allows for consistency, uniformity and accuracy that measuring by volume cannot provide.
Mixing by hand will add more bacteria and yeast to your culture in a positive way but is not necessary for success.
Whole grain organic rye flour Spring water/filtered water
1-quart Mason jar
• Mix 100 grams whole grain rye flour and 160 grams water with a wooden spoon or chopsticks.
• Cover with lid and allow to sit for 24 hours. Place jar in an area where room temperature will remain consistently between 75ºF- 80ºF (24ºC-27ºC). You can also use slightly warm water when mixing. Mixture should double and fall.
• Stir and discard 130 grams of mixture.
• Add 100 grams whole grain rye flour and 160 grams water and mix well. Cover with lid and let it sit for 24 hours.
• Increase feedings to twice a day. Each time, stir mixture and discard 130 grams of starter and add 50 grams of whole grain rye flour and 80 grams of water and cover. Mixture should smell sweet and yeasty, and be doubling and falling with each feed.
• Scrape the inside of your container clean with a rubber spatula and mark the level of freshly mixed starter on the outside of your container with tape or a rubber band so you can track the activity.
• At this point you should be able to feed your starter with a larger amount of flour.
• In a new container, measure out 50 grams of starter. Add 100 grams organic flour (50g wheat/50g rye) and 100-120 grams water and watch to see if the culture doubles and falls. You will be feeding this twice a day. It’ll be ready to use for bread, but will take 2-3 weeks for best results for bread making.
You should maintain your starter at room temperature and feed once a day. This style of starter may be different from what you are used to but is a more forgiving method than a liquid starter. It looks like a baseball-sized ball of dough that is kept buried in rye flour. Being surrounded in flour keeps it from drying out and provides additional food for the starter ball. It also promotes a very sweet flavor to the culture.
You will need:
• 1/2 gallon airtight container
• whole rye flour
• spring/filtered water
Ratio of feeding:
• 100g whole rye flour
• 50-60g starter
• 60g spring/filtered water
1. Set an empty bowl over your scale and zero out the weight.
2. Dig out your starter ball and scrape the excess flour from your starter ball into the bowl. Add more rye to total 100 grams. Zero out the weight.
3. Remove and discard the outer dry layer of the starter ball and add 50-60 grams of the soft inside of the starter to the bowl. Zero out the weight.
4. Add 60 grams of spring/filtered water to the bowl. Mix and form into a ball.
5. Bury the ball of dough back into the rye flour in your container, covering with more flour if necessary. Replace the flour that surrounds the starter ball with fresh rye flour every month, using the older flour for feedings.
WHOLE GRAIN EINKORN SOURDOUGH BREAD RECIPE
• Digital scale that measures in grams and can zero out
• Instant thermometer
• Large glass/ceramic bowl
• Dough scraper
• Bench knife
• 2 bread pans (ceramic or glass)
• Oven mitts (heat resistant up to 500º F)
• Oven thermometer
• Grain grinder (optional)
The instant thermometer is helpful for taking water temp. Since the ideal ambient temperature for dough development is 75-78ºF, if weather is cooler or warmer, you can adjust water temp accordingly, e.g., if it’s 58ºF in your kitchen, use 75ºF water, if it’s 85ºF, use 57ºF water.
Step 1: The levain build: building a population of wild yeast and bacteria:
• 16g stiff rye starter
• 52g spring/filtered water
• 80g whole grain einkorn flour
In a straight-sided 16 ounce Mason jar, mix above ingredients the night before making bread, approximately 8-12 hours ahead of time. Mixture will double. (During hotter months, use very cold water.)
Step 2: Building the dough:
• 810g spring/filtered water
• 135g levain
• 900g whole grain einkorn flour
• 18g Celtic sea salt
1. Mix water and levain first, breaking up the levain by hand. Add flour and salt, and mix by hand, making sure there are no dry clumps of flour. Cover and rest 1 hour.
• If you are using fresh ground grain, you will want to cool the flour on parchment paper before use. Otherwise, it will elevate the temperature of the dough, causing too rapid fermentation. Fermentation also generates a small amount of its own heat, and whole wheat has a higher rate of fermentation due to the minerals that provide nutrients for the yeast. Wet dough also ferments more quickly.
• Alternatively, if your whole grain einkorn has been kept in the refrigerator, you will want to use slightly warmer water.
• A note on water: reverse osmosis water removes minerals and is typically not ideal for bread, unless it is remineralized.
2. After an hour has passed, gently mix again by hand, checking for any dry clumps. Fold dough in from the outside of the bowl to the inside, rotating the bowl as you go.
3. Thirty minutes later, fold dough with scraper by picking dough up from the edge of the bowl and folding to the center. Do this four times, turning the bowl a quarter turn each time. Refrigerate, covered with a dishtowel (to absorb excess moisture) then a dinner plate, overnight for 15-20 hours.
Note: The texture of this dough is very loose. Whole grain einkorn absorbs water slowly and refrigerating for an extended period of time will allow it to fully absorb the water and tighten up in texture.
4. The following morning, you will take out your dough. Because this dough is very wet, use water to shape (if flour is used for shaping, the dough will soak up too much flour). Wet your work surface and using your plastic scraper, remove refrigerated dough from your bowl. Keep your bowl of water handy to keep your hands from sticking too much to the dough. Divide in half with your bench knife. Using your bench knife, fold from bottom to top, then left to right and flip over. Rotate the ball of dough, using the bench knife and your hand, pushing in with the bench knife, and using a wet hand to lightly lift and rotate the ball of dough. Place on baking sheet or leave on work surface. Repeat with second half. Cover with a damp towel and allow the dough to rest for three hours. It will relax considerably, but will give the dough a chance to return to room temperature evenly. Always wipe down your work area, scraping with the bench knife and wiping down with a clean damp towel so no dried bits remain.
5. After three hours have elapsed, prepare your bread pans by first greasing with coconut oil or butter, then dusting with a mixture of 50/50 white rice flour and all-purpose einkorn flour. Wet work surface and remove one round of dough with your plastic scraper. You may have to rotate it into a ball on the baking sheet first to make it easier. Flip the dough so that the top is now upside down on the wet work surface. It’s okay if the dough is very loose. This is what we mean by “extensible”! Shape the dough by folding top to bottom, bottom to top and left to right, right to left. Guide the dough with your wet hand and the wet bench knife and work into a round, the last push making it more of an oblong shape. Place in prepared bread pan. I personally prefer glass and stoneware over cast iron for easier release after baking. It’s okay if the dough ball folds in on itself when you place it in the pan. You can smooth and push it into the ends of the pan with wet fingers. Repeat with second ball of dough and cover with damp towel.
6. After the three hour final proof, bake at 450ºF (non-convection) for 20 minutes, then at 400ºF for 30 minutes. You will preheat your oven when your dough has about 45 minutes left to rise. Set your rack in the bottom third of your oven. If you notice that the top of your bread is getting too dark, set a baking sheet on a rack just above your loaves. You can take the temp of your bread to make sure it’s fully cooked. 190-200ºF is the target temp.
7. Remove bread from pans immediately to prevent the loaves from getting soggy and cool on a wire rack. Because there is so much water in this formula, waiting to cut the bread until it is completely cooled is very important. Cut too early and the bread will have a gummy texture to it. With more time, the grain will reabsorb the moisture and have a wonderful creamy texture. Many bakers recommend waiting 24 hours for this type of bread, but at least 12 hours is my recommendation.
Bread by Jeffrey Hamelman
The Einkorn Cookbook by Shanna and Tim Mallon
Einkorn by Carla Bartolucci
INGREDIENTS AND SUPPLIES
• jovialfoods.com for all-purpose einkorn, whole grain einkorn and berries
• tropicaltraditions.com for all-purpose einkorn and berries
• breadtopia.com for bolted, whole grain einkorn and berries
• bluebirdgrainfarms.com for whole grain einkorn and berries
• lentz-spelt.myshopify.com for whole grain einkorn and berries
• pleasanthillgrain.com for bulk einkorn berries
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2016