I don’t know if you ever heard of einkorn. If you haven’t, you aren’t alone: most people have no idea what it is. Despite its name, it isn’t a variety of corn. It’s actually thought to be the oldest form of wheat, and supposedly has never been hybridized like modern wheat. Einkorn means “one grain” in German, because it has only one grain per stem, while other varieties of wheat have several groups of grain.
I first heard of einkorn a few years ago, when I was researching farro. Einkorn is one of three main types of farro wheat, called farro piccolo (little farro) in Italian. It grows well in hardy climates, and has a much higher vitamin and nutrient content than modern wheat varieties. While it contains gluten, and is actually higher in protein than even bread flour (around 20% protein content as opposed to around 14%), einkorn may contain a type of gluten that some people with gluten intolerance can digest more easily. However, it was close to extinction until a few years ago, because harvesting and milling is much harder and more costly, and the yield is far lower, than with modern wheat varieties.
Since I love baking bread (if I could, I would bake every day… but being a family of just two, there is only so much bread we can consume!), I was intrigued at the prospect of baking with einkorn flour. Would the bread taste significantly different? Would it rise as well, or be leaden and heavy, like many undoctored whole wheat breads can be? I didn’t want to add more yeast than usual to make it rise higher, as an abundance of yeast gives bread an artificial taste and an overly light crumb. I didn’t want to add vital wheat gluten. I didn’t want to add sugar or fat or anything other than what I usually put in my bread dough: just flour, yeast, salt, and water. This way, I figured, I would really taste the difference between einkorn bread and bread made with modern wheat.
So last week, I baked my first batch of einkorn bread, using flour I picked up at my local market. (You can buy the flour as well as the whole berries from Jovial, the world’s largest producer of einkorn, online.) Since the gluten in einkorn is apparently not activated by kneading, I skipped the kneading step and simply stirred the dough a minute or two, then let it rise overnight at cool room temperature (if your kitchen is warm, refrigerate the dough). The bread rose very, very slowly at first, then picked up speed in the last few hours of rising. I took care not to deflate its air bubbles in the final stage of shaping, and let it rise again before slipping it into a moderately hot oven, and it emerged golden and fragrant 40 minutes later.
The result: Delicious, wheaty, sweet, moist, definitely worth repeating. It didn’t rise as much as bread made with modern wheat, but it had a pleasant chewiness and staled far more slowly than modern wheat bread: in fact, it was still good the next day (I propped it on its cut side so no air would compromise the open crumb). Try the recipe below; it’s easy and rewarding, and you’ll be helping a grain once vital to humanity to flourish once again.
Makes 1 loaf (about 1 pound)
- 2 cups einkorn flour, plus extra for sprinkling
- 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 cup room-temperature water, plus extra as needed
- cornmeal for dusting
Place the flour, yeast, and salt in a large bowl. Mix well with a wooden spoon. Add the water slowly, stirring constantly. When all the water has been absorbed, determine if you need to add a little more water or not; einkorn flour absorbs water more slowly, and doughs made with einkorn should be somewhat sticky if the bread is to bake up light rather than heavy. The dough should feel sticky when touched, but not like a batter.
When you are satisfied with the texture of the dough, stir it a minute or two. Then cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and place a plate on top of plastic wrap to prevent light from filtering through (the bread can develop an orange hue if the dough is exposed to light, due to the high amount of carotenoids in the flour; carotenoids are very good for us, as they are anti-oxidants, so the high amount of carotenoids is another good thing about einkorn). Set aside to rise for 12 hours.
Uncover, and gently deflate and reshape the dough to redistribute the yeast (this helps bread dough to rise better). Cover again with the plastic wrap and the plate, and let rise again until doubled, about 12 more hours.
When you are ready to bake, place a baking stone on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees (preferably set on convection bake). Line an upturned baking sheet with parchment paper and dust it with cornmeal.
Sprinkle your counter with cornmeal. Gently turn the dough onto the cornmeal without deflating it. Gently tug into a long rectangle, about 10 inches long by 4 inches wide; if the dough is sticking to your hands, wet your hands as you would if you were handling meatballs. Place on the cornmeal dusted parchment paper atop the upturned baking sheet and dust the top with flour. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise 1 hour.
Uncover (the plastic wrap may have stuck here and there). Dust the top again with a bit of flour for a rustic look. Transfer to the baking stone using the baking sheet as a peel (don’t bake the bread on the baking sheet though, just on the parchment paper).
Spray 3 times with water during the first 10 minutes of baking. Bake for a total of 35 to 45 minutes, or until the bread is richly golden. The bread should sound hollow when thumped on the bottom. Cool on a rack, removing the parchment paper first to allow air to circulate from the bottom and prevent the bottom crust from getting soggy.
Cool completely before slicing. This bread is excellent spread with raw honey!