I have a particular fondness for ancient grains, so when I was recently introduced to einkorn, I was intrigued and curious to know more — especially since it's thought to be the most ancient of wheat varieties available today. Armed with a bag of all-purpose einkorn flour and Einkorn: Recipes for Nature's Original Wheat, I did some reading, then took to the kitchen.
What Is Einkorn Wheat?
Einkorn wheat was one of the first plants to be domesticated and cultivated over 10,000 years ago, and grew wild even long before that.
Einkorn, which aptly translates into "one grain" in German, has a single grain attached to its stem, while other modern varieties have groups of four grains. All varieties of wheat we know today are descendants of wild einkorn; einkorn today remains the only variety with two sets of chromosomes (diploid wheat), and the only one to never be hybridized, or crossed with other species.
Don't be surprised if you haven't heard of or seen whole-grain einkorn or einkorn flour in your grocery store; you're not alone. Einkorn wheat has a low yield, especially compared to other modern varieties of wheat, and it's also more difficult to grow and mill.
Einkorn and Gluten
While einkorn flour isn't gluten-free, it has been found to lack some of the proteins that people with gluten intolerances can't manage to digest. So if you have a gluten sensitivity — but one not as severe as celiac disease — einkorn flour may prove a good alternative to modern flours for you.
Baking with Einkorn Flour
There are few things you can't make with this type of flour. While it has its differences from modern varieties of flour, it can be used to make all the same things — everything from breads and rolls, to muffins and cookies.
I made my first foray into baking with this ancient wheat with the help of the cookbook, Einkorn: Recipes for Nature's Original Wheat, which includes sweet and savory recipes all developed using einkorn flour. My first order of business was banana bread, followed by ginger cookies and pound cake.
How It's Different from Modern Wheat Flours
While you can bake just about anything you'd bake using a modern wheat variety, einkorn flour can prove quite different to work with. Two notable differences are the way einkorn flour absorbs both fats and liquids: Einkorn flour absorbs less fat than the modern wheat flours we're most familiar working with, so the key is having just the right flour-to-fat (usually butter) ratio. It also absorbs liquid much more slowly.
When working with modern wheat flour, say baking a cake, how often do you sift your flour? I'll admit I rarely do it, but this step is actually really important with einkorn flour since it has a much smaller and softer grain. It can even stand to be sifted twice.
Converting recipes to use einkorn flour, unfortunately, isn't always straightforward. It's not always a one-to-one swap of modern wheat flour to einkorn flour. It's really about striking the right balance of liquids and fat, which sometimes means adding a little more einkorn flour to make sticky dough more manageable, or cutting back the flour to prevent dough from getting too dry.
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