Dinkel is the German word for Spelt, a type of cereal grain that belongs to the wheat family
Dinkel is often referred to as an ‘ancient grain’, a term that lacks an official meaning and commonly indicates grains that were cultivated by ancient civilizations and are largely unchanged by human intervention over the last hundreds of years. Based on this definition, common wheat (bread wheat) is a modern grain because it's constantly bred and changed while Dinkel, Emmer, Einkorn, and Khorasan are ancient grains.
There is a general belief that ancient grains are “healthier” or more nutritious than modern ones. Many of us, driven by this belief, are willing to spend more money to buy them (their production is much lower and their cost substantially higher), thinking that they can nourish us better. Looking at the science front we find not enough comparative studies and not enough independent confirmations of the results to reach a clear conclusion (1). Concerning the macronutrients, ancient wheats contain indeed more proteins. However, from a nutritional point of view, we eat grains to obtain mainly fibers, vitamins and other phytochemicals. On this matter, ancient wheat superiority isn't sufficiently corroborated by scientific research. A comprehensive analysis of bioactive compounds, mainly dietary fiber and an array of phytochemicals, in several grains, showed no particular nutritional benefit from consuming ancient varieties. The only notable difference was the high content of carotenoids in some ancient wheats. On the other side though, ancient grains were found to contain less dietary fiber than modern ones (2).
Here, it 's important to note that a whole grain (no matter if ancient or not) is by far more nutritious compared to white flour, which has lost many nutrients during industrial processing and nowadays it's a major component of the western diet. Therefore, enriching our diet with whole grain products, as suggested by the major health organisations, it can only be beneficial to our health and well-being.
From a culinary point of view, it's for sure a blessing to have so many grains to use in different food preparations, separately or in combinations. Each grain, either whole or through a type of flour, contributes unique flavours and characters and gives us room for experimentation and creativity when we cook food.
Dinkel and bread making
Dinkel is particularly rich in proteins, with a content of up to 17% (modern wheat usually contains 10-12%). Among them, the gluten-forming proteins gliadin and glutenin represent the major part of the pool. Therefore, dinkel has good gluten potential, being able to produce breads with good organoleptic properties (texture, crust structure, volume), and it can thus substitute well common wheat in any bread recipe.
You might, however, have noticed working with a dinkel dough that although cohesive and easy to stretch, it tends to spread out while resting, it's simply not very elastic and strong to keep its height. The same doesn't happen so much for instance in a dough made from common wheat flour.
So, why this different behavior?
That is because the baking properties of a dough and thus of the final bread are not determined solely from the total amount of gluten proteins in the flour, but also from the relative ratio between the two classes. Gliadins are the ones that make the dough extensible, while glutenins contribute to dough elasticity. Dinkel flour makes extensible but weak doughs because it has simply a lower glutenin-to-gliadin ratio compared to common wheat (3).
Knowing that, the question that arises is what we can do to increase the strength of a dinkel dough so as to get breads that not only taste good and have soft crumb, but stand also pride and tall on the table. Basically, we can try quite a few things, either one at a time, or in combinations.
First, we can obviously substitute dinkel partially (keeping it as major or minor component) in a recipe with bread flour from common wheat.
Second, particularly if we want to bake with 100% whole grain dinkel flour, we could either decrease the water content of the dough and/or bake the bread in a loaf tin, having thus the tin walls preventing the dough from spreading.
In the past, I had many problems making breads with pure dinkel. I was always ending up with very extensible but springless and sticky doughs. I couldn't shape them easily and my breads were coming out mostly flat. They were very tasty and soft inside, but somehow still sad and without personality.
Now, I know how to get it right!
Using the aforementioned suggestions I made the following two dinkel breads, one only with dinkel flour and a few fennel seed for the aroma, and the second with a combination of dinkel and common wheat flour, plus some carob flour for taste and colour.
Both came out great, I'm sure I'll always remember them!!
Whole Dinkel and fennel seeds bread
Baked in a bread tin (26x12x7cm)
500g dinkel, whole-grain flour
100g active dinkel sourdough*
20g fennel seeds
* To prepare a dinkel soudough, just feed your sourdough starter (no matter in which flour is kept) with whole dinkel flour. Let it grow at room temperature for 8-12 hours or until doubled in size and frothy. Then, use it directly in the final dough
- Mix well all the ingredients (except the fennel seeds) in a bowl until flour is fully hydrated. Cover the formed dough and let it rest for 1 hour.
- Add and incorporate the fennel seeds by stretching and folding the dough. When done, let the dough to rest for 30 min.
- Perform a stretch-and-fold round every 30 min for the next 1-2 hours. Then, let the dough to ferment at room temperature for another couple of hours, until it's risen ca. 20-30% its original size, but not much more.
(Doughs made with whole-grain flours tend to ferment and grow fast. Be aware of that so as to avoid over-fermentation that will make the dough fragile and difficult to handle. Signs of over-fermentation are small bubbles popping out onto the dough surface)
- Scrape out the dough onto a well-floured surface, shape it, and place it into a bread tin. Let it in the fridge to finish fermenting the whole night.
- Next day start by preheating the oven at 220 °C. Take the dough out from the fridge and bake it directly for 1 hour.
(The last ten minutes remove the bread from the tin and finish baking it uncovered)
- When out from the oven, let the bread stand for 1-2 hours before slicing it.
Dinkel and carob bread
250g dinkel, whole-grain flour
200g white bread flour (here wheat flour type1050)
50g carob flour
100g active, dinkel or any other, sourdough
- Mix well into a bowl all flours and water. Cover and let the dough to rest (autolyse) for 1 hour.
- Add the salt and the sourdough, mix well, and knead the dough for a few minutes. Then, let it rest, and perform a couple of stretch-and-fold rounds every 30 min.
- Subsequently, let the dough to ferment at room temperature for a few more hours, until it's risen ca. 30% its original size. In my case, from the time I added the sourdough, it took 5 hours at 21°C.
- After the initial rise, transfer the dough in the fridge to finish fermenting the whole night. Alternatively, you can shape it first on a well-floured surface, place it into a proofing basket, and then in the fridge.
- Next day start by preheating the oven at 220 °C and taking the dough out from the fridge. If it's coming within the proofing basket just flip it onto the baking surface and bake it directly. if it's still in the bowl, scrape it out and do the shaping at this moment, and then bake it directly.
- Bake initially for 30 min, then bring down the oven temperature to 200 °C, and finish baking for another 30 min.
- When out from the oven, let the bread stand for 1-2 hours before slicing it.
(1) Shewry PR. Do ancient types of wheat have health benefits compared with modern bread wheat? Journal of Cereal Science (2018);79:469-476
(2) Shewry PR, Hey S. Do ‘ancient’ wheat species differ from modern bread wheat in their contents of bioactive components? Journal of Cereal Science(2015);65:236-243
(3) Escarnot E, Jacquemin JM, Agneessens R, Paquot M. Comparative study of the content and profiles of macronutrients in spelt and wheat, a review. Biotechnol. Agron. Soc. Environ. (2012);16:243-256