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Baking with Heirloom Wheats and Ancient Grains

This article explores the techniques which can be used to get lighter breads from doughs made with Ancient Grains and Heritage Wheats.

The skills and insights learned with these more delicate doughs often improve the baker’s sensitivity to dough building and it’s management.

Flour high in Glutenin is the key to a light bread. During the bread making process it combines with gliadin (another protein found in wheat) to form the gas trapping gluten which our wheat loaves depend on in order to rise.

Modern commodity fours have high levels of glutenin and it is of a high quality too. Glutenin is a family of proteins. Ancient Grains and Heritage flours suffer from lower levels of glutenin which is of poorer quality. Because of this they make denser breads.

Ancient Grains and Heritage Wheats have much more flavour than modern wheats. However, given their weak gluten they need slightly different treatment. Baking with them requires a little more care and things like heavy kneading and extended fermentation result in heavy loaves.

The approaches detailed here can be applied to the whole group of flours which include, Einkorn, Emmer, Spelt, Farro, Khorasan (Kamut in the U.S.) and Durum Wheat. All in roughly ascending order of their potential gluten content. Heritage wheats have more and better glutenin than Ancient Grains, but it is still poor compared to modern wheat. The methods outlined here work well with them as well.

There are three ways to go with weak flours:

1. Use them at 20% - 80%, depending on preference, with a very strong white bread flour making up the rest. The gluten in the strong white flour gives the loaf volume whilst the ancient grain confers flavour to the bread. If using strong white flour at over 50% the approaches here will help, but it is less critical.

2. Mix them with Vital Wheat Gluten used at 5% - 10% of the flour weight.

3. Using them on their own and adapting the methods used to get the best from them.

A caution for bakers in the U.S. Einkorn is also sold as an ‘All Purpose’ flour. This has had most, or all of the bran and germ removed and with that much of the nutrition and flavour. Unless choosing that for dietary reasons I suggest using 100% Whole Grain Einkorn along with white flour to get the same lightness of loaf, but better flavour and nutrition.

The issues the ‘weak gluten’ method must deal with

My assumption is that we are using these flours in their wholemeal, whole grain, form. The bran acts like tiny shards of glass. It can cut up the gluten network weakening it and allowing more gas to escape rather than being trapped to inflate the dough.

The gluten network is weaker and it will tear if the dough is not handled gently.

These flours often have higher levels of active enzymes which can lead to a deterioration of the gluten and starch which we rely on to give the bread its structure. The higher levels of active enzymes require steps to control them so that they don’t make the gluten and starch deteriorate.

These flours tend toward having a tougher crumb and if care is not taken thick, tough crusts, will form as well. This is because it takes longer to heat denser doughs and so the baking temperatures need to be a little lower and the baking times are longer.

What type of loaf?

Baking flatter loaves is a good option. Doughs made with weaker flours cannot support so much dough weight above them. Staying with a lower profile bread will give a more open crumb. Shapes like English Muffins, Ciabatta, Focaccia and flat breads are all good options. These lower profile breads cook more quickly than loaves (see slower heat penetration above) because the surface area to volume ratio is higher, baking times are shorter and crusts are thinner.

Freeform loaves will spread out more on the baking stone because of the dough’s lower elasticity.

Baking the dough in a tin supports the dough and it enables higher hydration than freeform loaves and that gives a lighter bread. However, this sort of loaf will be heavier than the flatter types of breads mentioned above.

Blending the Flour

For those who want a lighter bread mixing a small quantity of very strong white flour with the ancient grain flour will make the bread lighter and perhaps more palatable for some. When doing this I use Canadian Flour with a protein content of 16%. The high protein content means less needs to be used. The amount of white flour used is a personal preference. 30% white flour and 70% Ancient Grain is a good place to start.

Bolting the flour

Alternatively, the flour can be bolted to reduce the amount of bran. Bran behaves like tiny knives that cut the gluten structure and so reducing the gas trapping ability. A standard kitchen sieve is more than capable of doing this though a drum sieve with 1mm and 0.5mm mesh sizes is easier to use and more flexible. Very roughly these flours contain 20% - 25% bran. It is quite easy to see how much of the total bran is being removed by weighing it and comparing that to the original weight of flour. Again, how much is removed is a matter of personal preference. It’s worth remembering that most of the flavour in any grain is in the bran. So bolting is a trade-off between loaf lightness and flavour.

Using a Bran Scald

Some bakers use some of the dough water to make a scald with the bran before adding it back to the dough when it has cooled. This softens it and reduces the cutting action on the gluten. To do this take some of the dough’s water and bring it to a near boil and pour it over the bran. Weigh the amount of water added and weigh it again before adding the scald to the dough. This way water lost due to evaporation can be added back keeping the dough hydration at the desired amount.

Dipping the finished dough in the bran before baking makes a great topping which gives the loaf a rustic finish.

Using a flour scald (Yudane)

This technique is inadvisable. The gluten in any scalded flour is denatured and it is then unable to trap gas in the dough. The exception is with Rye flour which is a completely different bread chemistry. Using a scald further weakens the dough. Scalds with wheat flours give the finished dough a softer mouthfeel. The same can be achieved using milk or buttermilk.

A softer crumb by adding Casein from dairy products

Low fat milk at 53% of the weight of water to be added to the dough. Fresh milk should be scalded to ensure that no off flavours are created. Most Artisan Bakers use low fat dried milk.

Buttermilk at 35% of the weight of water to be added to the dough. This does not require scalding.

These both add Casein to the dough which gives a softer mouthfeel and moister crumb. Adding too much casein will lead to lower loaf volume. The amounts given above should add casein at the ideal of about 1%. I have written another article solely about using Dairy products in baking.


It is not advisable to add eggs to the dough if trying to make a freeform loaf. With strong flours the lecithin in the egg yolks makes the dough softer and more extensible which, with stronger dough, gives a tin baked loaf volume. Flours with weak gluten are already extensible and adding lecithin will not help with the main issue of the doughs ability to trap gas. Though eggs also give the loaf a moister softer mouthfeel.

Adding Fat

Vegetable oil weakens the ability of the alveoli (bubbles) in the dough to trap gas.

Animal fats such as butter and lard increase the alveoli’s ability to trap gas. Butter contains some water so add it at 3% - 5%

Lard contains little water so add it at 2% - 3%.

Adding too much fat will reduce the loaf volume as it interferes with gluten formation and fermentation.

Fats are better added after an initial twenty minute flour hydration period. Fats slow down hydration and gluten formation, so adding them later will help ensure maximum gluten development.

If making a focaccia putting oil in the baking tin and pouring it on top of the dough before baking is fine. It will not be incorporated into the dough and so weaken it.

Ascorbic Acid, or Vitamin C

These are closely related in chemistry terms and in their action on the dough. Adding these to the dough toughens the gluten and increases the doughs elasticity. This means that the dough will hold its shape better and it should retain gas a little better too. However, it will give a tougher mouthfeel to the crumb and these breads have a harder mouth feel anyway. Either can be added at 0.02g - 0.04g / kg of flour. It is important not to add more as doing so will have the effect of reducing the loaf volume markedly. An easy way to measure such small quantities is to dissolve 1g in 100ml water. Each gram of water now contains 0.01g of Ascorbic acid. The remainder can be stored in the fridge for up to a week. I do not recommend the use of ascorbic acid in bread making. It is born out of the need for speed with commercial baking. The acids from slow bulk fermentation will achieve the same ends.

An alternative to adding Ascorbic acid, or Vitamin C is to add Broad Bean Flour also known as Fava Bean Flour. Fava bean flour is high in vitamin C. and Lipoxygenase both of which strengthen the gluten. Add it at 1% - 4%. Adding this flour to dough goes back many centuries in Europe, especially in France. The flour adds a delicate flavour and aroma to the bread as well. Soya Bean flour is not a good substitute. It is used in commercial baking for its lipoxygenase, but it lacks the Vitamin C and the aromas. Add Soya flour at 3% - 3.5%. Both of these flours will increase crust browning because they increase the dough’s protein levels.

Slow Fermentation and Acids

Fermenting the dough for three to four hours produces acids which toughen the gluten giving the dough more elasticity. It will also develop fuller and a deeper flavour profile.

A Natural Leaven (Sourdough) produces more acids than yeast as well as developing more flavour.

For those using commercial yeast there is an advantage to using 1.5% vinegar to increase the acidity. A live apple vinegar is ideal. Adding too much will give an unpleasant vinegary flavour to the bread.


When using yeast or a yeast preferment keep the levels low. Commercial yeast can be too aggressive for the weak gluten and it can break up the gluten network. For this reason:

· Add instant yeast at no more than 0.0066% of the flour weight, or 3.15g 1 level teaspoon, per 100g of flour.

Retarding the dough in a fridge

This technique works very well with commodity flours with their strong gluten. Retarding the dough in a fridge allows more time for other chemical processes to take place which develop more flavour. It also gives the protease enzymes time to weaken the gluten network which enables the loaf to gain a higher volume by reducing it’s elasticity. Ancient and Heritage grains have a weak gluten structure and retarding such a dough will further increase the density of the final loaf.


Add the salt when the dough is first mixed. This will control the protease enzymes which otherwise will work to break down the little gluten there is. Do not use autolysis (e.g. no salt during the 20 minute hydration). Autolysis without salt is the protease version of heaven, it will wreak havoc on the gluten. An initial 20 minute stand after mixing the flour, salt, and water to let the flour hydrate before any kneading is useful. Add the butter (melted) at the first lift and fold. This gives the gluten a better window in which to develop. Fats slow down gluten development.

Autolysis (Autolease in French) Enzymes and acidity

Autolysis is a method developed for white flour doughs in order to reduce the long mixing times in commercial bakeries. Recent research shows that using it is of no advantage in home baking. With high enzyme flours it allows time for protease and amylase to damage the gluten and the starch respectively. For this reason the salt should be added at the beginning to control the protease. A 15-20 minute period to allow the flour to hydrate is useful. It allows the baker to assess whether more water needs to be added before proceeding on to the bulk ferment stage. The amylase enzymes are controlled by a slight acidity in the dough. Natural Leavens (sourdough) are naturally acidic.

As mentioned above a yeast dough’s acidity can be improved by adding a little vinegar such as a live apple vinegar. The increased acidity will control the amylase enzymes and toughen the gluten. This gives a more elastic dough. Add vinegar at 1.5% of the total flour weight. If using it add it when first building the dough.

If adding white flour make sure it does not have added amylase. If it is added it should be marked on the flour packet. It will break down too much starch and these flours tend to be high in amylase anyway. Similarly Diastatic Malt should not be used for the same reason.


There is some glutenin in the flour and it is worth developing it. To do this do three gentle lift and folds spaced during the bulk ferment. Ferment the dough in a squarish tin or container. The container can be buttered with some of the butter in the recipe. It will work its way into the dough. Do not use vegetable oil, it will reduce the loaf volume. Work wet fingers under the dough, lift it and fold it over to the other side. Repeat at 90 degrees until you have covered all four sides. I prefer to stretch and fold on an un-floured worktop. Gentle is the watchword here, the weak gluten tears easily. Mixers shouldn’t be used, they can tear the gluten to shreds in seconds. The stretch and folds stretch out the coiled gluten helping it to form a gas trapping network.


The amount of water used to hydrate any flour is crucial to getting a light loaf. The more water used the lighter the loaf will be. However, there is only so much water a flour can cope with before it is too wet to rise properly and give a good crumb. Finding a doughs ‘sweet spot’ takes practice and careful attention.

The total water used in the dough will vary depending on the grain being used. Protein absorbs more water than any other component in a flour. The lower the protein level the less water the flour will absorb. Durum wheat has high protein and it has weak glutenin. It will need more water than the other Ancient and Heritage grains. Einkorn typically makes a good dough with around 60% water. Heritage grains generally need about 65% Water. It is a good idea to hold 10% - 15% of the water back and to add it, if needed, after the 20 minute hydration period. This is referred to as ‘two stage hydration’. It is good practice with all doughs as a stiffer initial mix will develop the gluten faster. Two stage hydration is best when only 10%-15% of water is added after the hydration period. Attempting to add more than this can weaken the gluten network.


Err on the side of under proofing. The weak gluten will not tolerate over proofing. It’s weakness also means the time window between fully proofed and over proofing is a lot smaller than for strong gluten doughs.


Use as much steam as possible. A roasting tin filled with lava rocks with 500ml of boiling water poured in immediately after the bread goes into the oven is effective. A Dutch oven or similar cloche arrangement is better. Misting the bread when it goes into the oven is not a good idea. It can weaken the crust as well as making it thicker.

For a tin, or pan, loaf bake at 170C (340F) fan on is a reasonable oven temperature. Bake for 40 – 45 minutes, or until the centre of the loaf reads 94C (200F) with a probe thermometer. A Pullman tin is good with this sort of bread as it gives a thinner crust. The bread can always be given an extra five in the oven with no tin at the end of baking to develop a little crust if necessary.

For flat breads and Focaccia 180C (355F) fan on or 200C (390F) fan off. Bake for 20 min.

If the crust appears too thick wrap it in a tea towel as soon as it is taken out of the oven. This will trap the steam and soften the crust.

I don’t add any functional additives other than dairy products to my doughs. Using a natural leaven and the other methods here have been enough for me to get a good bread.

363 views4 comments


Unknown member
Oct 16, 2023

Years (and Years) ago, I experimented with some of the ancient grains, however, it has been so long that I don't remember what they were or the baking results. I suppose if the outcome had been good, I would have carried on. But, I didn't have this helpful guide to help me along. And - there was no internet back then.

Thanks for the information.

Unknown member
Oct 17, 2023
Replying to

Thanks Philip :)

That so resonates with myself. It was so much harder pre-internet.

Two things would have made my path easier.

Doing a one or two day course, which weren't available back then.

Second to get my gluten development right with modern commodity flours before going on to the more nuanced Heritage and Ancient grains. Hopefully the article will make that step a little easier for folk.


Unknown member
Oct 13, 2023

Very interesting on a subject I never gave much thought to, well done!

Unknown member
Oct 13, 2023
Replying to

Thanks Nina :)

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