The Positives of Using Freshly Milled Flour
Using freshly milled flour is very different from using bagged flour that you can buy from the supermarket or even from the mill.
Be prepared for a learning curve. Making bread with freshly milled grain is different.
Fresh flour is more active and it will ferment quicker.
The gluten is less stable so your bread dough will feel different when handling it and because the gluten structure won’t be as strong as aged flour it will bake as a more dense loaf when making bread. If you are making cakes, biscuits or pastry then this less stable gluten is a bonus.It means that you can use grain that has been grown for bread with its stronger protein level and make lovely light cakes, biscuits and flaky pastry.
It takes time to get used to baking bread with freshly milled flour, but it is worth the investment in time.
When you mill at home and use the flour within hours you will gain huge benefits in terms of taste and nutrition, especially if you are using the entire grain as wholemeal flour.
The nutritional value of flour starts to degrade within hours of the grain being milled. If you are using your grain as soon as it is milled you are gaining the full nutritional value of that grain.
Once you have tasted fresh flour in your bread, cakes, pastry or cookies you will not want to use bagged flour again. I promise it’s a game changer. If you put your nose inside a bag of flour and smell it, you probably won’t be able to smell much. If you put your nose into a bowl of fresh flour you will smell the sweetness and grassiness of the wheat field. It is wonderful and that flavour remains in your baked goods.
Using freshly milled flour encourages you to experiment because you will need to test whether the grain performs well in your bread or your cake and these experiments will make you a better baker.
The Downsides of Freshly Milled Flour
There are a few downsides of using freshly milled flour that you should be aware of though:
The flour that you buy from a shop or a mill will probably have been ground at least a few weeks before (if not a few months). Flour takes two weeks to naturally oxidise, or it is oxidised artificially, and through this oxidation the gluten becomes more stable. Aged flour will have a stronger gluten matrix than freshly milled flour. It is gluten that gives bread its volume. A loaf made with freshly milled flour will always be more dense than a loaf made with aged flour.
When flour is milled by a professional miller it is tested for it Hapberg Falling Number, its protein content, its moisture content etc. The miller chooses grain that they know will be suited to bread making and they will blend different grains to grind a flour that will give consistent performance from one bag to the next for the baker. That’s their job and they do it well. As a home miller it is highly likely that you will not have access to the same information about the grain that you have purchased. You will have to test the grain by baking with it and see how it performs for yourself. There is rarely consistency with freshly milled flour.
Did I say downsides?
These downsides can also be viewed as positives. If you have a home mill, then you are a keen baker. As a keen baker you will love a challenge and fresh flour can add so much interest to your baking. You can experiment as to whether the grain you have works best for yeasted bread or for sourdough. You can test and push fermentation times. Does the grain work well in cakes, pastry, biscuits?
From my own experiments I can tell you that freshly milled flour works brilliantly in cakes and pastry, even if the grain has been sold to you on the basis of being suitable for bread making. The fact that the gluten is not yet stable is a huge positive because the cake will be the lightest cake that you have ever made. The pastry will be deliciously light and melt in the mouth and your scones will be the best you ever baked.
The denser bread that a freshly milled flour gives you will become your favourite bread. It is truly delicious as the starring role in any breakfast, lunch or dinner. You just have to change your view of what bread is and what role it plays in your diet.
Where to buy your grain in the UK
When you mill your own grain a whole new world opens up. You can begin to have conversations with farmers about their grain. Here in the UK, a growing number of farmers are selling their grain direct through their websites. These farmers tend to be growing interesting varieties and different types of grain too. You might be able to get rye, spelt, oats and buckwheat all from the same farm.
I am incredibly lucky to be able to source interesting varieties of wheat from an organic farmer just seven miles away at Green Acres Farm, Kemberton. Mark and Liz Lea are innovative farmers that relish supplying their grain to bakers and millers and building relationships with their customers. You can also buy grain from Bakery Bits and Hodmedods, both of which supply grain with the farmer’s name on the packet. Knowing where your grain comes from and building a regional economy of grain networks between the farmer, miller, baker and home miller is incredibly important and adds value to something that can be too easily regarded as a commodity rather than a food source.