Top tips for using freshly milled flour

Fresh flour performs differently to aged flour that you buy from a shop or the mill. These top tips will help you understand fresh flour and get the best results with your bakes. You will find more helpful information in Notes on Freshly Milled Flour. You can also take a look at my experiments in milling and recipes using fresh flour.

Double milling

One of my top tips is to double mill your flour. Double milling is running the grain through the coarsest setting first and then running it through the mill again at the finer setting. This reduces the amount of friction needed to mill your flour finely and will reduce the milling temperature. I find that if I double mill, coarse then fine, my average temperature for the flour as it comes out of the mill is 29C. If I mill the whole grain on the finest setting this can increase to 39C depending on the hardness of the wheat. The harder the wheat, the higher the temperature it will mill at because of the increase in friction.

If your mill is not designed to run continually (this will apply to most home mills) then allow time for your mill to cool down if you are milling more than 1kg. If the stones get hot it will heat your grain. Some of the nutrients may be lost in your grain heats up too much.

Sieved flour (extraction flour) versus white flour

It is important to note that flour milled and sieved at home is very different from the white flour that you buy from the supermarket.

Most of the white flour that you can buy in the UK is milled through a roller mill. The roller mill shears all of the bran and the germ away from the endosperm (the white part of the grain) and so the flour that you buy is exceptionally white.

Stoneground white flour tends to be less white than roller milled flour. This is because grinding flour between stones crushes the entire grain rather than separating the endosperm away from the germ and the bran. This is then sieved at the mill and more of the germ and the very small bran pieces are retained in the flour. Stoneground flour tends to be darker in colour and retain more of the minerals, vitamins and essential oils in the flour.

If you buy white or brown (a percentage, normally 15-20%, of the bran and germ is removed to produce brown flour) flour in the UK whether it is roller milled or stoneground it will have been fortified with calcium carbonate, iron, thiamine (vitamin B1) and niacin (vitamin B3). This is a legal requirement written into statute after the Second World War and updated in the Bread and Flour Regulations 1998. Because flour is such an important part of the UK diet this fortification ensures that the flour has sufficient nutritional value as the white endosperm is predominantly starchy carbohydrate with some protein and vitamins. The majority of the nutritional value of the grain is in the bran and germ.

When you are milling fresh flour at home and then sieving it to remove the majority of the bran, you will retain much of the germ and the smaller parts of the bran and so the flour is beige coloured rather than white and contains more nutrition than roller milled white flour.

When you are using sieved freshly milled flour adjust your expectation of achieving white flour. What you will have is extraction flour which will be beige in colour and will still contain the germ and small pieces of bran so it will perform differently to white flour that you can buy in the shops.

Less stable gluten structure

As flour ages the gluten stabilises. This process takes two weeks from milling into a flour as the flour oxidises. Oxidation can also be done at the mill artificially to produce a more stable product for the consumer.

When you mill fresh flour and use it straight away the gluten network will be weaker than aged flour.

Water and flour absorbency

Fresh flour absorbs water differently to aged flour and from my experience the way it absorbs water can differ from grain to grain.

If I am experimenting with a grain for the first time I always start with 350g water to 500g of freshly milled wholemeal flour. Most grains grown for bread making will easily absorb this amount of water. You can then adjust and add more if you think the flour will absorb more to achieve the consistency that you are looking for.

Keep an eye on your dough during the stretch and folds (see my video on how to stretch and fold your dough), you may find that you need to add a bit more water as the dough develops. Sometimes, however, with some grains you will find that some of the water has leeched out of the flour whilst it has been resting and is sitting on top of the dough. If this is the case, give the dough a couple of stretch and folds and it reabsorbs the water.

Quite often, I find that freshly milled wholemeal flour needs only 70% hydration (700g of water to every 1kg of flour) where an aged flour would take 80% hydration (800g of water to every 1kg flour).

Fine flour versus coarse flour

Fine flour absorbs more liquid than coarse flour. If you have milled your flour on the finest setting your flour will absorb more water than a flour that is slightly coarse. You may need to adjust your recipe accordingly. This is something to bear in mind if you are making cakes. It may need an extra splash of milk or liquid to get the right consistency.

Watch out for overproofing loaves!

Fresh flour ferments more rapidly than aged flour. The yeast seems to love the nutrient dense fresh flour and fermentation can be much quicker, so keep an eye on your loaf, particularly after shaping as it can easily over prove.

Remember, as noted above, the gluten structure is also weaker when you are using fresh flour and this can contribute to the loaf becoming over proved and deflating in the oven.

Using freshly milled grain for your sourdough starter

Using freshly milled grain will get your sourdough starter much more frisky than an aged flour. This can be a really good thing as it can make your starter lovely and vigorous and ready to rise your loaf. However, you also need to keep an eye on it. A really vigorous starter may need more attention and more refreshments than a slower moving one. If your starter is really vigorous and you miss the window when it is at its peak for its ability to rise your loaf you may end up with a starter that has too much acid load which will not rise your loaf as well and may begin to degrade the gluten in your loaf ending up with a heavy, gummy crumb.

Baking with freshly milled flour

Bread made with fresh flour can take a little longer for the loaf to be fully baked. You may need to add up to another ten minutes to the baking time (depending on your oven).

Allow your loaf to cool fully before slicing and eating. I prefer to wait for several hours before slicing the loaf as it gives the gelatinised starches time to fully set and for the flavours to develop.