Things they don’t tell you about home grain milling

A few years ago I received a Nutrim­ill machine as a Christ­mas present from my old­er son, along with a big buck­et of soft red wheat berries. As Christ­mas presents go, it’s prob­a­bly been one of my favorites over the past 25 years, cer­tain­ly one that opened up a new world for me.

Milling my own flour was not some­thing I had thought about much before that.

It turns out that milling your own flour from whole grain is quite a bit dif­fer­ent from buy­ing flour at the store. There are lots of things the peo­ple mak­ing and sell­ing grain mills don’t tell you.

The Nutrim­ill comes with an instruc­tion book, but not much instruc­tion. There are two dials, one labeled ‘high/low’ and one labeled ‘fine/coarse’, which also serves as the on-off switch. The book does­n’t real­ly explain what either knob does. After sev­er­al years of exper­i­men­ta­tion, I’ve decid­ed I pre­fer a com­bi­na­tion of ‘low’ and ‘coarse’ for grind­ing hard red wheat and ‘high and ‘fine’ for grind­ing soft red wheat (which makes absolute­ly the best crois­sants I’ve had!)

One thing the book does tell you is not to grind ‘oily’ grains, like flax, in a milling machine.

You also have to find an afford­able source for wheat berries (or what­ev­er grain you plan to mill.) Unless you grow it your­self or can buy wheat direct from a farmer, milling your own flour will not save you any money.

My son took care of the soft red wheat sup­ply issue by includ­ing a big buck­et of it under the tree, but I had to find a source for a hard­er wheat, which is what most flour used in bak­ing bread comes from.

For sev­er­al years, I was able to buy hard red win­ter or spring wheat berries in a 25 pound bag, first at Wal­Mart and lat­er at a local gro­cery chain that had a Wheat Mon­tana wheat grind­ing sta­tion. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, that store recent­ly got rid of the wheat grind­ing sta­tion, prob­a­bly due to low sales.

The local Wal­Mart still car­ries Wheat Mon­tana White Wheat berries, but not hard red wheat. But I was able to find it online at walmart.com, for close to the same price I was pay­ing before.

Next, they don’t talk about ‘green’ flour. Peter Rein­hart men­tions this in sev­er­al of his books, where he talks about how he was hav­ing incon­sis­tent results bak­ing with fresh­ly milled flour at the Broth­er Juniper Bak­ery. It turned out his flour either need­ed to be used RIGHT AWAY or need­ed to age for a cou­ple of weeks.

He now rec­om­mends that you only mill enough flour for what you plan to bake today, or that you let the milled flour age for 1–2 weeks before using it.

Those who pro­mote grind­ing your own flour for health ben­e­fits are prob­a­bly shud­der­ing at the very thought of set­ting fresh­ly milled flour aside for sev­er­al weeks. I’ve seen plen­ty of claims that you lose vit­a­mins and oth­er health ben­e­fits after a few days, I’ve not seen any ver­i­fied stud­ies prov­ing that, though.

Anoth­er thing they don’t tell you is that home milled flour is just dif­fer­ent from what you get at the gro­cery store. To explain why, here’s a quick intro­duc­tion to milling pro­ce­dures, ancient and modern.

Millers orig­i­nal­ly used large stone wheels to grind flour; in many parts of the world that’s still the way grain is milled. Water, wind, or ani­mal pow­er (includ­ing humans) kept the stones turn­ing. That’s why Hol­land has wind­mills. Let’s all sing one cho­rus of “Down By the Old Mill Stream”.

A mod­ern com­mer­cial grain miller uses a series of met­al rollers to reduce the grain to flour in mul­ti­ple stages, mak­ing it eas­i­er to sep­a­rate out the bran and wheat germ and pro­duce var­i­ous types and grades of flour, with most of it becom­ing white flour. For those who want whole wheat flour, they recom­bine the bran, germ and endosperm in the same pro­por­tions as present in wheat berries.

Most home milling machines don’t use stones or pre­cise met­al rollers, they’re what’s called an ‘impact’ mill, mean­ing they crush the wheat into flour between spin­ning met­al plates. This has advan­tages beyond just the space require­ments over a huge mill stone (no stone dust, for exam­ple.) But I don’t think it pro­duces as fine­ly and uni­form­ly ground flour as a stone mill did.

Millers orig­i­nal­ly used sev­er­al grades of cloth (often silk) called bolt­ing cloth to sep­a­rate out the var­i­ous com­po­nents of the flour. Good luck find­ing those online!

You can use your kitchen sieve for this. How­ev­er, the aver­age kitchen sieve has about 25 met­al threads to the inch, and that lets through a lot of big pieces. I recent­ly bought a much fin­er sieve (55 met­al threads per inch) and have been exper­i­ment­ing with using it to sep­a­rate out more of the coars­er ground mate­r­i­al. I think this is most­ly bran and germ but it appears to con­tain some endosperm as well.

A lot of the bran and germ is fine­ly ground enough to get through even a fine sieve. so, no, this does­n’t get me a ‘white’ flour, but it does get me a lighter col­or and fair­ly fine­ly-ground flour, which is bet­ter for cer­tain types of bak­ing. I use the more coarse­ly ground stuff in oth­er types of bread, like rye bread, so noth­ing goes to waste, and I’ve got a bunch of it that I’m sav­ing up to use in pro­duc­ing a sour­dough starter using the meth­ods Chad Robert­son describes in his “Tar­tine Bak­ery” books.

Be warned, it take a fair amount of shak­ing to sift 2 pounds of flour through a fine sieve, and it is a bit messy. I’ve giv­en seri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion to buy­ing a lab-grade sifter with a mechan­i­cal shak­er base and sev­er­al sizes of wire mesh.

The dif­fer­ences mean that recipes don’t behave quite the same with home-milled flour, and the ‘green flour’ issue may not be the only cause. I think fresh­ly milled flour is a bit damper than flour that’s been sit­ting in a bag in a ware­house or gro­cer’s shelf (and then in your kitchen) for what could be months. It seems to absorb liq­uids at a dif­fer­ent rate and it takes a LOT longer to rise. But the taste and tex­ture are worth it!

Here’s a recipe that orig­i­nal­ly came from my moth­er-in-law. I’ve made it hun­dreds of times over the years using whole wheat flour from a bag. It is much tasti­er made with fresh­ly ground flour:

Hon­ey Wheat Bread

14 ounces (3 cups) bread flour
14 ounces (3 cups) whole wheat flour
14 cup oil (2 ounces)
2 table­spoons instant yeast
13 cup hon­ey (4 ounces)
2 tea­spoons salt
2 cups scald­ed milk

Scald milk then allow to cool back to room temperature.

Mix ingre­di­ents, knead for 10 min­utes, then place in an oiled bowl, cov­er, and allow dough to rise until it has dou­bled in size, approx­i­mate­ly 2 to 2 12 hours.

Divide dough into two equal parts, shape, allow to rise anoth­er 60–90 minutes.

Bake at 400 degrees for 28–30 min­utes or until inter­nal tem­per­a­ture is 200 degrees. The loaf should be fair­ly dark on the bottom.

Honey Wheat Bread\
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  • #652
    Mike Nolan
    Keymaster

    A few years ago I received a Nutrimill machine as a Christmas present from my older son, along with a big bucket of soft red wheat berries.  As Christmas [See the full post at: Things they don't tell you about home grain milling]

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    • This topic was modified 6 years, 6 months ago by htfoot.
    • This topic was modified 6 years, 6 months ago by htfoot.
    • This topic was modified 6 years, 6 months ago by htfoot.
    #653
    BakerAunt
    Participant

    Mike: Does the recipe really require 2 Tablespoons of yeast?

    #654
    Mike Nolan
    Keymaster

    You can cut it back to a single tablespoon, but it will take even longer to rise. It might take as long as 4 hours, I'd recommend punching it down after 2 hours. It probably won't quite double, though.

    In cool weather I usually put this dough in the warmest place I can find, which is on top of the computers in my office.

    #655
    wonky
    Participant

    Nice tutorial Mike. I enjoyed reading it,

    #693
    BakerAunt
    Participant

    My husband was fascinated when we found a 25 pound bag of white wheat in Walmart in Plymouth, Indiana. We had never seen that before. I believe it was the Montana brand.

    #4432
    BakerAunt
    Participant

    Well, it's not home milling, but lots of bakers now are investigating milling their own grain:

    http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/08/24/490120509/bread-grains-the-last-frontier-in-the-locavore-movement

    #5486
    Jock
    Participant

    I bought myself a Nutrimill for this Christmas past (mostly because I knew from tho old BC that you had one and seemed well pleased with it) so I was interested to read this blog post.

    I am curious though, why you grind hard red wheat at the "low and course" setting. Because that produces, well, course flour. There may well be occasions when course flour is needed but most of my bread baking projects use a finer grind, closer to that from a commercial mill (although it never gets quite that fine).

    Anyway, I would be interested to know what your thinking is.

    Best regards,

    Jock

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