My lovely fiancé bought me a Kitchenaid grain mill attachment for Christmas. I have been baking quite a bit of bread over the last year or two and I was curious about fresh-milled flour – I had read that it has a nicer flavour than store-bought flour. This weekend I decided to put it to the test. I made four small loaves of bread using four different kinds of whole wheat flour:
- Stone Buhr brand whole wheat flour (made from “spring wheat” according to their website)
- Fresh-milled organic wheat berries from the bulk section at Metropolitan Market (no indication of what type of wheat)
- Fresh-milled organic “hard red wheat” berries from Nash’s Organic Produce (local to Washington), at the Ballard Farmer’s Market
- Fresh-milled organic “soft white wheat” berries from Nash’s Organic Produce (local to Washington), at the Ballard Farmer’s Market
I chose the recipe “50% Whole Wheat Bread with Biga” from Ken Forkish’s book Flour Water Salt Yeast. I hadn’t made this one before, but I wanted something with a fairly high percentage of whole wheat and not much else added, so that I could taste the whole wheat clearly (my favourite recipe so far from that book has rye flour in it as well). The “50%” in the name refers to the amount of whole wheat flour – in this case there was 500g of whole wheat flour and 500g of white flour in total. Generally, people don’t make 100% whole wheat breads because whole wheat flour doesn’t develop gluten as well so they would be pretty dense, and whole wheat flour can be a little bitter tasting.
I only milled the whole wheat flour, not the white flour. From what I’ve read online, people don’t generally attempt to make white flour at home because the commercial process for removing the wheat germ is more effective than what you could do at home. You could try sifting it after milling to remove the wheat germ, but I think you’d need a very fine sieve to be able to get most of it out, so it would be pretty tedious.
I started the “biga” around 11:00pm on Saturday evening, mixed the dough around 1:00pm on Sunday, and baked it around 6:00pm. The biga is a mixture of white flour, water, and a small amount of instant yeast, that you let sit for 12-14 hours to ferment. You then mix in the whole wheat flour, salt, more water, and more yeast, and start the bulk rise. After 3-4 hours of bulk rise with occasional folds, you shape the loaves and proof for about an hour before baking in a cast iron dutch oven. The recipe is supposed to make two large loaves, but instead I made four small ones.
The milling was quite straightforward! I just had to attach the mill to the mixer and dump the grains in the top, then turn the mixer on to the highest speed. It’s a bit slow but it didn’t take me too long to get 125 g of each type of flour. The soft white wheat took the longest to mill – I wonder if it is a harder grain. The grain definitely looked the most distinct from the others.
The soft white wheat continued to look different from the rest throughout the process. The flour was lighter in colour, and it seemed to absorb less water than the others, resulting in a wetter dough. The hard red wheat from Nash’s had quite the red tinge that was noticeable when I added water.
I kept each different dough in its labelled bowl and tried to treat them as much the same as I could. After I shaped the loaves, I marked each with tallies on top to tell them apart. Once they were baked and cooled, my fiancé and I tasted each one.
All the loaves were very tasty. We found that loaves 2, 3, and 4, with the fresh-milled flours, had a slightly nicer texture than loaf 1 – they were lighter and more bubbly. The flavour was quite similar between loaves 1, 2, and 3. I could still tell that loaf 3 had a slightly more red tinge than the others.
#4, the soft white wheat, was again the most distinct. It was noticeably lighter in colour, more light and bubbly in texture, and much milder a flavour – less whole-wheat-tasting. This was my fiancé’s favourite loaf, and possibly mine too, although I do also like the heartiness of the hard red wheat. The bubblier texture could be due to the fact that it absorbed less water – wetter doughs tend to be more bubblier. If so, I could account for that by adding more water to the other doughs in future.
I’m excited to use the soft white wheat more – I have seen it referenced online, and the first recipe in Tartine Book No. 3 calls for it alongside regular whole wheat (presumably hard red), however, I haven’t seen soft white wheat flour in the stores. Now I can make my own!
I also bought some rye berries from Metropolitan Market and from Nash’s Organic Produce – maybe I’ll do another side-by-side experiment with those. And the grain mill can be used to grind corn for cornmeal, crack grains to use as bulgur, make oat flour, and so on. Keep an eye out for a polenta post!