Making Your Own Fresh Flour May Be the Key to Your Best Bread Ever
If your bread-making hobby has blossomed into a full-blown obsession, then you've likely named your sourdough starter, your forearms are toned from all that kneading, and you have almost as many jars of whole-grain flours as spices. If any of this sounds like you, and you're looking for even more ways to level up both your skills and your bakes, then consider milling your own flour at home. There are plenty of practical reasons why milling your own flour is worth considering. For starters, grains can be stored almost indefinitely and take up a fraction of the space of flour. You'll also end up saving money on flour by milling it yourself (while avoiding any supply chain shortages, too!).
Practicality aside though, fresh flour will make your bread taste better than ever. "Fresh tastes fantastic", says farmer Brett Stevenson, who runs Hillside Grain, a "field to flour" family farm and mill located in Bellevue, Idaho. "Because of how prolific white, refined, and enriched flours are, we are conditioned to think that flour is bland. That is not the case. The flavor profile of the wheat itself is distinguishable. There is a complexity to it and a hint of nutty flavor. I find the flavor satisfying and grounding in a way unlike any other foods." And for all of you sourdough enthusiasts, Stevenson shares a bonus benefit: "My sourdough starter is exceptionally active with fresh flour."
To get started, you'll need a mill. If you aren't ready to commit to a whole new appliance and you already own a Vitamix, then you can get a taste for freshly-milled flour by using the same container you'd blend your smoothie in. Another option is to purchase their special dry grains container ($144.95, vitamix.com). Kitchenaid also sells an attachment, an all metal grain mill ($99.99, amazon.com) to go with their stand mixer. If want to shop for a stand-alone model, head to Pleasant Hill Grain, an independently-owned online store that caters to home millers and carries a range of mills, from hand-cranked to high-speed electric models.
When beginning to shop for grains to mill into flour, there are two main distinctions to know about: hard red wheat and soft white wheat. Hard red wheat has mid-to-high levels of protein, making it a versatile flour that is great for things like pizza, pasta, pancakes, and muffins. To Stevenson, hard red wheat flour really shines in hearth or artisan bread, where soft white wheat is better for more delicate bakes that require a lower protein level, like cakes and cookies.
In addition to a mill, you'll also want a fine-mesh strainer or drum sieve handy for sifting. "If one mills without any sifting, then that is whole wheat flour, which can be used for anything," advises Stevenson. "Some level of sifting will offer a bit of a whiter flour. But the bran and the germ is where the flavor is—and the nutritional value—so I would suggest leaving all the good stuff in." Stevenson also advises that whole-wheat flour be used as soon as possible since it is the oil in the wheat germ that causes the flour to go rancid sooner. If you've sifted most of the bran and germ out of your flour to create something akin to all-purpose, then you can expect it to stay fresh for at least a month or two when stored in a cool, dark place.