One step forward; two steps back. That pretty much sums up my emotions when describing my experiences with my new WonderMill grain grinder. I suppose it’s not surprising that you learn more about a machine when using it, than you ever did when gathering research – but I must have been sleep-walking through my research efforts. So, just in case there’s anyone else out there who is mulling over the question of why one grinds their own grain, allow me to make note of the pros and the cons of getting such a device.
What motivated me? I guess I’d have to say it was reading the many blogs of bread makers who ground their own grains, and hearing how delicious were the resulting breads. And without having an in-depth knowledge of just how white flour is produced, I still knew that fresh ground wheat creates whole wheat flour and bread too – but I loved whole wheat bread, so, no problem. Truthfully, that’s about it – taste has always been primary to me.
And what surprising facts have I recently learned about freshly ground grains? Well, first of all that fresh ground flour is known as ‘green’ flour, and then, that it introduces more of that science stuff, but this time, it’s not about microbes or fungi, it’s about enzymes – and it’s not an issue that only affects home grain grinders – all commercial milling operations face the same problem, namely freshly milled flour contains enzymes which impede the development of gluten. However, time solves this problem via oxidation, and the enzymes are chemically changed by aging, thereby allowing the normal development of gluten, and a proper rising of the loaf.
BTW, do you think that most millers simply age their newly milled flour before selling it? Maybe some do, but for most, the cost of storage would be too great, so they simply add chemicals to do the job. Did you know that they don’t bleach flour to make it white, the bleach actually corrects the green flour enzyme problem. What about unbleached flour? Check the label for alternative chemicals, or you could just be the fortunate recipient of ‘aged’ flour – lucky you.
So, is aged flour the best flour for baking bread? Well, not if we can believe all those bakers who are regularly using fresh ground grain – for these folks, it’s easier to deal with the gluten problem than it is to give up flavor. And lest you think that this opinion is only held by a few home bakers, here’s a quote from baking guru, Peter Reinhart.
“For those who can do home milling, I highly advise it–you can’t beat the fresh flavor. However, I also suggest using that flour as soon as possible, no longer than 8 to 12 hours after milling it. If it sits longer, you can run into performance problems like shrinking in the oven and bucky tops. If you do have extra flour from your milling, let it sit in a paper bag at room temperature for at least two weeks before using it again (it’s an enzyme thing, explained in more detail in the new book).”
(Interview on The Fresh Loaf re Reinhart’s new book, ‘Whole Grain Bread’)
So, there’s my dilemma – bake with fresh ground flour for good taste, and deal with a gluten problem. Or, grind the wheat and age it for 2 plus weeks, then bake, but lose some flavor. I’ve now done about 5 or 6 loaves using the fresh green flour, and I’m still looking for a good, basic everyday loaf that gives the best balance. And I’ve got a new trial today that incorporates a few new potential improvements. I’ll be adding a tiny bit of ascorbic acid (vitamin C), which tempers the negative enzymatic activity – and I’ll be using a good dose of sourdough starter and an overnight fermentation, which serves to do the same thing. I’ll also use 50% high protein white bread flour in the loaf, which will increase the gluten development.
So, for what it’s worth, here’s my latest attempt to bake a good tasting loaf of 50% whole wheat that’s not dense and heavy – there’s nothing unusual about this loaf, except that it’s specifically geared to solving the green flour, gluten problem. Oh, BTW, I’m also breaking in one of my new Chicago Metallic bread pans that I got for Christmas – I have what has to be one of the world’s most pathetic collections of inferior loaf pans known to man. I think I’ll devote an entire upcoming post to this subject, but essentially they all are of the ‘non-stick’ nature, and not one – NOT ONE – is non stick! It’s frighteningly sad. So I decided to ask Santa for a couple of non treated Chicago Metallics, since these are what commercial bakers swear by – they ain’t cheap, but … hey, I won’t go there today!
Fresh Whole Wheat Sourdough Pan Bread
(enough for one 1.5lb loaf)
200 grams fresh ground whole wheat flour
200 grams bread flour
260 grams water @ room temp (you may need more)
100 grams of active sourdough starter
a pinch of instant yeast
a pinch of powdered ascorbic acid (crushed vitamin C tabs)
2-3 Tbs of honey
1-2 tsp of salt
* Mix water with sourdough starter – add honey – set aside.
* Mix flours, yeast, ascorbic acid, and salt in large bowl.
* Add reserved liquid to dry ingredients in large bowl, and mix well – cover and leave for 20 minutes.
* Knead in bowl, or on counter, for only a minute to assure a through mix of all ingredients.
* Coat dough with oil in same bowl, or a separate container, cover and refrigerate for 8-10 hours, or overnight.
* Remove from refrigeration and allow to come to room temp (an hour or two).
* Move to counter and knead a minute or two (or longer) until dough feels elastic and tight.
* Cover and leave on counter for about 20-30 minutes.
* Shape and place in greased 1.5lb bread pan.
* Coat top of loaf with oil, cover with plastic wrap or towel, and place in a warm area for final proof (3-6 hours).
* After first 2 hours, check on your bread with a finger poke (push tip of finger into top of loaf, if it quickly springs back, recover and continue proofing – if it doesn’t spring back, it’s time to bake).
* About 1 hour before bake time (I know! Deal with it.), preheat the oven to 400F.
* Just before baking, score loaf down center with a lame or a serrated knife.
* Place loaf into upper 1/3rd of oven, and immediately turn oven down to 350F. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until an instant read thermometer registers 210F and bread is nicely browned.
* Remove loaf from oven, and bread from pan immediately, and move bread to a cooling rack and leave for at least 30 minutes.
* DO NOT cut into loaf until bread has cooled for at least 1 hour!
I loved this loaf! It was light and soft, had a thin, chewy crust, and a wonderful flavor. I left it at room temp for its overnight fermentation, but next time I’ll follow my own instructions, and refrigerate it – I thought it had an aggressive sour taste which may have been due to the warmer fermentation temp. I’ll also increase the ‘sweet’ next time, and maybe switch off to molasses instead of the more delicate honey. I think another future adjustment might be to cut the sourdough starter to only a Tbs or two, increase the final proof, and see what happens.
Green flour soaks up an inordinate amount of water! I set this one for 68% hydration, but frankly, I could have used more – still, the texture was light and soft, so no complaint. Just know, newly ground flour needs more water than regular flour.
But, wow, I love this loaf! There is absolutely no indication of a gluten problem – it was as light and airy as any 100% white flour loaf – just with better taste! I’m looking forward to all my fun this coming year in perfecting this baby – I’ll keep you posted.
And the new Chicago Metallic pan performed like a super champ. All I did for prep was to oil it, and after it cooled, the bread literally fell out of the pan! I’m giddy with delight.
May all your new year’s breads be the best you’ve ever baked.