Flour - An open discussion about aging and enriching flour.
One of our forum members asked a question about aging home-milled flour on another thread. I had read several articles on milling your own grain. The concensus was that the home-milled flour should be used as soon as possible, preferably within a day or so. The same reasons were given in every case - the oils in the the germ of the grain start to turn rancid quickly, and the nutrients start to deteriorate quickly. From the way that the question about aging flour was presented I assumed that it referred to store-bought flour. That made me curious. Why should flour need to be aged? When and where did this belief come from?
I found the basis for her question very quickly, or at least I believe that I did. The answer was given in the book "The Bread Tray" by Louis P. DeGouy published in 1944. "NEW FLOUR New flour is freshly milled flour from recently harvested wheat. Such flour is unstable and presents difficulties in bread making until it matures. This is due to the fact that the proteins of the wheat must undergo certain changes before they combine to form a satisfactory gluten. A warm, dry storage is the best means of aging the flour and developing the gluten qualities. Under good storage conditions new flour may be considered as sufficiently aged for use after a period of one month. If new flour must be used before it is aged, it is best to mix it with an equal quantity of flour that has been on hand for some time. If no aged flour is available, good bread may be made with new flour by giving a rapid fermentation at a slightly higher temperature than that ordinarily used, making a stiff dough, and using a larger quantity of yeast and salt." Here I saw something of historical importance immediately. This was written during World War II at a time when wheat production had been expanded tremendously. That meant that much of the available flour on the store shelves was probably very "new" and fresh which may have produced some baking problems. Also, there may have been some wheat planted that was better than others - accordingly, the opposite must have been true too. Some wheat and its resulting flour was produced that was "not-so-good", especially for home baking purposes. War profiteers are not uncommon so it is highly probable that some flours at that time contained "other-than-wheat" products also. All of this provides a legitimate foundation for the question that was posed about whether or not to age flour.
Concerns about the nutritional content/value of "modern" milled flour in which grain was selectively processed so as to use predominantly the endosperm and not the bran (seed coat) and germ prompted Dr. Clive McKay of Cornell University to come up with a "home remedy": "To make one cup of flour, combine one tablespoon of nonfat dry milk solids, one tablespoon of soy flour, one teaspoon of wheat germ. Fill the balance of the cup with unbleached white flour." I found this in "Bread Winners" by Mel London published by the Rodale Press in 1979. It also had a recommendation by someone else, "Another suggested formula: Add one-quarter cup wheat germ to one and three-quarter cups of unbleached white flour." From the same book comes the following, "For many of us, of course, totally eliminating the white flour, while keeping a light and airy texture, becomes the goal. In the April 1978 edition of Organic Gardening and Farming magazine, Kathy Woeltjen of Crestline, California, suggested a method for just such a result. 'Separate one egg. Beat the white until stiff and fold it into a small amount of the whole grain flour called for in the recipe before adding the rest. Mix the yolk with oil and salt (if used) and add it to the flour and egg white mixture.' "
Of course for those of us who mill our own grain we don't have to be concerned about all of the preceeding as we mill our flour on a demand basis - when we need it we grind it. It's comforting to know that we can still do some things better on our own :-)