In the beginning of the fall, I took my boys with me on a small trip to Vääksyn mylly, a small mill at about 150 kilometers from where I live. It's the mill of choice of Viipurilainen kotileipomo, the family run bakery I visited earlier this year (and featured in issue 2 of my magazine, Bread), and the owner of the mill is my friend on Facebook.
The mill has a strong feel of old days. This is how buying flour must have been like in the past, I thought: friendly people asking you what kind of flour you had in mind, seeing where the flour comes from as you enter the shop. And apparently I'm not the only one impressed by what they do: when I said I had come from Helsinki, the mill's staff told me that it's not that far compared to some other customers. One customer had just visited from Lapland and brought big bags of flour with her.
I bought 5 kilos of rye flour, 10 kg bread flour, some oats and "uutispuurojauho", a very coarse rye flour meant for porridge making and returned home eager to try the flours.
I started by trying to make my regular white sourdough bread using the bread flour from the mill, and noticed that there was something very different about how the dough behaved. I knew the flour is strong in protein, but this was much stronger than I had expected. I worked the dough for a long time, until I got tired and gave up. Without a machine, making a dough with nothing but this flour seemed impossible. I think Dan Wing or Alan Scott talked about this in Bread Builders, saying that strong flour is not very good for sourdough bread... What surprised me however was that even a long autolyse didn't seem to help.
After experimenting with different ratios of this bread flour and some organic white flour I had used before, I found a combination that works very well. Using just 200 grams of bread flour from Vääksy, 100 grams of coarse rye flour from the same mill, and 800 grams of the organic flour, I was able to create bread I really liked:
At times, I was ready to give up, but I guess now I understand better than ever that if all flour is not created equal, and what is good for something (making dough with a mixer in this case) is not good for something else (mixing a dough by hand).
But at the same time, I'm still not quite sure about this: I had previously bought some of this same flour from a small local food shop near the mill and made bread with it quite succesfully, replacing only a small part of the flour with spelt... There could be differences in batches, or maybe some other factor in the environment or even my starter was affecting the results?
The next step in my flour experiments came by surprise when I visited Eat & Joy Maatilatori, a local food market at the heart of Helsinki and found their flour mills! At the back of the store, I found a small room with about 10 different flour mills meant for home use. Next to the mills they have big bags of grains, a scale, and a note saying "feel free to use the mills to grind your own flour." I had found heaven!
So far, I have visited the shop twice, as it's always a bit of work to take my kids and go flour shopping in Helsinki. Last week, I bought some rye flour and full grain wheat from the shop. Here's the bread that came out of that visit. 50% of the flour used in the bread is stone ground wheat flour I milled myself at the shop and the remaining 50% regular organic white flour. It's quite dense but tastes delicious with a rather strong wheat flavor (it's amazing how much darker and more flavorful this bread is compared to bread I've made from regular, store bought full grain flour before).
I should really be experimenting with heat and oven improvements, but my head is bubbling with ideas for more flour experiments... Maybe next, I'll mill some more flour and try sifting it to a higher extraction level, or maybe I'll mix in some of the strong bread flour from Vääksyn mylly...