The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

The White Flour Project

proth5's picture

The White Flour Project


"Do or do not...there is no try." Yoda


And so it is finally time to actually make a "white flour" milling run. This is a project that I have been mulling over for some time - and it is not a small one.


Here are some specifics as to my milling setup.  I use a Diamant mill with steel burrs.   The mill is hand cranked.  For sifting, I use plastic classifiers from Legend, Inc.  I have #12 (screen openings of .07"), #30(.02") and #50 (.01").  I also have a #100 (.006") but have not been using it.  I use a Delmhorst G7 grain moisture meter to measure grain moisture.


The objective for this first "white flour" run was simply to get a generic "all purpose" white flour.  I do not currently have the equipment to measure ash content, and the method described by bwraith in his blog requires a 12 hour waiting period.  I can see how this would be useful, but at this time the project seems monumental enough.


The first step in the process is tempering.  I am hoping to produce enough flour to make a recipe of baguettes, so I started with 32 oz (Oh, me and my pound and ounces, but this is a low precision operation and they should be good enough) of hard white wheat berries.  To this I added 0.8 oz of water.  After 24 hours I took a moisture level measurement and found the grain to be at 12.7% moisture.  This is close enough to the desired 13% so the berries were left in the tightly sealed container for another 24 hours to continue the tempering process.


My target extraction level was 70%.  Some of the weight of the grain is lost in the process, so my goal was to obtain 20 oz of "white" flour.


My first pass through the mill was what I define as a "medium sized" cracked wheat.  This is a little finer than typical cracked wheat, but still more of a meal than a flour.  This pass was sifted through the #12 sieve which is part of my process to remove the bran and then through the #50 sieve (which is the sieve through which I normally sift my high extraction flour) to see how much "flour" resulted from the first pass.  On this first pass I obtained 1.5 oz of flour (from 32 oz of grain...)  Not much, just not much at all.


My second pass was a 'fine" cracked wheat.  This pass took all of the material that had not passed through the #12 sieve and milled it again.  Again I sifted it through both the #12 and the #50 sieve.  I obtained an additional 1.15 oz of white flour.


Since, frankly, I am just making this process up as I go along, I had to take a moment for quality thought.  I already have what I consider to be a successful process for obtaining my high extraction flour and my objective was to get as much bran out of the process before I started doing the finer passes.  So I switched to my "high extraction" process.  I did one more pass to "very fine" cracked wheat and sifted it through the #12 sieve.  This resulted in about 10 oz of "bran like" material left in the sieve.  This would be about a 70% extraction, however noticing that some "bran like" material had passed through the sieve and would be sifted out at finer siftings, this would not result in my target extraction rate.  So I put the material remaining in the sieve through the mill again at the same setting.  Sifting through the #12 sieve left 4.35 oz of material in the sieve.  This material was removed from the milling process.


I then sifted the remaining material through the #50 sieve to get 2.95 oz of flour.  Clearly I had to continue with finer grinding.


The next pass through the mill was at what I call "hippie whole wheat" coarseness.  This is starting to look like flour, but at a texture that bakes up into the doorstops we convinced ourselves were good bread a few decades ago.  This was sifted through the #30 and the #50 sieves.  From this pass I obtained an additional 2.95 oz of white flour.  There was more milling to do.  There was 5.25 oz of bran like material left in the #30 sieve.  This was removed from the milling process, making the total bran removed 9.6 oz - somewhat below my target, allowing for some more material to be removed in later siftings.


The next pass was to the fineness of coarse ground whole wheat.  Again it was sifted through the #30 and the #50 sieves.  I obtained an additional 4.6 oz of flour.


At this point I had obtained, in total, about half the amount of white flour that was my goal.  I needed to grind finer, but frankly at this point a small amount of bran was working its way through the mill and into my flour.  It was a very small amount, but it was there.  Oh well.


The next pass was essentially typical flour.  I grind finer, but this is very like commercial whole wheat.  This was sifted through the #50 sieve to obtain 4.05 oz of white flour.  The material remaining in the sieve was returned to the mill and put through at the same setting.  This was sifted through the #50 sieve to obtain an additional 3.95 oz of white flour.  All of the remaining material was returned to the mill.


At this point I put my mill on its finest setting.  Once again I sifted the output through the #50 sieve to get an additional amount of white flour of 2.5 oz.


That was it - I had my 20 oz of flour.  I returned what remained in the sifter to the mill and did an additional pass.  What went through the #50 sieve, however, was clearly loaded with bran and so was removed from the process.


All of this took about an hour.  Coming soon to an infomercial near you "Milling and Sifting Your Way to Fitness."


What were the results?  Unfortunately the combination of my snapshot camera and my photography skills result in unedifying pictures, so sorry, no pics.  I have 20oz of whitish flour.  It is clearly, but very lightly flecked with bran.  Compared side by side with King Arthur All Purpose flour, it is a bit more yellow in color and just a bit grittier, but not unpleasantly so.  The flour from the first couple of passes was distinctly greyer than the rest of the flour.  Here is our treasured "clear" flour perhaps, but at such a low volume that I don't think I could justify milling it.  I could put the results through the #100 sieve to attempt to get my "white" flour even whiter, but that would result in a much lower yield.  I may have to tolerate the flecks of bran.


Right now I have two paths I could take for the next batch: stay with this method and send the next lot off to the lab for some test results, or try another method.  The key, of course is to get the bran out before it gets ground too finely.  I am considering doing more passes at coarser settings, but the flour yield from those is just a bit discouraging.  I must remind myself that these burr mills are not roller mills and in general are not designed for milling white flours.  I can be terribly hard on myself.  Inspiration is welcome.


As for the baked results?  Now we wait.  Four weeks.  For while there is much ambiguity about aging whole wheat flours, there is none for white flours.  What I have is green flour and it needs to be aged prior to baking.  I'm not going to let my lack of patience mess with the results...


Happy Milling!


SteveB's picture


At last it is revealed... Yoda is your 'teacher'!  :)



proth5's picture

Tell will I never, but disagree will I not. 

mountaindog's picture

Pat - what an informative write-up of all of your hard work, thank you! I had been following your other threads with Anna with interest, since I've also been sitting on the milling fence for awhile. I now think I have a much better understanding of how complex the process is for other then whole wheat flour, and how much effort goes into milling the white flour many of us take for granted when we complain about flour prices (the *real* cost of food). When one thinks about how much nutrition one can obtain from 1 lb of flour, compared to, say, 1 lb of junk food like Cocoa Puffs or Doritos - and compare the cost of each per lb, flour is a bargain.

A question on the "green" flour, is that due to an enzyme present in the fresh white flour that has no effect on whole wheat flour, and only time will denature it? Soaking the fresh green flour before making a dough would not work, I presume? Just curious since I hear so much about the outstanding flavor of freshly-ground whole wheat.  --MD

proth5's picture

There is an excellent discussion in "Bread, etc" on page 7 about the role of oxidation for flour.  I won't reproduce it here, but essentially in young flour the oxygen causes a chemical reaction that strengthens the gluten bonds.

I'm an engineer, not a scientist, so that makes me merely "semi-skilled" labor.   I tend to cast about for what really works and what doesn't without digging too deeply into the theory.

Whole wheat flours have a lot of characteristics (such as a high Falling Number) that we would leap to correct if they were white flours but don't need to if the flour stays in its whole state.  In theory - and I emphasize "in theory" - the gluten in whole wheat flours benefits from the ageing process.  I went a round on this a while back (it's in my blogs) and I do see some marginal improvement from ageing whole wheat flour for a month.

But, whole wheat flour is full of bran and oils and all sorts of things (like taste...) that degrade over a month.  The marginal improvement in the gluten is not worth the serious degradation of these things.  My whole wheat and high extraction flours?  I use them as fresh as I can.  The taste is fabulous and I can't imagine that I would ever go back to commercial whole wheat.  bwraith soaks his fresh whole wheat flour and gets great results.  In my hands - not worth the effort.

White flour, though, is a different creature.  I've worked hard to extract most of the bran and germ.   I've also had the opportunity to talk to a number of professional bakers and each one has had a personal horror story  about getting "green" flour.  The bleaching process that many flours go through is a way to speed up this oxidation process.  Also suggested is ascorbic acid (which is normally thought of as an anti-oxidant, but serves as an oxidizer in flour - go figure.)  I'd rather avoid either of these options, so I will just have to wait.

Quick summary: Whole wheat - use fresh.  White - we'll see, but ageing is pretty much SOP.

It is highly unusual for a home miller to try to get white flour.  Why?  We can buy it so easily and the product from the store is a good one.  But I just can't help myself...

Hope this helps.

Aprea's picture

Thank you again Pat - this is most interesting - I now understand how white flour is a completely different creature than whole wheat.  The milling process for us home bakers really should be limited to whole wheat - the aging period, and low extraction rates make this an extremely unrealistic option for many of us.  I am a stay at home mom, and could not find the time to devote to this.  Of course if someone wanted to do the laundry and vacuuming, and errands - we could work something out.


It seems like there are no options for home bakers to obtain the coveted french flour, unless they wanted to pay extravagant shipping from King Arthur.  But high-extraction flour might be a possibility.


 Do your mill your own high extraction flour?  Do you find it worth it?


The flavors you enjoy from fresh milled whole wheat is what seems to be what makes home milling such a wonderful idea.





proth5's picture

Yes.  Absolutely.  I mill high extraction flour every week.  If you look at the steps above, at one point I remove bran from the process.  When I have removed as much as I want, I then finely mill the rest of the flour (again, I usually do this in a few passes, but I'm not sure that is really required.  It just makes for easier milling for me).  So very, very much easier than trying to get white flour.  You do have to do some sifting, though and do have to allow the elapsed time for tempering.  (I was doing the tempering step without a moisture meter for about a year - just guesstimating the amount of water to add.  I will say that havng a moisture measurement has improved things - but one must figure in the cost of the meter - non-trivial.) 

I can use this flour right away.

Well worth the effort.  The flavor is wonderful. Bakes like a champ.

I think you have to figure in your return on effort (unless you are a maniac.)  You will never, ever get French flour with American wheat.  We've discussed this to death on other threads, but the wheat also makes the flour as much as the milling.  I will also tell you that if you took a trip to Vermont and bought baguettes at a small bakery connected to a flour company, that you would get baguettes made with the equivalent flour to what you can buy in a red  topped bag in the supermarket - not what they sell in small bags at a high price.  I hear the director of the bakery is no slouch in the baguette department. Now, you know...Fight the hype.  Great bread can be made with American flours...(Can you tell this is a "hot button" for me?)

We'll see if I ever really get white flour.  I gave the process some thought and might do better on the next round.