Does the age of flour effect its part in the proving or fermentation of bread?
I don't remember where I read it, so forgive me if I am wrong here, but I think that if you mill your own flour, it is good to let it age a short while (on the order of a week?) for the purposes of oxygenating it somewhat. This makes it better food for yeast. The flour you get in the store is usually at least that old.
I've also heard that its good to get relatively fresh flour if your purpose is to start a starter, since it is more likely to contain wild yeast.
I have no first hand empirical experience with either of these things... Sorry I can't provide references, but maybe it will help.
If you are using flour that is past the expiration date written on the bag, I imagine you could have some taste issues. If it was wholewheat, it would have a bitter taste because the oils have gone rancid. Just how old is the flour you have in mind? Is it unbleached and unbromated? Are you using instant yeast with it?
If you mill your own flour, well, there are plenty of millers here who have been posting about the fantastic taste of their freshly milled flour. Flourgirl51 has a milling business, sells freshly milled whole grain flours, and her products have received fantastic reviews.
I believe there is a window, however, for use of freshly milled flour, before it should be allowed to age. Peter Reinhart discussed that in an interview that Pamela had linked, but I don't recall the time frame.
All flours contain wild yeast, but the stuff that's been bleached and bromated probably has had a lot of it killed off by the chemicals. I use the cheapest unbleached bread flour I can find to refresh my SD culture, and it does just fine.
Thanks for your reply, the flour is Shipton Mills organic flour, White, spelt and rye. It was left in a bakery after it closed down, We're now re-opening the bakery and have appox 500Kg of flour left here to use. Its about 18 months after its best before date. I've spoken to environmental health and they said technically we can use it as its only a best before date and not a use by date, but we were wondering if it would effect the final product. We have done some test baking with it and the bread doesnt appear to be proving/rising anywhere near the amount it should, When compared to some cheep flour from tesco. Also we can't get the right depth of flavour from the fermented bread ie sour doughs etc...
From my personal experience, I would say that the age of the flour can absolutely affect the taste and performance.
While visiting family during the holidays, I was asked to provide the bread for the meals. I started by using what was in my mother's pantry, which was 3 or 4 year-old unbleached all-purpose flour. I got no rise to speak of, the crust was a horrible color, and I ended up throwing out the bread because of the nasty taste. I followed the same recipe using fresh-bought flour, and the results were "normal", exactly what I was used to seeing, and bread that I was pleased to serve my family.
What result do you see if you increase the proofing time to get the rise you are expecting? There should be more depth of flavor from the longer rise, and it would be a shame to have to toss out all that flour.
Even leaving the bread to prove for 3 or 4 times longer than normal we're still not getting a good rise on it. We've even tried using the prover in the bakery without much sucess. I think we are going to have to throw it out the way things are looking at the moment.
The enzymes in the flour break down over time, I think. Anyway, diastatic malt powder seems to have a limited shelf life, so why not the natural enzymes and/or malted barley added to flours? These are what turn the starches into sugars that fuel the long rises. Before giving up on the flour, try adding a little diastatic malt powder and see what happens.
Debra, what if I use malt powder in regular 100% whole wheat flour that is still fresh? Will that over proof the dough too quickly? I am always curious about malt powder but have never used it.
It's been a while, but I did experiment with it in my desem breads, and it did help the dough to rise in the proofing. Without some honey or diastatic malt added, I found that the leavening pooped out early. But, I also learned that long fermentations aren't particularly a good fit for 100% whole wheat sourdough, so now I try to work within a shorter time frame. I don't think my dough ever proofed what I would consider to be too quickly, but I think too much malt makes dough sticky and probably has a negative effect on dough rheology. A little may be good; a lot is not.
Matt, I checked out the Shipton Mills website and it appears their flours are unenriched and unmalted.
It may not be the age of the flour causing the poor performance, but the lack of malt. That certainly was my experience when I was sold an organic flour and not advised it was unenriched and unmalted.
Hopefully adding diastatic malt will solve your issues with that flour.