The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Flour - An open discussion about aging and enriching flour.

Cliff Johnston's picture
Cliff Johnston

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 :-)

Cliff. Johnston

rodomontade's picture
rodomontade

in "On Food and Cooking:  The Science and Lore of the Kitchen." 

Gluten forms into chains to trap gas in bread, allowing it to rise.  The links between gluten chains are formed between sulfur atoms in the joined molecules.  However, thiol groups -- one sulfur and one hydrogen atom -- can prevent the gluten from linking because they bond more strongly to the sulfur atoms in flour than the other gluten chains. 

Thiol groups occur naturally in flour.  As the flour is aged -- either by waiting one or two months or by chemical means such as chlorine dioxide, potassium bromate or iodate -- the thiol groups react with oxygen in the air and are eliminated.  This increases the flour's capacity to develop a strong gluten. 

If you aren't having any trouble developing your dough, aging isn't worth worring about.  But if you have a problem with weak doughs, or bread that is too dense and flat, you might give it a try. 

Cliff Johnston's picture
Cliff Johnston

I milled a large amount of flour on the 13th and hung onto just enough to start a batch of rye dough today - that's a whole 18 days of aging!  I've noticed a faster rise from the start, but it's difficult to know whether to attribute this to the aging of the flour or the additional amount of oil that I added to this batch (always experimenting!).  I may take some photos tomorrow and post them if the results are any different from what I'm used to.

Once I get the rye bread into the oven I'm going to start on a batch of Wheat Kansas' Prairie Gold flour that I've milled.  It will have aged an entire 3 days by then.  I'm going to use it straight for a loaf of whole wheat bread.  I'll try to document it with photos too.  Our son is chomping at the bit to see how it toasts.

Cliff. Johnston
"May the best you've ever seen,
 Be the worst you'll ever see;"
from A Scots Toast by Allan Ramsay

Cliff Johnston's picture
Cliff Johnston

Although the initial rise was noticeably quicker, it proved to be no greater in the end when compared to previous batches.  Where I did notice a couple of significant differences was during the transfer of the dough into the Dutch oven and the finished loaf. 

Transferring the dough into the Dutch oven has been a bit of a problem for me in the past with this recipe.  It's a large amount of dough in a very large, heavy bowl.  The dough tended to start slowly and then suddenly gain speed and "plop" no matter how I tried to slow it down - resulting in deflation, much of which was recovered during baking but often resulting in a surface wrinkle or two.  This time the dough started slowly and continued but without gaining too much speed.  As a result it just kind of lazily "rolled" into the Dutch oven.  I do use a wide spatula to ease its transfer too.  There was significantly less deflation (dare I say almost none noticeable), and the finished loaf looked much better.  The highest point measured 3-7/8" as compared to 3-5/8" for the fresh, unaged flour.

With the additional oil in the recipe the bread chews nicer too.  It "feels" fresher without feeling oily or greasy.   

Cliff. Johnston
"May the best you've ever seen,
 Be the worst you'll ever see;"
from A Scots Toast by Allan Ramsay

syllymom's picture
syllymom

I found this when trying to find more info on aging flour vs fresh milled.  I found this to be a good study of flour in all aspects.  Grab a coffee or tea and sit back for lesson.

 http://media.wiley.com/product_data/excerpt/69/04712685/0471268569.pdf

Sylvia

staff of life's picture
staff of life

Hi Cliff

I just read all about your experimentation and I'm very interested in it!  How does the taste compare between the loaves made with the store bought flour, the loaves made directly from the freshly ground flour and the slightly aged flour?  Can you discern a considerable difference between each?  I'm anxious to hear your response!

Cliff Johnston's picture
Cliff Johnston

There is a big difference in taste among the three.  All of my family says that the flour that I mill makes better tasting bread.  I should hope so as I use only organically grown grain or certified chemical free grain.

The freshly milled flour makes a tasty bread with a mild, simple flavor.  The bread itself doesn't hold together as well - the crumb is weak.  I just finished a bread making experiment with flour aged for various times yesterday.  My conclusion is to let it age for at least 3 days.  I keep it in the fridge, and even so it makes a difference.  The longest that I've been able to "hide" a batch of my home milled flour was 14 days.  I didn't see much difference between that and 7 days.  In fact, 3 days allows for a pretty good "cure".  The crumb holds together better with the aged flour.  The flavor that develops too is more complex and stronger - although I don't like to use that word because it really isn't a "strong" flavor, but rather stronger than mild...does that make sense?  I just can't find the right word for it at this moment.  Let's just call it "tastier".  I've also found that it's best to let the bread be at least overnight - that's asking for the impossible, but it makes for a better bread for toasting.  We love our toasted bread, eating some 3x/day.  I've not been able to leave fresh bread uncut overnight though.  We always breakdown and slice off some of the crust...yummy!

In a sentence I'd recommend aging your home-milled flour for 3-7 days before baking with it simply because it will result in better bread, bread that looks better, slices better, and tastes better. 

I resort to store bought flour when I can't mill it, as in white all purpose flour or cake flour, both of which we use very little. 

Cliff. Johnston
"May the best you've ever seen,
 Be the worst you'll ever see;"
from A Scots Toast by Allan Ramsay

Susan's picture
Susan

I was very curious about aging freshly milled flour, so really do appreciate your research. I've got some that's been sitting a few days. I'll whip up a batch of sourdough tonight.

Susan

staff of life's picture
staff of life

Thanks for all that research!  I enjoyed the flavor of the freshly-milled whole wheat flour bread, but it does have a tendency to fall apart in the mouth, and not in a good way.  Methinks I shall place an order for my own mill right now!

 

Maeve's picture
Maeve

(this is my very first post, so please forgive me if I'm in the wrong place or I'm being redundant :) )

 

I started baking bread a couple of months ago - I wanted to be able to make an edible, sliceable, toastable loaf of bread, basically Italian-ish.  And I did a fair job of it.  Then I raided my local library and discovered Peter Reinhart's book BBA and my bread got even better.  Then I got a grain mill and my results have been eratic - good flavour, certainly - it was astonishing to discover how much flavour freshly milled flour can actually have!  But, the bread itself - sometimes it comes out fabulous and other times it's a brick.

 

I have shaping issues.  My Dad prefers a loaf baked in a pan, it makes it easier to fit in the toaster.  I prefer artisan breads, I feel it's a more artistic way to go, but will defer to Dad.  My husband doesn't much care what shape it is!  My son is happy if he gets a PB&J in his lunchbox.  But I can't seem to roll up the dough for a loaf pan!  The final loaf just un-rolls.  It's depressing, especially after I thought I was doing so well.

 

I'm using Organic Spring Wheat from a local vitamin/whole foods shop - that's the only info on the label.  Currently using a modified BBA recipe:  I make the biga with KA bread flour and then use my milled flour for the final bread.

 

Anyway - I'm enjoying reading all these posts!  I'm learning a lot. 

JMonkey's picture
JMonkey

Welcome, Maeve!

I posted a video about how to shape a pan loaf HERE. There are lots of ways to shape them, but this one works well for me.

kjknits's picture
kjknits

Hey JMonkey, that's a great video!  I shape mine in a similar way, except I have never done the first rough shaping with the 10-minute rest.  I'll try that on Weds. when I make my next batch of sandwich bread.  Thanks for taking the time to do that!

Cliff Johnston's picture
Cliff Johnston

...the no-knead method of making bread?  It solves many of your problems...except that it doesn't use a bread pan, and I think that I've worked my way around that issue.

Cliff. Johnston
"May the best you've ever seen,
 Be the worst you'll ever see;"
from A Scots Toast by Allan Ramsay

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Once you've rolled up your loaf shape, pinch the seam together to make it stick and put the seam side down for the final rise or proof.   Hope that keeps the little buggars from unrolling themselves.   :)  --Mini Oven