The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Best Mill for Milling Soft Wheat

John K.'s picture
John K.

Best Mill for Milling Soft Wheat

I am interested in purchasing a home mill for milling wheat, but I am particularly interested in purchasing a mill that will mill not only hard wheat but also soft wheat. From looking around on the internet, it appears that hand-cranked mills, even the Diamant, are not really suited to milling soft wheat, which apparently tends to clog them. I suppose that leaves me with electric mills? If so, will some electric mills mill soft wheat and some won't? Any recommendations?

I am particularly interested in soft wheat for a couple reasons. One is that the wheat grown locally is soft wheat, as our climate here in Northern Indiana is apparently not well-suited to growing hard wheat. Also, I've read Ed Wood's Classic Sourdoughs, and he seems to dispute there the very common wisdom that hard high-gluten wheat is better for bread than softer low-gluten wheat, at least for sourdough. And in fact, I tried his recipe for Whole Wheat Sourdough (on his website) using the South African culture and hard red wheat flour and it came out very dense and gluey (although I think I messed up a step and wound up kneading in extra flour at a step when the recipe calls for treating the dough "gently"). I then on my second try substituted organic whole wheat "pastry flour" for the hard wheat flour (although the culture itself I used in the recipe had been fed with hard wheat flour) and it came out much better. I'm now thinking of feeding at least one jar of the culture with soft wheat and seeing how it turns out.  

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

I have personally found Ed Wood to be a terrible source for accurate information. Even the instruction sheet for reconstituting his dried starter is filled with bogus information that misleads and instills wrong-headedness in the first-time sourdough baker.

There is a reason why there is a market for hard spring wheat, as there is a market for what is grown in your area.  Otherwise the farmers would be growing something else.  The starter doesn't care about the protein level of the flour it is fed.  The only reason you should care is because it will be combined with other flour in the bread you bake.

Read 500 relevant posts here on TFL and you will get the wisdom of crowds - which is quite good (on average :-)

John K.'s picture
John K.

I actually before I posted this ran across several posts here discussing the successful use of soft wheat for baking bread. I've also ran across the claim in a couple different places that soft wheat was favored for baking bread in the 19th century, prior to the industrialization of bread. I also read in Small-Scale Grain Raising by Gene Logsdon that despite the claim that only hard wheat should be used for baking bread he's made excellent bread with soft wheat. But as you guessed I am very new to sourdough and bread-making in general.

John K.'s picture
John K.

I was wondering if you could specify what information in the instruction sheet is bogus, since for several reasons (e.g., I got my starter from Sourdough International, and I want to try his recipe for hamburger and hot dog buns) I am using his book (and instruction sheet, which follows the book) as my baseline as I embark on sourdough baking, although I have purchased a number of other books (including the Kindle Fresh Loaf baking manual) and intend to incorporate them as I get more comfortable with sourdough baking. A specific question: What happens, if anything, if you do the "Culture Proof" for longer than the 8-12 hours (at room temperature) specified in the instruction sheet? In this instance, I didn't plan things well, and because I had to go to work wasn't able to remove the specified amount of the culture from the Culture Proof and commence the recipe at the end of the 12 hour period. As a result, the "Culture Proof" has been going on for 18 hours and counting. I assume the mere fact that the Culture isn't refrigerated for some time isn't going to harm it. Can I just go ahead and use the Culture as I normally would when I get home from work?

charbono's picture
charbono

I have milled soft wheat with a Retsel Mil-Rite.  It worked, but on a tight setting it tended to clog.

 

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

Take a good look at the Komo mills from Germany.  They work and they work very well.

Jeff

John K.'s picture
John K.

Thanks. I looked at their site and they specifically state that their mills can grind soft wheat. At least they state that for the electric mills. The hand mill conspicuously doesn't state that, stating only that it can grind all "dry grains."

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

Moisture content can dramatically affect mill performance. And you might have to precondition soft wheat by drying it out somewhat.  I have glazed the stones on my Retsel Mil-Rite and had to grind some rice to clean them up.  I think it was a slightly wet(er) batch of white whole wheat that I did not pre-dry.

By all means, go with what works for you.  I suspect that hard wheat was hard to mill back in the olden days and soft wheat would more easily produce a fine white flour (after sifting). There are lots of commercial flours from lots of different millers made from lots of different wheats.  You can pick and choose or mill your own. I mill at home only to have fresh whole wheat and not have to depend on the storage and transportation system to deliver it.  I think it tastes better, but that could easliy be my imagination or the fact that I have not tried a lot of commercial whole wheat flours.

John K.'s picture
John K.

Thanks very much. I'm sure the best way to sort out what works for me is to experiment, including with different flours. My first experiments suggested that soft wheat works better for me than hard wheat, at least for whole wheat sourdough, but as I mentioned that might be because I messed up one of the steps in my effort using hard wheat. I need to try that again with hard wheat. I may be getting a little ahead of myself, and probably should develop my baking skills a little more before I think about purchasing a grain mill and milling my own flour.

The grain mill I thought I really wanted was the Country Living Grain Mill, but the rep told me in an email that their mill is not really suited for milling soft wheat. Talk about honesty in marketing! By contrast, I just heard back from a Komo rep, and she told me that all their mills, including the hand-cranked one, will grind soft wheat. She also said pretty much what you just said, that the only thing that would clog the burrs/stones is grain with a moisture content over 10-11% and that most grains sold for grinding have been dried to that level. Which makes me wonder whether the rep for the Country Living Grain Mill is underestimating the capability of his product out of an abundance of caution/honesty!

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

John,

I stared out using a Nutramill when I began baking a couple of years ago.  It will mill anything including popcorn.

After a year I switched to a KoMo mill because it provided me with more options in terms of coarseness vs finely ground grain and it is much easier to clean.  It will not mill popcorn and only gets gummed up when I mill oat groats on their own.  Cleaning the stones is no problem at all.  I  have never had a problem when I mill soft wheat.

When I first began milling and baking I experimented with all types of grains and Peter Reinhart's book Whole Grain Breads was my 'go to' book for baking with whole grains due to his use of using soaked whole grains which makes a world of difference when using 100% whole grains in breads.  

After a couple of years baking on a daily basis using wy only my 'base' flour tends to be the flour I grind from hard white whole wheat berries.  If I add soft wheat to the mix I keep it at about 25% of the total flour used and tend to use it when making rolls as opposed to loaves.  I generally get a higher/lighter loaf when using the hard wheat but I also ferment my doughs over night in the refrigerator which changes the outcome.

My suggestion to you would be to get a mill that is capable of grinding a variety of grains.  Once you get into this you may be surprised where it takes you :-)

Have fun!

Janet

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

When you are starting to learn about sourdough (or yeast dough for that matter) you want to minimize the number of variables that can contribute to bad outcomes. For sourdough that means get a known good starter (like the one King Arthur sells for almost nothing and it comes wet so you don't have the issue of reconstituting dried dead starter).

Use commercial bread flour and don't change the brand until you have mastered what you are doing with that one.

Pick a known good formula as a baseline and practice, practice, practice - and keep a detailed set of notes with annotated photos so you can figure out what you did differently when something goes well (or badly).

Don't eat all of your bread.  If you demand that you don't bake again until you need it, you won't bake often enough to learn very fast. So plan on giving away lots of bread.

Trial and success is a marvelous way to make rapid progress, but you need lots of trials.

You would think that flour, water, starter, and salt is a pretty simple formula.  There are probably 50 variables in what you are doing and you really need to control all of them, making a change in only one at a time.  Your experiments must only change one thing at a time or you have no clue what caused the change you observed.  And in most cases, the change is caused by something you didn't even know was a variable and were not controlling.

When everything is under control and you can predict the effect of changing brands of commercial flour, then you might be ready to buy a mill and try grind your own flour. It is rarely cheaper than commercial flour and it is rarely as consistent as commercial flour. If you can't tell the difference - don't do it.

 

 

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

I would think twice, maybe three times, or four, before I bought a hand mill.  If you will make bread only occasionally then this might be fine.  If you bake regularly, you may find that the hand mill is calling for far more upper body strength than you are willing to put out...or maybe you are willing.  Just make certain that you know what you are getting into with hand milling.

Jeff

proth5's picture
proth5

Jeff's advice on hand milling.  I do it, but it is a non trivial commitment.  And for a little old lady, I now have some scary upper body strength...

I have milled soft wheat (and many other grains) on my Diamant.  It uses steel burrs - unlike the Country Living Mill which uses stone - and that might be why the Country Living folks steered you away , while I have been successful with the Diamant.

If you have the money in your pocket and the desire to hand mill - the Diamant is a lovely mill.

Happy Milling!

Pat