The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

To mill or not to mill. That is the question.

Runnerfemme's picture
Runnerfemme

To mill or not to mill. That is the question.

Looking for some opinions. I am a long time, fairly advanced home baker and cook, although I've only really gotten into bread baking in the last year.  I bake at least one loaf weekly, usually 2.  I have been reading about milling one's own flour.  Is it worth it for flavor; is it worth it on cost; is it worth it on convenience???  Thoughts.  And if you are pro milling - please tell me what mill you prefer overall.  All advice is most welcome!

Here is my current pro/con list:

Cons:

Buying a mill is expensive (I recognize there are cost savings at the back end...).

It's yet another thing to store.

Does it make a mess?

Will it add a step that I feel is an inconvenience?

Will I be able to produce sufficiently fine product?

Is sourcing grain and knowing what to buy confusing?

Pros:

Start to finish homemade (except for the grain growing) is awesome!

Fun.

Flavor

Control over ingredients.

joc1954's picture
joc1954

I am sure that you will get many different answers: some pro and some cons. My answer is pro, not because I have a mill but because it freshly milled flour is really different from what you can get in a store or even in a good mill.

I was lucky that I got a used mill for about $120. Despite the fact, that I have a mill, I am not using it all the time. It's usage really depends on what I am baking as I can't produce really a white flour but only 80-90% extraction flour. Whenever I need a white (bread) flour I have to buy it.

Around the place where I live in Slovenia there is a lot of fields of wheat, rye, spelt, barley, oat and especially buckwheat. So I am always tempted to use really local grain. I am looking for organic production not in a big quantity. Just recently I found an extremely protein rich wheat produce by local farmer less than 2 miles away from my home. Without having a mill at home I would not be able to use this wheat for my bread. Actually I am now experimenting with 100% whole grain bread. Whatever comes out from the mill after putting in 1 kg of grain goes into the bread. And I must say that the taste of the bread is really different. For all recipes which call for part of  whole grain flour I am always using my mill (if I have whole grain of the required type at my hand).

I agree that the mill costs some money and takes some space, but I can't really imagine that I would be able to make so good bread without being able to mill at home.

Happy baking, Joze

 

BXMurphy's picture
BXMurphy

Where I live in Massachusetts, USA, very fine food is always five minutes away - if that. Shrink-wrapped and ready to eat!

There is no need to grow a garden, bake a cake, brew a beer, plant a garden, or slaughter something that you dragged out of a forest or plucked from the ocean. And, really, the difference in taste to my unsophisticated palate is unremarkable. I could take it or leave it... except for the emotional attachment.

I like growing a garden except for this year because it was too darned hot. My "cool" bread baking is too inconsistent to be even remotely enjoyable. One loaf this weekend came out of the oven at 3:00 a.m. Not really fun.

But, my friends and family can't (or won't) do it! And wowing them and making 'em jealous is priceless! Learning the process to make it easy is worth the effort.

I'm going to buy a Nutrimill. A perfectly serviceable and affordable mill. No hand-cranking and slaving away. But, still, *I* can say that *my* bread is freshly milled whole sprouted wheat at 70% hydration using yeast water for levaining with a 20% scald and yours isn't. A mother with seven kids would not be impressed.

Only do it if it's fun.

Murph

Filomatic's picture
Filomatic

I am in the same boat, so following this thread

BXMurphy's picture
BXMurphy

What I'm doing is buying and baking whole wheat flour from bags I buy at the local supermarket. Maybe I'll try sifting out hard bits, maybe it's too fine to even sift. Who knows?

The point is to play with what I can easily buy and see if I even like it. Mess around with a few recipes and then perfect them to bend them to my schedule. And THEN, if I discover that making cool bread is more than a passing fad and I can't live with anything less than Olympic perfection, I'd go out and buy a Nutrimill.

So far, for me, baking cool, artisan breads have been a major pain in the arse. It's not a lot of work like digging a trench but worrying and failing is not fun.

My advice is to perfect a recipe that you like eating and sharing. Then work to make it easy to fit your schedule. And ONLY if you haven't thrown yourself out a window and you still like what you're doing and think it would be even MORE fun standing on a ledge with your Nutrimill in one arm and a bricked loaf in the other... DON'T JUMP!

Got it? :)

Murph

Danni3ll3's picture
Danni3ll3

I don't want to hijack this thread but I really want you to succeed at your bread making. I was floundering like you until I got Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish. All of a sudden, I was making great bread. Then that gave me confidence to branch out trying to make my own combos. I even got into Tartine 3 which turned out to be an exercise in frustration for me because I expected my breads to look just like the ones in the book. Well my flour and conditions aren't the same so my bread won't look like his. Long story short, find yourself a great book that you can follow step by step and go from there. FWSY was the one for me (my kitchen was the same temp as his during the winter so the timings worked perfectly) but I know there are others out there that may work better for you. Bread baking is a challenge but it is fun. 

BXMurphy's picture
BXMurphy

Thanks, Dani3ll3!

I'm still plugging away and doing a LOT better than my earlier attempts, I'm proud to say. Thanks you for all your help and encouragement!

I find a lot of people here struggle (like me) but still want to run out and buy a bunch of things (like me) without knowing if they like or can produce the product.

Milling will add another 30 minutes minimum to your bake - maybe more if you struggle and juggle storage (like me). Dabrownman, bless him, has taken a three-day process out to five days and is bumping it up to seven! :) But that's what he likes.

The original poster was wondering if the effort is worth it and others are following along. There's no doubt that milling makes better bread. The question is whether it's right for a given person and that's tough to answer.

My answer is that if I'm struggling with timing, milling will only add a layer of complexity that I'm not ready to handle yet. But I *do* have a Mr. Coffee grinder that I'm willing to sacrifice to the cause. I'm also willing to play with different ingredients to see if I like the product and see if I can make it within the time allotted.

If not, it's crash and burn... frustration... quitting... and spending money for something that you'd be just as happy buying from the local bakery in the end.

Me? I'm still having fun learning the process one step at a time - with encouragement from great bakers like you! :)

Murph

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

youwill want to get a mill and sprout the grain before you dry it and mill it.  The sifting to get the bran separated from the high extraction flour is what makes the mess. I like to feed the bran to the starter to make the levain so it gets wettest the longest and the acid can work on it to soften it.  The buffering effects of the bran can do its wonders to make the most sour levain possible.  Perfect for the whole grain breads I like.  I would not consider baking bread without fresh milled flour of some kind in the mix.  It is too easy not to do it.

There is no comparison to stale, old flour they sell in bags that is at least 6 weeks old.  Just like sprouted grain is head and shoulders above non sprouted grain.  Like Peter Rienhart says, it is a bread revolution when it comes to sprouted grain - fresh sprouted grain requires a dehydrator too - another expense.

But I want to make bread that tastes the best to me that no one else makes.  Others who like white bread or breads with a bit of whole grain in them, the vast majority of bakers by far, would be fine without a mill or a dehydrator and be happy as I am.... making the the bread they love like I do.

So it is up to you what kind of bread you want to make and how much you want to spend.  I have found that the Nutrimill does everything I want and need a mill to do for making my one loaf of bread a week.

Happy bread baking your way

barryvabeach's picture
barryvabeach

First,  I agree, the biggest con in milling your own flour is that a nice stone mill is pretty expensive if you buy new.  On the other hand, you can usually find  a pretty good quality mill used on ebay for under $200,  sometimes under $ 150.

To answer your questions

Does it make a mess?   Not really.  I have used impact mills - like the Nutrimill, stone mills with a sliding tray  ( I had an AllGrind which is not all that common, but similar to an Excalibur ) , and stone mills that eject the flour with air -  like the All Grain  , and have never seen any mess.    At the very worst, you might have a quarter of a teaspoon of flour get on the table.

Will it add a step that I feel is an inconvenience?     I usually mill in advance, and store it in the freezer.  It can stay there quite a while, though since I bake at least once a week, I normally am using it within a week.  I run the mill in the garage while I am making bread in the kitchen from the flour in the freezer.  On most machines, it takes between 5 and 10 minutes to mill enough to make a loaf or two, the impacts are a little quicker.  So it shouldn't add any real inconvenience, though most stone mills are pretty heavy, and milling can be loud, so it is best if you can do it other than in your kitchen.

Will I be able to produce sufficiently fine product?  I have never had a problem making a very fine product with any of the mills that I have used.   I don't sift to get a white flour, I use 100 % of what comes out of the mill.

Is sourcing grain and knowing what to buy confusing? Like anything else, it sounds strange at first, but within a few times, you will get pretty familiar with the terms.  For yeast bread, all you need is a hard wheat.  If you like a strong flavor, you can get red, if you like a more neutral flavor, you can get white winter wheat berries, or you can mix some of each.  While you can also go with other varieties, like  Kamut, or Red Fife,  you don't have to to get great results.  

In terms of costs, where I live, there is no major cost difference between store bought flour and grain.  I pay around a $1 to $1.25 per pound for a 25 pound bag of wheat berries.  If you purchased in smaller quantities, the wheat berries would probably be more expensive than store bought flour.      To me, the added costs are offset by the health benefits.  There is a lot of hype about the exact benefits, but there is little doubt that much of the healthy parts of the berry are removed by  commercial flour processing. Scroll down to the photo showing the test tubes of what is removed from the berry in processing, it says a lot.  http://www.paulasbread.com/bread-tips.html

Once you decide to make the switch, you may find that you convert to completely whole wheat, and mill soft wheat varieties for pancakes, quick breads, and pasta.  

 

I would strongly suggest you consider a used machine off Ebay.  If you decide that it is not worth the time and effort to mill the wheat, you can typically resell the machine for about what you paid for it, so you would only be out the shipping cost. 

 

Runnerfemme's picture
Runnerfemme

These responses are exactly what I needed.  Murph, you crack me up.  I think I'm going to troll Ebay and see what I see.  My birthday is coming up this fall....  Maybe Birthday Claus will send me a mill. :)

clazar123's picture
clazar123

First of all, do you like whole wheat-the taste,  the consistency, etc. ?  If you do, then there is nothing like fresh-milled WW flour to wow the tastebuds. It is like the sweetness freshly mown grass and freshly chopped hay having a party in your mouth with the slightly yeasty taste of beer. Careful- it may become a new addiction!

Second, how are you at making the kind of WW bread you like? If you like the bread you make and believe you will be making it for a long time, then do invest in the hobby you enjoy. The bread only gets better!

I have a Whispermill/Nutrimill. It is loud but very efficient, cost about $200 new (for my birthday- :)  ), and is big to store. I don't sift anything out- I use the flour as is and adjust my breadmaking technique to allow for a good long soak to soften the branny bits for a soft sandwich-type loaf or a chewy loaf that doesn't crumble. Lots of ways to make bread! Check out dabrownman's posts. His bread is wonderful and he shares a lot of info on how to make great bread.

As for sourcing wheat-check Walmart (if you are in the USA). They used to sell 25# bags of red and white wheat berries in the baking section. Additionally,any store with a bulk section often will order a 25 or 40# bag of grain for you. That helps with shipping costs because that is usually why ordering online is a budget-buster. Large organic grocers will often put their bulk berries on sale. Or check if local CSA's know of locally grown wheat sources.

Milling adds an extra step, learning curve, cost and work to bread baking and I wouldn't do it as a cost-saving measure. I do it because the taste and enjoyment is  worth it. I no longer eat much bread so what I do eat must be the best.

Bake some delicious fun!

Lazy Loafer's picture
Lazy Loafer

I bake a lot of bread (I bake for customers as well as for myself). So I buy a good bread flour (unbleached and whole wheat) at Costco in 20kg sacks for the bulk orders.

But I also have a Wondermill Jr., and I love it. I bulk buy 20 kg sacks of various grains (Red Fyfe, rye, hard red spring wheat and spelt) and mill my own fresh flour in smallish amounts when I need it. The mill is clamped to the workbench in the basement workshop and always loaded with some kind of grain. My husband and I give the crank a few turns every time we pass by (it's on a direct path between the upstairs and the back door to the driveway) and voila, fresh flour! One of the pros is that the intact grain can be stored for a lot longer than milled flour.

The other good thing about the Wondermill Jr. is that it has both stones and steel burrs, and you can grind just about anything (including peanuts for butter, seeds, wet sprouted grains, etc.). You can't do that on all of them.

One of the interesting differences I've noticed is that the commercial whole wheat flour I buy is obviously reconstituted, meaning it was milled and sifted, and then bran and germ were added back in. If I sift this flour I get a whole lot of bran, whereas if I sift my hand milled whole wheat flour I get a mixture of particles that are quite different.

So, as always, it depends. :)

bigcrusty's picture
bigcrusty

Dear Runnerfemme,

I've been milling for about 2.5 years.  I have a Nutrimill ($229) from Pleasant Hill.com and a second mill ($169) which attaches to my Anskarum Mixer.  I buy my wheat and rye from Honeyville.com in 50 lbs. sacks and store it in plastic buckets inside mylar bags with a desiccant to keep it nice and dry.  I grind 5 lbs at a time.  

Yes you're right it takes more storage.  

The Nutrimill gives me my fine ground flour.  I found that when I wanted to make Horst Bandel Dark German Pumpernickel  I needed cracked Rye meal and couldn't get it with the Nutrimill so I bought the Anskarum mill attachment and it has given me the coarse meal I wanted.  I bring it when I snowbird (it's smaller).  It doesn't get it as fine as I'd like but the results are acceptable.

I like the taste of fresh but if you're buying decent flour you will probably still get good taste and whether that's good enough is a personal thing.  I'm big into back to basics and doing it vertically.  I even want to do my own wheat and rye in the back yard to just try it or find a local farmer who plants those crops here in Central Wisconsin.

It is not really too messy.  The Nutrimill and the Anskarum don't have flour dust flying all over.  The biggest pain is cleaning the receptacle bowl and drying it before restoring.

Yup, it is an extra step but I now can do the ancient grains like Kamut, Spelt, Buckwheat etc and with the flexibility to make just enough for the bake.  Grain stores better than flour.

Sourcing is not that hard.  I found it easy to source from Honeyville on standard grain like wheat and rye.  You can get smaller quantities if you like as well.  Price was pretty good but still more expensive than mass produced.  Ancient grains are tricker and more expensive since I buy in smaller quantities. If you have a coop in your area that can be another source of grain.  My local one carries wheat and rye.  My son lives in Santa Cruz, CA and his local place had a great selection of standard and ancient grains.  When I was in Washington State in May-June the coop in the Shawmut Valley had a good selection as well.

You'll not be able to get White flour without a machine sifter.  I've tried to get some 1st Clear which is about 25 -33 % extraction with a #30 and #50 hand sifters.  It takes 2 -3 hours for about 3 lbs.  Not worth it.  White would be even more work.  Rye and Wheat are just straight milling and the machines make it easier.

It might be worth it to see if a friend or TFLer in your area would mill some fresh and do a bake to see how you like it.  A couple of lbs takes only  two minutes to mill.

Hope this has been helpful.

Big Crusty

 

 

 

 

mlw03's picture
mlw03

I'm relatively new to home milling, but if you can source the grain and have the money to do it, I think it's worth it.  I have a mockmill, which attaches to my KA mixer and works really nicely.  A few good videos on youtube demonstrating it.  Not messy at all.  It's not super fast, grinding around 500 gm of grain in about 8 minutes.  The flour is nice and fine, solid for baking.  Your core grain to bake with is hard red wheat (spring or winter, shouldn't matter).  That's your basic foundation grain you need to be able to source at a reasonable price.  If you can't do that, the rest of this doesn't matter.  As to convenience, you do have to account for the extra time, but I don't find it onerous.  You may wish to mill at least a few hours in advance so the flour cools to room temperature, as I find the freshly milled flour already ferments quite actively with my sourdough/levain.  

mlw

AndyPanda's picture
AndyPanda

I've been grinding wheat for about 50 years and the reason it is worth it to me - fresh wheat germ!

Now I may have just been told a lot of bunk (this was a long time ago) but it was explained to me that wheat germ oil goes rancid in 4-5 days after the wheat is milled (I was told even if you freeze it, it still goes bad).   If you ever buy wheat germ and taste it, there is a burning sensation at the back of your throat - at least I had always noticed this - and I was told that was the rancid oil taste.   

I called all the local mills and asked about buying FRESH wheat germ and I was told that they wouldn't sell it in anything less than 100 pound bags.  And I know I can't eat 100 pounds of wheat germ in a week.  But back in those days (hippy days) there was one company that would FedEx overnight a one pound bag of fresh wheat germ milled that day - expensive for the FedEx but I tried it and the taste was unbelievable compared to the regular wheat germ you could buy off the shelf at the grocery store or health food store.  But who can afford to keep paying for overnight FedEx to get fresh wheat germ?

I'm new here - and maybe I'll learn that this 50 year old information I'm giving you is a bunch of hooey --- but that is what got me interested in milling my own wheat.  I only grind enough for the loaf of bread I'm about to bake and I eat that bread today or tomorrow and then mill some more wheat and bake another loaf.  I don't freeze my bread.  I only bake what I will eat within a day or two.