The Fresh Loaf

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Confused about hydration - home milling

AndyPanda's picture

Confused about hydration - home milling

I'm new to this forum - but I've been (successfully) baking bread for many years.  The method I've always used is the classic way that Bosch and other mixers were demo'd 45 years ago when I got started - by that I mean you grind your wheat and then put everything but the fresh flour in the mixer and gradually add flour until the texture of the dough looks right.  (and this could be plus/minus a cup or two of flour depending on the weather that day).  I've always had wonderful luck with this method.

Now I've joined this forum and I'm reading about so many techniques that are new to me (weighing instead of measuring, autolyse,  overnight or longer proofing in the fridge etc.) --- and they all make wonderful sense when I read them, but I just can't make them work for me and the results I get just don't make any sense to me.

People have told me that because I'm grinding my wheat fresh, it is probably really dry.  But based on my experience and observations - I suspect the opposite, that my fresh ground wheat has a lot of moisture in it.  The reasons I think this are:

When I grind wheat in a micronizer type mill (Magic Mill III) where the flour collection bowl fits airtight to the grinder top, after I finish grinding and open up the flour container, it smells and feels very humid and, in fact, there is film of gummy wheat stuck to all the surfaces as though moisture had coated all the surfaces and the flour dust stuck to it.

Also - when I now weigh my flour and water, I find that dough of the texture I'm used to calculates to a very low hydration (like 50 or 60) and if I make a higher hydration based on weight, it is a sticky goo that won't begin to hold any shape.  And letting it sit in the fridge overnight (or even for 2-3 days) does not dry it up at all.

I've been experimenting with higher hydration dough for a couple of weeks and the birds really love me now because everything I bake ends up being bread I wouldn't want to eat - but the birds like the bread crumbs I'm feeding them :).

I mill Hard Red or Hard White wheat - I mill it pretty fine and I don't sift it.  It seems to have good gluten development but it is very wet and sticky when I go by weight - it is lovely if I go back to my old method of just adding flour until it feels right.

I'm feeling pretty dumb right now - so hoping someone can help me understand.  :)   thanks!

EDIT:  I've responded to my own post several times below -- but I don't see a way to attach a picture to those replies so I'm attaching a picture here with a chart that I discovered two or three posts down and this seems to explain what I'm seeing.  It shows the results from two separate scientists that tested to determine the moisture content of wheat berries based on the humidity in the environment.  

Further edit:  Now I'm back to being just as confused as before - haha - I'm pretty sure it's not possible that my wheat is 16% water - at least not as far as calculating hydration.  I think you can probably chalk up my posts below as me going round and round the mulberry bush and getting nowhere.    




AndyPanda's picture

OK ... as an experiment I made some dough with King Arthur bread flour.  I had to use WAY more water than I would ever use with my fresh milled wheat to get this to feel like dough.  My KA BF dough ball at 78% hydration felt about the same (elastic, sticky but easily workable) as my fresh ground WW dough at 50% hydration.  

So ... I'm still confused why my fresh milled wheat is so different --- but at least I can see why all the 70-80% hydration recipes I've been trying turn out way too wet with my fresh milled flour. 

I think I'll have to start calculating some percentage of my wheat weight as water for me to use recipes meant for packaged flour.

AndyPanda's picture

Found a scientific paper studying moisture content of wheat berries compared to environmental humidity.  If I understood it correctly, at ambient 10% humidity wheat berries will be about 6% moisture and at 95% ambient humidity wheat berries will be 21% moisture.   

I'm in the San Francisco Bay area - local weather says it's 80% relative humidity today.   The paper I read indicated that would mean 16% of my wheat weight is water.

I'm probably completely misunderstanding this.

When I used KA flour, I was making pizza dough - so it's really simple (flour, water, salt, yeast) but when I make WW sandwich bread I'm adding honey and butter and those ingredients must be adding a lot more moisture than I had thought (in another post someone suggested honey was quite high in water content and someone else said "no it isn't").  I was told that oil doesn't count as water in the hydration calculation but it certainly does change how wet the dough feels.     

Anyway ... I just experimented with plain old flour, water, salt, yeast using my home milled flour and it does seem to behave much like the KA flour did --- so I think I've been on a bit of a snipe hunt here :)

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

Now I don't grind my own wheat but I'm wondering if hydration is hydration, i.e. hydration doesn't change, but rather the feel of the dough will differ. The absorbency of the flour will change and rather than dry or wet should oily be included in this? Now I'm with you with regard to thinking that freshly milled flour will have higher water content than flour that has already been milled. Makes sense to me. But I just thought of another reason why the opposite may be true... could flour that hasn't been freshly milled have more time to absorb moisture from the air?

charbono's picture



I'm not sure if you still have a question.


Your wheat kernels are almost certainly between 10 and 14% water, except in extremes of relative humidity.  I think most bakers ignore the native flour water in calculating their water additions.


I have not noticed a difference of absorption between home-milled flour and store flour, other things being equal.  However, other things are never equal.  Each lot of wheat kernels will have a different protein percentage, and higher protein absorbs more water.  Each type of mill and each setting on the mill will generate a different amount of damaged starch, and more damaged starch means more absorption.


You can check the amount of water in various foods and ingredients at


Since you are happy with the results of adding water until the dough feels right, you could weigh it and then compute a hydration percentage of the original flour weight for future reference. 

AndyPanda's picture

You mentioned that damaged starch means more absorption .... and that raises a couple of questions I hope you might be able to answer for me.

I'm pretty new to the forum - but I've been home milling wheat all my life.  I have tried a few different types of grinders but have been using the impact/micronizer type ever since I first saw one ages ago.  Since I've been on the forum here, I've read several posts mentioning damaged starch when discussing different grinding  methods.  But I don't have any idea what that means.  How does starch get damaged and what are the effects?

Related question --- I generally set my mill to the finest or pretty close to finest setting when I'm making flour for bread (I mostly make sandwich bread in bread pans).  The resulting flour is warm but not even close to being hot (this type mill is moving air constantly through the mechanism and through the wheat while it is being pulverized).   I know most mills recommend a setting a few notches more coarse than the finest settings - and I've read posts here in the forum suggesting that very fine grind would NOT be optimal for bread.   I had wondered if this was related to the starch damage question.

Does starch damage have to do with taste? Or with gluten quality? Or something else?

Does the fineness of the grind contribute to starch damage? (assuming it isn't getting hot)  

Does the fineness of the grind affect flavor?  (I have always thought it was the texture - at least that's why I grind fine, I get a softer, more flexible bread - but missing some of the hearty, crunchy texture of a coarser grind)



charbono's picture

A summary of damaged starch is found here:


dabrownman's picture

flour to be much more absorbent than any white patent flour either AP or bread flour.  It is also mire absorbent than whole flours bought retail because many whole wheat flours sold are not anywhere near whole grain flour we mill at home.  It is easy to test by making bath of AP flour and bread flour at 78% hydration and compare that dough to home milled whole grain wheat at 78% hydration the home milled dough will be much, much stiffer than either of the white flour and the home milled dough will need nearly 100% hydration to get to the feel of the AP at 78%.  Flour with all the bran and germ in it, that parts taken out in white patent flours, are way more absorbent.

So my experience it totally opposite to yours and I grind my grains as fine as possible using an impact Nutrimill or Wondermill.  The fiber you grind the more starch damage will happen but I have never found this to be any problem at all with either one of the mills I have used.  A commercial roller mill that grinds so much finer cause the most starch damage of all and the  white patent flours coming from them are the most damaged

My fresh home milled flour is light years better than anything you can buy in the store as well.  The bread is way more flavorful, nutritious, handsome and even easier to digest when the grain is sprouted before grinding.

thumper256's picture

Hi Andy. Your test results are surprising since whole grains typically require a higher hydration that white flour. 

I also mill my own flour and I never go below 80% hydration with my bread dough (typically 85% or higher). I have never considered the grain moisture levels in my hydration calculation, but I am am not sure it would make that much of a difference. I am also based in the bay area and have been dealing with the same high humidity (and rain) recently, but it has only had a minor effect on my bread making. 

Of course you may also see big differences based on the wheat you are milling. Typically I use a blend of different grains when baking bread, however over the weekend I did an experiment to test the difference between two of the types of wheat that I commonly use (Wheat Montana Prairie Gold and Great River Hard Red Spring wheat). I milled both grains using the exact same mill settings (no sifting). I followed the exact same percentages, timings, and temperatures to build dough with 100% of each grain and then shaped/baked them the same. at 85% hydration I found the Great River dough to be fairly slack (needed more stretch/folds) and the Prairie Gold could have easily handled more hydration. Of course the results would not be the same for all red vs white wheat, but it was just to see the difference between two specific wheat if all other variables were the same. 

I have added a picture of the showing the crumb difference between the two loaves (Great River on left, Prairie Gold on right).



This of course did not really answer your question, but was more to show that the wheat moister levels in fresh milled wheat and the current bay are humidity is probably not the cause of your problem. My only guess may be that the wheat you are using is lower in protein, but even then I could imagine making a usable dough at only 50% hydration.

thumper256's picture

Great River Hard Red Spring wheat vs Prairie Gold at 85% hydration

Great River Hard Red Spring wheat vs Prairie Gold Hard White Spring Wheat (right) at 85% hydration

dabrownman's picture

made from hard white spring wheat so the Prairie Gold has much more of the gluten forming proteins than the red spring even though they both might have very similar protein percentages.  It should be more thirsty and the gluten formed much better - the high rising loaf results are just what any baker would want!

Nice comparison.

ron45's picture

I'm not sure if the subject above is descriptive of the issues here. But I keep thinking "your bread aint broke!" In the words Paul McCartney `let it be'.

I have no where near your experience and live in central New Mexico where today the humidity is 52%. It's usually much dryer here. My bread usually looks more like the crumb on the left. I would prefer it a little more open if that is the correct term. Do you bake with yeast or a sour dough culture? I'm thinking of trying the sour dough route.

From the things you say if you aren't already familiar with it check out the posts/threads about Desem Bread. I believe it originated in Belgium. Not sure if the spelling is correct on the name. for us whole wheat purists it doesn't get any more `inbread' than this. [couldn't resist the pun]

I'm just moving back toward baking again. I stopped a few years ago because I could not get a whole wheat loaf that was light enough [ more open texture ] to have with something like pasta. If I didn't add some white flour it was just too dense. I tried most of the `new ideas' you mentioned plus extra gluten. I loved it with just cheese or Columbus hard salami secchi.  It's a fine meal that way. My one and only Desem came out very dense also. Perhaps the culture got contaminated or something. I did the whole metal can 10 lbs of organic hard red winter wheat method from Laurel's Kitchen.

I'll add a link to some info on  Desem . This is the long tedious, someone said, I think there is a faster version in the Desem threads somewhere.


AndyPanda's picture

I'm still curious to see what I can learn and to try some new techniques.  But this is the type of crumb I get with my tried and true method of not weighing/calculating and just adding flour to the liquid until it feels right to me.  This is 100% hard white wheat milled just before mixing/kneading (magic mill III impact grinder set very fine).  This is a soft and flexible sandwich bread.

Benjamin Holland's picture
Benjamin Holland

I just wanted to add that, as someone who mills a lot, and uses various different sources of wheat, I think it's important to remember that the moisture level in wheat berries can vary quite a bit. While sourcing local wheat here in IL, I spoke to one farmer who explained to me how the wheat drier is used in the process. It became clear that there are many processing decisions that can greatly impact the eventual moisture level. If you get wheat from different sources, try putting a berry from each in your mouth and chew on it for a bit. You may notice that one softens faster. Another way to observe this difference is to run your hand around in a bucket of the wheat berries. You will notice that with some, it will have a very smooth feel and dull sound like wooden pellets. With others, however, it will sound like glass pellets flowing around each other. Obviously this is drier. That's just how it goes with plants in many cases. Of course processors would ideally nail these things, but in my experience, they don't.

If you want to develop a more scientific approach to your bread proportions, I would begin by recording information from you intuitive method. You could begin by measuring out a sufficient quantity of flour. Then make you bread by feel as before, and then weigh the remaining flour again and subtract to determine how much you used. You will then know what exactly you are doing. You can compare the hydration level you are using to that recommended in various recipes. From there you can diagnose why there is a difference. It could include anything from wheat moisture level, to various techniques, salt level, types of liquid, soaking time, etc.

If you are interested in high hydration breads, I highly recommend looking into the Tartine method, and the various offshoots of it. It involves numerous ways of making it much easier to handle and build structure into high-hydration dough. There is lots of info in this forum, the Tartine book itself (which is honestly a bit light on information), and I have posted some instruction videos on this forum that walks you through the steps.

AndyPanda's picture

OK ... well I figured out (duh - I feel pretty dumb) that a lot of my confusion was coming from additional ingredients I add (oil, honey) that make the dough feel wet but aren't generally included in hydration calculations.   So, as a test, I've been baking bread without (or with fewer) those ingredients.  

But I'm still having trouble with the more hydrated dough (and these are way less than the high hydration I read about here in the forum).  I'm still getting poor loaves when I try to do the higher hydration.

I also experimented with sifting out the bran - totally new thing for me. I've always just ground the wheat fresh and started mixing right away without any sifting.   I was really surprised by how much bran I was able to sift out with a #40 and a #60 screen I bought to experiment with.   The gluten develops much easier but the bread is too white for my tastes so I've been experimenting adding some of the bran back in.

Anyway ... with the higher hydration dough, my loaves cave in and don't seem to get baked enough in the middle. I'm thinking lower heat for longer time?  Or have I got it backwards?  Below are two loaves - the higher hydration (72%) on the right.  The one on the left is delicious - I started at 72% and then added flour until it felt right.  Both doughs rested overnight in the fridge, warmed up the next morning and shaped into loaves, let rise in the pan and baked.  Maybe I need to (knead to?) learn the special stretch and folds or some other loaf shaping for the higher hydration?


dabrownman's picture
dabrownman  he is a Fresh Lofian as well.

JCFSF's picture

I live in San Francisco and have just started milling my own flour.  I have suspected from the get go that the moisture content of my fresh milled flour was much higher: using the same hydration levels I have been using for years the dough was coming out much wetter.  I use a WonderMill (micronizer) and just now I ground some red fife wheat and held my hand above the air filter and it ended up extremely moist.  I too find gummy adherent flour residue in the container.  So I'll believe my own eyes and conclude that at least in the very humid San Francisco environment the moisture content of my fresh milled flour is considerably higher than that of flour from the store.  I wonder if Josey Baker would know anything about this....