Using Fresh Ground Flour
Baking with fresh ground flour is the best way to ensure you are getting all the nutrition from your breads and baked goods. Whether you buy your grains locally or not, when you mill your own flour you know your flour is fresh.
Store bought whole wheat flour has been milled, separated, then mixed up in ratios. You may lose some of the bran or germ, and likely the flour is already old and smelling dusty.
Wheat kernels, or berries, have three parts to them. These are the endosperm, the bran, and the germ.
The endosperm is what you get in white flour, after the germ and bran have been removed.
The bran of the wheat is the outer coating of the berry, where you find your fiber. It can break up gluten formation during baking, and is why using whole wheat flour can make your baked goods dense.
The germ is where the oils and nutrients are located. This is the part that can go rancid quickly. Rancid whole wheat flour will smell dusty or sour and taste bitter.
Most of a wheat berry is the endosperm, the starchy bits that make up white flour.
Since fresh ground flour goes bad so quickly, most 100% whole wheat recipes add honey or another sweetener to them. Fresh ground flour smells good, and tastes good. You don’t need sweetener to mask the flavor.
Fresh ground flour behaves differently than white flour. Depending on how fresh it is, how it was ground, and whether it was sifted or not can affect your bread.
You can try substituting fresh ground flour into any baked good, but it helps to use a recipe already set up for whole wheat flour. You can also use a favorite white bread recipe, and add in larger percentages of fresh ground flour each time you bake until you reach the right result for you.
Different wheat types will also change your bread. White wheat berries taste milder, and might be a good first wheat to try if you have picky eaters. Hard wheat is better for breads, while soft wheat works well in pastries and tortillas. You can buy heirloom wheats as well.
There are a few farms that sell local grains in Maryland, but at the moment no one offers fresh flour (Migrash did, but their grinder is not working right now). If you want fresh ground flour, you’ll have to mill it yourself or find a supplier that mails it quickly.
I own two grain grinders, a manual one and an electric one. I enjoy making sourdough whole wheat pizza, but tend to cut whole wheat flour with white flour for sourdough bread.
Baking with Fresh Ground Flour
Whole wheat flour often bakes up densely for several reasons. First, the bran in the flour is like little knives, breaking up gluten formation that allows bread to rise.
Second, fresh ground flour is fluffier, so if you bake with volume rather than weight, your bread might have too little flour to bake up properly.
And third, dough made from fresh ground flour might need a lighter hand when kneading it.
There is a lot of advice out there about baking with fresh ground flour, though what works for one person might not work for you.
Ultimately, you can sift your flour to remove bran, or soak your flour to soften it. You can weigh your flour rather than use measuring cups. You can start with a good whole wheat recipe and knead it according to directions, or stretch and fold rather than kneading it.
If you want to adapt a recipe for fresh ground flour, you will want to play with how much flour to use. Since fresh ground dough is thirstier, some say use less flour. Other say add more flour because it is fluffier. Use your own judgement, or make the recipe as written initially with store bought flour so you know what the dough should look and feel like.
You can buy specialty flours that have been sifted, with different extraction percentages listed. Depending on how finely the flour has been ground, you can sift out a lot or a little of the bran.
I have this sifter for my flour. I mill it fairly fine, and with the sifter I remove about 8% of the weight of the flour, meaning it is a 92% extraction.
Fresh ground flour should be used within 7 to 10 days, or frozen for later use.
Recipes to use Fresh Ground Flour
For this post, I decided to try making the King Arthur recipe with fresh ground unsifted flour, and fresh ground sifted to 92% extraction. I found the sifted bread rose better (the first loaf in the header picture), but the texture was fairly similar for both.
I used hard red whole wheat because that’s what I had on hand. I plan to try again with white whole wheat once I get some more.
I don’t like the amount of sweetness used in the King Arthur recipe. I assume the honey is there to cut the bitterness of old flour. I use much less than the recipe calls for because my flour isn’t bitter.
I also prefer to simply use a cup of milk rather than a cup of water plus dried milk. I also weighed my flour rather than measured it.
I don’t bake yeasted sandwich bread often, but in the future I plan to cut the honey down significantly. I’d like to use butter instead of vegetable oil. And I want to try the autolyse method mentioned in the Serious Eats recipe.
Though I would like to play with grinding flour coarser and removing more bran, the King Arthur bread was very good, and plenty fluffy enough for a good sandwich.
There are many local bakeries out there that bake whole wheat bread locally. I use them often, but really like to know how to bake my own.
Sourdough and yeasted breads are great to play with, and nearly always come out tasty even if I bake a brick from time to time.
Baking with fresh ground flour gives you the nutrients that often aren’t in the bread we eat. You don’t need as much sweetener because the bread tastes good on its own. You can play with different wheat varieties to find your favorite.
Starting with a 100% whole wheat recipe can help rather than modifying a white flour one. Get a kitchen scale so you have consistency, and play with yeasted recipes rather than sourdough at first can help.
Sifting flour means removing the bran, but the nutrients from the germ should remain behind. You can get a lighter loaf without losing the oils that modern white flour removes.
Baking bread from fresh ground flour is delicious, a fun hobby, and nutritious too. More work? Certainly. But you can control exactly what you are eating when you make it yourself!