Mill Yer Own
Readers share their passion for home milling
I have two new pieces up on Epicurious on the virtues of using freshly-milled flour in your baking. The first, The Power of Fresh Flour, explains the reasons why you should be using fresh-milled flour, and gives recommendations for some of my favorite regional millers to try.
The second one, For More Flavorful Baking, Mill Your Own Flour at Home, is all about milling flour yourself for maximum freshness. It’s more of a practical guide to the hows and whys to make the move into home flour milling, with recommendations on mills to consider and grains to start working with.
One thing I didn’t mention in the second story were my personal preferences for mills. I currently use a Komo Fidibus Classic tabletop stonemill, which is a thing of beauty and a workhorse. And though I haven’t used one myself, I have no qualms about recommending any of the tabletop Mockmill mills, since they are evolutions of the mill I own, and because I know they are made by people with a real passion for baking and home milling (including Paul Lebeau, who I quote from extensively below).
As for grains to mill, I think your best bet is to ask your local/regional miller if they will sell you some of the same grains they mill themselves, which most are happy to do. (I buy both flour and grain from GroundUp myself.) Otherwise, look for grains that are known to perform well in breads (Breadtopia has a nice selection).
Another thing I’d hoped to share in the milling at home story but ended up not having room for was testimonials and tips from other bakers who mill at home. So I’m going to share them here instead. I hope that doing so encourages others who mill at home to share similarly in the comments below. Thanks to everyone who shared their passion for milling at home!
I have a Komo Fidibus Classic which was chosen primarily on aesthetics, since it would have a permanent place on our countertop in my baking corner of the kitchen. I was surprised at how few instructions came with it, honestly—all I recall is that nothing oily should be milled. I didn't know what I was doing or looking for in a final product! I kept seeing photos on instagram of someone with a fistful of flour that had their finger imprints and I wondered what exactly they were feeling that was insta-worthy, besides the silkiness and the aroma that couldn't be transmitted. Only a number of years later did I learn that was a sign of the germ or fat content that makes freshly milled flour so special and delicious.
The first thing I learned…was to freeze the grains so that the flour didn't get too hot coming out of the mill. I've learned, and am still learning, how best to treat each kind of grain. Harder grains, like Emmer and Glen, are better milled twice, first coarse then finer. Softer grains, like groats and einkorn, are better either lightly toasted or frozen. Nicole (@nmuvu) has taught me how to clean the stones with uncooked rice when they get gummed up, and then she cleverly uses the rice flour either to line bannetons or to thicken soups and such. (She's more adventurous about milling spices and dried flowers with her grains than I am). I've also learned to plan ahead—not only to freeze the berries but also so I'm not milling late at night when others are sleeping because it's quite loud, especially flint corn! I should probably have hearing protection and wear a mask...I only wish my text prediction would learn that I use the word "mill" more than the average person and do not mean "kill" or "milk"—it can make for some awkward texts if not caught!
I make 99% of my breads with some portion of milled grains and it changes as my practice has changed—I used to sift everything, and now I do less of that, for example. I admit, in the last year plus, it's nice to have the convenience and consistency of Groundup Bolted Bread flour as a backbone to my loaves, and then I add in whole grain flour that I mill for flavor variation and because it tends to have smaller bran bits than their whole grain. I love being able to store a wider variety of grains in whole form but not have the time sensitivity (before turning rancid) or freezer space to use them up. I've cracked oats for oatmeal, made cornmeal (the flavor does not compare to the grocery store stuff!) and used the flour for pasta also—and I use the sifted bran in muffins and to dust the tops of loaves. Most anything I bake has some freshly milled flour in it! I remember one friend, knowing that I worked with a variety of flours, asked if I knew where to buy barley flour for a particular recipe that wasn't found at Whole Foods, and I was quite pleased to be able to reply, "from your friend with a mill" But I think the biggest thrill is when I give bread to someone—and whatever mistakes I've made in making it, it often will be called "amazing" to which I always reply, "it's the freshly milled flour." [that may sound cheesy but it's absolutely true!]
I started milling grain at home at the beginning of this year, though I had been thinking about it for a while before that. I started for two reasons: first, there's a local grain share where I live, in Western Massachusetts, and I really liked the idea of baking with local ingredients, and knowing the provenance of the grain I was using, so I signed up. Second, when flour became hard to find for a while during the pandemic, it seemed to me that milling my own would be a way to avoid running out, just in case. (When the pandemic hit, my family and I were living overseas in a country where bakeries were considered essential businesses, and the flour shortage had been resolved by the time we got back to the US). I use the Mockmill attachment for stand mixers, which I got as a Christmas gift. I wanted that one because the reviews online have been very good, and a friend with more home-milling experience kindly demonstrated her KitchenAid milling attachment and explained all the reasons she wasn't wild about it.
So far I mostly mill whole wheat and rye for use in various bread recipes, and also pizza dough, and my wife adds home-milled spelt to weekend pancakes and waffles. I haven't (yet) gone down the rabbit hole of making my own bread or all purpose flour—too much sifting involved. I had to play around with the settings on the Mockmill at first to find the one that seemed to produce flour with about the same texture as the commercial flour I was buying (King Arthur and, more recently, Ground Up), but that didn't take too long, and I haven't really changed it since.
One thing about milling my own flour that I didn't think through at the outset was how much bran I would get, so I've found that some sifting is necessary, even on a fairly fine grind setting. I usually put a mesh kitchen strainer (sort of like this one) over the bowl I'm milling grain into, which lets some of the bran through while catching the bigger, gluten-tearing chunks. And if I want a really fine flour, I'll use a 40 mesh flour sifter. It also takes more time to mill my own flour, so I have to be mindful of that when I'm planning out a bake. Overall, it's worth it: there's a subtle, but noticeable, difference in the flavor of the stuff I'm making, and it's fun to manage the whole process of baking, from start to finish.
Oh! I’ve been milling my flour since 1982 when I was living in Germany and using a Jupiter mill. I’ve graduated to a Komo from which I am absolutely inseparable. I mill because I crave the smell and taste of freshly ground grains, and want to nourish every fiber of my body with them. It’s a holistic addiction for me.
I bake with all or mostly whole grains, and home milling was a revelation. All of a sudden, my whole wheat bread didn't taste bitter and no longer needed sweeteners. The incomparable aroma of fresh-milled flour taught me that wheat and rye berries are ALIVE and each grain has its own character. I mill my flour for most everything: bread, pancakes and waffles, soft pretzels, english muffins, and more. I love being able to stock up on different kinds of grain grown right here in New England, store it for months without spoiling, and mill only what I need on baking day for the most nutritious, aromatic and lively flour possible, every single time.
The challenges of home milling have made me a vastly better bread baker: for every new grain, I have to adjust hydration, fermentation time, mixing, and handling. It's taught me to follow the dough, not the recipe. My favorite tip: Get 40-mesh sifter to lighten the flour when you want the flavor and nutrition of fresh flour but less of the bran. Save the siftings in the freezer for bran muffins.
Plunge your nose into a bowl of just-milled grain and I promise that you will never think about flour in the same way again!
And then there is this email I received from Paul Lebeau, a partner at Mockmill, much of whose excellent advice I incorporated directly into my home milling piece:
The home baker realizes she is no longer limited to flours she can get from someone; she can make flours out of any dry foods she can get her hands on. The fresher, more individual, more local, more surprising, the better.
There is a new emphasis, however, to be placed today on health: in very recent scientific work, being published daily (it seems), we're learning that we need to eat carbohydrates JUST as Mother Nature delivers them; will their native (fiber) packaging. It has become clear that, as our body needs the carbs for fuel, the busy workers in our large intestines need the fibre that the carbs come packed in. Without it, they can even be a destructive force…
Home milling encourages one to use more whole, fresh (dry), carb sources that have all their natural fibre fully integrated. In precisely the balance nature has provided. That last point turns out to be important. There is no "fiber supplement" that will provide the right balance of foods our bugs need. It seems, in order to lower our chances of becoming victims of non-transmittable diseases, the fibre has to be precisely that which nature provides along with the carbs.
Five years ago I was searching for the right fresh milling story: "What Problems Does This Practice Fix?" I sensed myself threatening the great folks that your present article focusses on: todays artisan millers. That wouldn't fly.
Indeed, the story is now of our marching right alongside those folks, who can deliver the pallets of flour needed by bakers, the small bags people are willing to store in their freezers. What [home milling] offers is the encouragement to EMPOWER oneself to "Be In Charge". Ask those artisan millers not for their flours (which are already in the process of degradation the moment they leave the mill) but for their GRAINS - The Job They Do Organizing Grains Suitable For Milling is Enormously Important! - and using that empowerment to unchain the CREATIVITY that is in each one of us when it comes to keeping ourselves, and our loved ones, properly fed.
Finally, I'd be happy to provide practical tips on home milling. In general, I would suggest people:
purchase a mill they can open up easily, to inspect and (whenever needed) clean the milling chamber.
pay attention to how the mill actually works
learn to know the foods one is milling. Learn the setting of the mill at which the whole food is being "just broken" by the mill, and also the finest point - the setting beyond which the flow of "flour" from that food no longer remains constant. All foods contain some moisture, and some lipids. Under milling pressure, these combine to form a paste. In most cases, you'll never get to that point. But if your grains still have a bit more natural moisture in them, or you're milling a fatty food like flax seed, you'll find that you can't use the MILL'S finest setting. You must find THAT FOOD'S finest setting!
learn not to be fearful. A good stone mill is pretty much indestructable. It can be easily cleaned, even if you make the dumbest mistake.
(of course) read the manual
get in touch with the manufacturer if you have doubts. Every day I answer a number of queries from Mockmillers. Everyone in our company is trained to do the same. There are no stupid questions!
Be adventurous! Check the internet to learn about all the things you can make from different foods (grains, pulses, roots, spices) you can mill yourself. Learn how home milling can help your family to a more plant-based, whole foods diet, how it can help reduce your food budget while improving your diet, how you can discover foods you've never thought about, flavors you've never offered your palate.
If you mill at home, please share your thoughts and advice in the comments below.