Grain-Mill

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So, I was grinding whole wheat flour for making my weekly loaf of sourdough bread. Pablo was awake but resting on his felted cat bed. I started talking to him, and that made him get up and come over to see me. Then he had to wander around the kitchen and living room. Naturally, I had to stop and take more pictures of him since it’s impossible to have too many cat photos.

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My brew club had it’s monthly meeting at Red Brick Brewing Company. They showed us around the brewery and showed us some of their new toys. 

I really loved their old mill. They found it in a field in England when buying their system. It’s from 1928 and had to be rebuilt when they got it back to the brewery. I have a thing for old machinery so I though this was really cool.

I also really liked their solution for making sure that their mash did not have any dough balls. Thy feed their grain and strike water through the same pump to get the grain into the mash tun. It’s in the 3rd and 4th picture. 

One of their new toys were their larger plate chiller. All I can think of when I see those is the pain of keeping it all clean. At least with larger models you can pull all of the plates apart. 

The coolest thing was their new centrifuge. They had been using a DE filter but switch to the centrifuge to improve their beer. They said they were getting better hop and malt flavor and aroma after switching over to the centrifuge. They can also run it slightly faster than the DE filter. 

Electric Wondermill Whisper Mill the Worlds Best Grain Machine

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Maintaining a grain mill in good working order

Adapted from Wild Bread: Handbaked sourdough artisan breads in your own kitchen, 2009:

Sourdough bread is a staple food in my household. I started grinding my own whole wheat flour in 2007. I purchased Lehman’s Own Hand-Cranked Grain Mill, an enameled aluminum mill that consistently tests as the best hand-turned grain mill under $300. It has a clamp that attaches to the edge of my kitchen counter (I place pieces of rubber in between the mill and my countertop so as not to damage the counter top). I have both cast iron burrs, which I mainly use for cracking grain, and synthetic stone burrs that Lehman’s no longer sells, which make very fine flour (the cast iron burrs make good flour, too, but stone burrs are known for their extra-fine flour). I see on the Lehman’s site that they now sell an Optional Cast Iron Pulley Flywheel to make the hand cranking easier. Interesting. I might get one.

Over time, the originally clear oil I use to lubricate the crank shaft gets sticky because the more volatile components of the oil evaporate quickly in my dry climate. And flour holds an electrostatic charge, which means it flies around and sticks to the mill itself. The flour combines with the oil to form black, gummy gunk that eventually makes it difficult to turn the crank smoothly. I can always tell when it is time for a cleaning because the flour becomes coarser even though I keep the burrs tightened. Also, the bronze bearing covering the crank shaft starts to stick to the other parts and stops turning when the handle is turned (the crank shaft continues to turn inside the bronze bearing) and the machine begins to make a funny noise.

I use an adjustable wrench to remove the screw with a hexagonal head that holds the shaft together. A toothbrush works well to scrub flour off the burrs before washing them and is also good for washing the stone burrs with soap (I do not wash the cast iron burrs with water). A steel wool scrub pad is necessary to remove the gunky oil from the metal mill parts. Once everything is dry, I reassemble the grain mill and lubricate the crank shaft with more oil.

Why I grind my own whole wheat flour

  • It’s the only inexpensive way to get real 100% stone ground flour.
  • Hand-grinding ensures freshness.
  • Only real whole wheat flour provides the health benefits of whole grains.
  • I like the fact that using a hand grinder uses no electricity, and thus no fossil fuels.
  • Hand milling provides excellent upper body exercise that balances out the lower body workouts I get from riding my bicycle and walking.

Grain mills are rated according to three features

  • Flour fineness: Choose a grain mill with two round, flat synthetic “stones” or cast iron burrs. The outer stone rotates against the inner stone to grind the flour. Stone burrs are better for grinding fine wheat flour, but iron burrs are pretty good, too. The iron burrs are wonderful all-purpose burrs for grinding all kinds of grain and legume flours as well as making cracked grains and grinding nuts and seeds. I use the stones for milling whole wheat flour and the iron burrs for milling everything else. Really cheap mills cannot grind fine flour.
  • Grinding speed: Some mills take a long time to grind a cup of wheat into flour, others take as little as 5 minutes. Faster mills are generally more expensive.
  • Cranking difficulty: Some mills are designed to provide a lot of leverage, which makes grinding easier. Some mills require significant muscle strength. My Lehman’s mill is easy enough for an older child to use.

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My New Favorite Kitchen Toy

One of my favorite Xmas gifts came in the form of the attachment for my Kitchen Aid Artisan mixer.  Can anyone guess what it was?  No, not the pasta maker I already mentioned…Give up?  It was a grain mill!

One of the things that has been a painful realization the past few months is exactly how much all of this GF stuff costs.  I mean seriously - it is practically 50c an ounce for flour mixes!  That is sooooo much more than a 5lb bag of flour costs!  And of course, now that I can’t have traditional bread stuffs, I have been craving baked goods - hence, my purchase of GF flour stuffs. 

I initially started buying the pre-blended flour mixes (Bob’s Red Mill, etc.).  However, the new cookbooks I have been working through (another xmas gift from my DH) mentioned that there is no truly great pre-blended flour - that flours should be altered based on what you are cooking.  I don’t know if I totally believe it (laziness will always win in the end), but I am willing to try making my own flour blends (mostly because of the costs, as I mentioned previously).  So, after I ran out of the pre-blended flour, I bought bags of individual blend components - rice flour, tapioca flour, potato starch, buckwheat flour, teff flour, almond flour…I am sure I am missing a few components there… You know all that room I had in my pantry from cleaning out the gluten free stuff?  It has now been filled.  (And so has my fridge, in which I am also keeping GF flour mix stuffs.) 

Each of the flour blends in my cookbooks makes about 10 cups or so of flour, and practically uses a whole 22oz bag of rice flour.  So, after I had gone through a couple of bags of rice flour (and tried to much avail to find pre-ground millet flour in my local stores), I decided I was going to take the next step and get a grain mill (which was actually given to me by my parents - how thoughtful of them)! 

This week, I have been putting my new favorite kitchen toy through its paces.  I started by grinding millet flour - which turned out perhaps to be not the best grain to grind first.  For those of you unfamiliar with millet, it is very small, very hard little grains, which take forever to grind in the grain mill.  But my awesome mixer pulled through (with multiple breaks and ample time to avoid overheating the motor), and I now have a quart sized bag of millet flour I consider millet gold - I mean, it is golden in color after all. 

I have subsequently started grinding rice - I bought an entire 5 lb bag of rice at the grocery store for this exact purpose.  Let me be the first to say that grinding rice is much easier than grinding millet!  My awesome mixer can plow through a hopper of rice in about 10 minutes!  I am on my second quart size bag of rice flour, and have been grinding a little every evening this week in anticipation of refilling my now empty container of rice flour blend A (as my cookbook calls it). 

[The picture below shows the grain mill at work, grinding rice.  My engineering mind was curious that the rice flour is not evenly distributed throughout the chute, but instead comes out on either side (which you probably can’t very well see since the image isn’t totally in focus).]