Some thoughts on Shipton Mill flour…

Since switching to Shipton Mill from Doves Farm flours, I’ve had to modify my recipes, particularly those based on unbleached strong white flour.

The Shipton Mill (SM) flour has a different texture to Doves Farm (DF), feeling more finely divided, with obvious fragments of bran, which was a bit disconcerting before I figured out what it was. It seems to have a higher moisture content, too – about 10% higher (or the flour reacts differently when hydrated, for whatever reason).

SM strong white is packaged in 2.5kg bags (compared to DF @ 1.5kg), and in a more robust paper sack. Presumably, that, along with being sold straight from the mill, and not trucked halfway round the country, and subjected to a variety of environmental conditions, accounts for the difference in moisture content. It may also be fresher, but I have no way have knowing. It’s possible, too, that the stone-grinding process used by SM generates less heat, thus retaining whatever natural moisture may be in the grain, than the DF roller mill.

Whatever the reason, it’s a fact that I’ve had to reduce my normal 60%-ish hydration (-ish because it varies from batch to batch, and even from day to day, by a small amount – sometimes I need the full 60%, other times there’s be a tablespoon or so left over – I add the water to the flour, not vice versa).

So far I’ve reduced my normal 340ml (60%) of water for my standard white and rye loaf (516g white, 50g rye), to 320ml (53%), and this yields a very soft, sticky dough, which feels very odd to work with, so I think I need to come down even more, to 50%.

However, even at 53% it rose very quickly for both provings, but subsided a little when slashed, which oven spring didn’t entirely compensate for, as it usually does. I believe it would have done so had the dough not been so wet. I did, by the way, add more flour by repeatedly dredging the dough as I worked it, but there’s a limit to how much you can safely work into the dough that way, and it made but little difference.

For the next loaf, which I’ll be making later today, or tomorrow, depending on how I feel, I’ll decrease the hydration to 50%, as I said, reduce the olive oil content from 4 tablespoons to 2, to try to firm up the dough, and I’ll also reduce the yeast to half a teaspoon, in an attempt to slow down the proving. Bread develops flavour, as well as bulk, in the proving process, and I need to slow it way down. And hour, or even 90 minutes, per proving, is what I’m aiming for. It’s no big deal how long it takes, really (my sourdough loaf**, last week, took 11 hours, and was pretty damn good), as bread-making is mostly time spent hanging around waiting for the dough to prove, with very little actual work involved.

**I added the water to that based entirely on the feel of the dough (80% strong white, 20% dark rye flours), as it already contained a little water from the sourdough starter – that turned out OK.

I have a flour storage problem to resolve. Heat, oxygen and moisture are the enemies of flour (insects, too, but that’s a problem I don’t have – well, this building is infested with silverfish, but I seem to have eliminated my flat’s population, for now, at least). I have an old fridge-freezer in the kitchen. It’s broken, and I use it as a store-cupboard, as there are very few built-in cupboards, and they’re taken up with crockery and pans. That’s where my flour currently lives.

In the summer though, that’s likely to get a bit warm, so I need a new home for it.

I also have another fridge-freezer in the bedroom. This, too, I intended to make into a cupboard but, as it still works, I decided to stash my flour, over-wrapped in plastic bags, in the freezer section.

I’ve been testing it for a few nights, and with the thermostat on its lowest setting, it’s almost totally silent. At that temperature, it would be unsuitable for the long-term storage of frozen food, but ideal for flour. So, I’ve over-wrapped most of my flours wit plastic bags (light and dark ryes, wholemeal spelt, wholemeal emmer, oatmeal and one 2.5kg bag of strong white flour – all stone-ground and organic – with another bag of emmer kept out for use this weekend), sucked out as much air as possible, and sealed them. They’re now stashed in the bedroom freezer. As long as I let them come up to the ambient temperature before use, they’ll be fine. I’ve read of people who claim to have used flour straight from the freezer without any problems – I’m unconvinced.

Bags of flour in current use are mostly kept in a tallboy in the living room (told you I was short of kitchen storage), and the strong white flour lives in a LocknLock caddy on the worktop. I said earlier that I’d keep that in the fridge and, indeed, I did for a while, but I’ve reorganised the kitchen to make room for it on the worktop.

There’s a lot of stuff that already lives there – 3 battery-powered mills, one each for black pepper, sea salt, and dried chillies; 3 kinds of sea salt in jars – fine, for bread-making, coarse for cooking, and flakes, for when a salty crunch is a good thing; then there’s a 300ml bottle of extra virgin olive oil, with a pourer spout, again, for bread-making, a pump-up oil spray, ditto, and a timer. There’s also my peel, an assortment of chopping boards, a glass jar full of plastic bag clips, a nutmeg grater, and a Kenwood Chef mixer.

As I’m naturally untidy, there’s a lot of scope there for clutter, so I’ve had to get a grip, and obsessively put everything back in its place when I use it. That way, I now have room for the 5-litre flip-front caddy, which just  holds a 2.5kg  bag of white bread flour. (I’ve just shoved a photographic thermometer into the flour in the caddy, to see exactly what the temperature is – it might wind up back in the fridge.)

Additive-free flour.

On a slightly different tack, some people have asked where they can get additive-free flours. Doves Farm strong white flour, for example (and others, too, presumably), contains vitamin C (not a universally good thing – some features are beneficial, others detrimental to good bread-making), plus statutory nutrients in accordance with The Bread & Flour Regulations 1998: Calcium carbonate, Iron, Thiamine (Vitamin B1) and Niacin.

Then there’s the spectre of the proposed fortification of flour – and bread – with folic acid (though I seem to recall reading that it was on hold). My view is that women wanting to be come pregnant should supplement with folic acid. The fact that some are too dumb to do so does NOT mean that the entire population should be force-fed the stuff.

So, Shipton Mill describe their flours as untreated, and there is no mention of additives, so my assumption is that their flours are free of them. To make sure, I’ve emailed, asking them to confirm that, and I’ll post their reply here.