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2018-10-02 Milling Around

A Trip To The Wilds Of San Francisco, and Beyond!

Last week I went to the Bay Area for a baking seminar at Central Milling's Artisan Baking Center sponsored by Mockmill on "Grain to Bread."  A chess playing friend told me you don't get better by playing people at your own level, you get better by playing people who challenge you.  And the trip offered me that.  This newsletter and the next two will offer some tips I picked up on my trip.

First, if you like Dim Sum, go to Oakland and go to Peony Seafood Restaurant.  A friend of a friend took me there and it was delightful!  They certainly deserve more than the 3 stars they get on Yelp.  My friend said they've had their ups and downs, so I guess the rating reflects their downs.  The crispy pork was off the chart wonderful, as was the tofu goose and the Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings).  I'm told that there are places in Freemont that make better soup dumplings, so I'll try them next time.  What's Tofu Goose you ask?  It is tofu that has been sheeted and folded into layers to look like a goose breast.  There is a vein of mushrooms in it to look like a bit of dark meat.  Despite not being a real tofu fan, I enjoyed it very much!

The person who suggested the Freemont restaurants for Xiao Long Bao also recommended a bagel place in Oakland saying they have the best bagels in the Bay area, or west of New York City.  Sad, if true.  They were too light, lacking in flavor and hardly beauties.  If you love classic, dense, bagels, you should take one of our bagel classes.  We offer one on New York style sourdough bagels and another on Montreal Style bagels.  The Montreal Style Bagel class is coming up on November 10th and will be our last class for the year.  Montreal style bagels offer about 80% of the flavor of a New York style sourdough bagel at about 10 to 20% of the effort - you can get up a few hours early and have them for breakfast!  (These are, of course, nonsense numbers.  How do you measure percent of flavor?  It's a very subjective evaluation.)

Back to the class - it was held at the Central Milling facility in Petaluma.  It is a new and lovely facility staffed with world class bakers and equipment.  Mockmill helped arrange the class, and both their traveling evangelist Paul Lebeau and well known baker and fresh milling true believer Guy Frenkel were there.  The facility was fantastic, if it was closer I'd happily take more classes there - some people in the class were there for their fourth and fifth classes.

I've owned a number of mills over the years and I just haven't been fully on board with the "mill it on demand" movement.  The flavor and quality that was promised just wasn't there.  I had great hopes for the Mockmill 100 I recently purchased, and it was better, but still not quite there.  So, feeling like it was time to either up my game or retire from the field, I decided to take the class.

The first secret Guy shared was how to make the wonderful flour that you really wanted.  Mockmill has a lever on the side that allows you to adjust the coarseness of the flour.  You can readjust the calibration of the lever as needed. Usually, people adjust the lever so the grinding wheels are just touching when the lever is a "1," the lowest setting, and then back off another number to actually mill the grain into flour.  The result is a somewhat gritty flour that doesn't handle or rise all that well.  And, to be fair, the Mockmill did better with that setting than the other three mills I've tested.

The micronizer mill I have produced finer flour, but that didn't translate into better bread.  It seems that a micronizer doesn't introduce enough starch damage - it is damaged starch that the enzymes can convert into sugars the yeast can eat.  If you look at the bread recipes on the web sites for micronizer mills, they all seem to have eggs, milk and other ingredients to help the bread come together and stay together.  While I do make enriched breads, I like the option of being able to make good lean breads and in cynical moments call the recipes at those sites cake recipes.

Guy, on the other hand, calibrated the lever so the stones touched when the lever was in the middle of its range, on "5."  He backed off the stones, started the mill, added his grain, and then dialed the mill down below 5.  Below where the stones should have come in contact with each other.  They were being held apart by the grain.  And the flour coming out of the mill was a thing of wonder - smooth, silky, velvety!  And it made great bread.  I compared some flour I milled that way at home with some flour I'd ground a week ago.  Like comparing a silk blouse to sandpaper!

Paul, the MockMill representative said he'd talked to the companies engineers about Guy's somewhat unorthodox techniques is fine with them.

If that was all Guy taught us, this would be a short email!  When the stones are that close, they tend to change their alignment, presumably due to them shifting as they heat up.  When this happened, the flour production might drop off, or the flour might become coarser.  Guy checked his flour often, tightening the setting if the flour got coarse, and loosening it if the flow rate got too low.  Sometimes there would be a backup of flour in the mill, so Guy would rap the sides of the mill to clear the logjam.

I hate to be repetitive, but the flour was smooth, velvety smooth.  And the breads were amazing.

Two additional tricks Guy and Paul taught us.  If you mill oily things such as flax seeds or flower blossoms it helps to mill them with grain.  That minimizes oil buildup on the stones.  If you get oil buildup on the stones you'll hear a dull noise when the stones touch each other - which means it's cleaning time!

To clean the mill, run 1/2 a cup or so of cheap white rice through the mill at a very coarse setting.  Run it through a number of times.  After the first few runs, start milling more finely.  Soon, it will be a nice rice flour and your stones will be clean.  If they touch each other now, you'll hear a clear, clean, shrill high pitched scream.

My first bake with my new understanding is rising now, and the loaves look very promising!  After I started writing this, the breads rose, were baked, and are cooling.  They look great!

Until next time, may your dough always rise, no matter how you ground your flour - you DID grind your own flour, didn't you?

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