Friday, September 25, 2015

Grain Gathering 2015: Dave Miller on milling and baking (revised)

Related posts:
Note: Revised on September 30, 2015 based on suggestions by Dave Miller.

Dave Miller of Miller's Bake House in Oroville, California, needs no introduction. A marvelous baker and dedicated miller, he has become a living legend in the world of bread. So I knew his workshop would be excellent (and mobbed) but I also knew that since he was planning to cover all the stages of whole-grain breadmaking starting with milling your own flours, I would only attend the first afternoon if I didn't want to skip pretty much everything else at the Grain Gathering.
Fortunately my friend Laurie Knuever of Ratio Coffee & Pastry in Vernon, British Columbia, herself a passionate and talented baker, did stay for the duration and took loads of notes and videos.  She generously agreed to share them with Farine. Thank you, Laurie! What wonderful reference tools for those of us who couldn't be there.

Dave Miller has been milling for 30 years (and milling his own flour for 28 years). While he once owned and ran a very big bakery, he now bakes once a week for the Chico farmers' market.
For the purposes of this class, he baked with three different varieties of wheat:
  • Einkorn: Dave loves the flavor, his customers are crazy about it and it performs very well
  • Sonora: It has a beautiful creamy color and usually a very good flavor (although not this year)
  • Renan: A French variety grown in Mount Vernon, Washington
  • Different types of stones yield different qualities of flours. The larger the stone the easier it is to get the type of granulation you want. A 40" stone is pretty much ideal. Heat is a major concern and the coolness of the big stone takes away some of the friction heat.
  • Granite is often chosen for millstones because it wears unevenly and stays rough for a longer period of time. However today composites are often preferred. They are popular with bakers because they self-sharpen (the natural stones don't).
  • Another variable to take into consideration is the amount of grain fed at a time: the smaller the amount, the finer the flour. Softer wheat offer less resistance. Spelt and rye can be fed faster than wheat. Kamut has to be fed the slowest.
  • The space between the stones is also an issue. You don't want to make it too tight or the flour will start tasting like ground stone. The two stones need to be very close but they can't touch. An adjustment may be needed every year but that isn't always the case.
  • Dave dresses his own stones once a year but then he runs his mill seven hours a week, which isn't much. "Dressing a stone" means roughing up its surface. If your stones have become too smooth and you try to remedy the problem by bringing them closer to each other, you create more heat which leads to a loss of performance and nutrition. Also you don't want circular grooves in your stone (and they will happen if the stones don't get dressed regularly).
  • Dave dresses his stones by feel (working where the smooth spots are).
  • When milling, Dave doesn't go by temperature but by smell: if your wheat flour isn't aromatic right out of the mill, then the aromas won't be in the bread either. The temperature of Dave's flour is never more than warm.
Four basic qualities of flour:
  • Light, fluffy and very fine. It offers no resistance when you put your hand in it. It is also very aromatic.
  • Finely ground endosperm with large bran specks. It happens when milling softer wheat. Some millers will temper their wheat to get the speck. It is especially advantageous if you are bolting (good separation). Still fluffy.
  • Sandy, kind of gritty. That is Dave's least favorite. It affects the functionality of the wheat. There is no good separation between the endosperm and the germ and much less bonding with gluten. Not contributing to the dough (the loaf will be denser)
  • Overheated: which is what you get when you put more pressure on the stones in the hope of getting a finer grain. Loss of aroma and less nourishment. The biggest culprit is trying to feed too much wheat at a time. Ideally you want each berry to have as much contact with the stone as possible (which can't happen when the grain berries are all crushed together). Overheated flour behaves like a weaker flour.
Should you age your flour?
  • No, with whole-grain flours aging doesn't bring about an increase in performance. The quality is good right off the mill.
Cleaning the millstone
  • If your stone gets encrusted with flour (picture below), you need to scrape it off.

Dave cleaning up a flour-encrusted stone

That's it, readers. This is the extent of my notes and pictures for the class.  For the rest of the post, I am relying on Laurie Knuever's videos and notes. Again, thank you, Laurie, you saved the day!

Laurie Knuever's videos
Please note that these very informative videos are unedited. Watching them is pretty much like attending the workshop. Which is awesome.

Laurie Knuever's notes
Note: the text of Laurie's notes has been slightly adapted for the purpose of this post.

Pre-shaping wet doughs
  • Use your bench scraper to make a ball at a steeper angle.
Shaping wet doughs
  • Use just as much flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking to the surface of the table or use water on the bench if putting the dough into a sprayed pan.
  • Build a little tension by doing a 4-fold – top to bottom, bottom to top, and side to side and other side to side.  Smooth side goes  down on the table.
  • For shaping an oblong, Dave does the four folds and makes a fairly rectangular shape. Top goes down to one third, then he dusts his thumbs generously, and quickly brings the top down over by gently rolling it to the bottom of the dough.
  • Too gassy is if you handle the dough gently and the bubbles still break.  You have to be very careful with whole grain doughs – always handle them gently. Do not use a lot of force. It’s no disaster if the dough is too gassy when you are shaping it but you will not get as much volume when it bakes.
  • Once the dough comes out of the retarder (15 hour bulk retard) at 47° F, it is divided right away, sits on boards for 3 hours. Then it is shaped and proved for 4 to 5 hours before being loaded into the oven.
  • If all the steps had to be done at room temperature, the dough would be much more difficult to work with and the shaping method would have to be adjusted accordingly. Dave would back off the hydration in the formula and do more stretch and folds to help build strength.
  • The right amount of tension is the secret.  Not too much and not too little.  You want it to hold its form while it has proofed, but by the time it goes into the oven, you want it to relax a bit so it can swell as it bakes.  You want to dough to be relaxed just prior to baking to get the oven spring.
  • It takes five hours to proof approximately.  Some people are getting great results with cold retarding and cold proofing prior to baking. It improves the crust.
  • You can overnight cold ferment and proof the loaves just prior to putting in the oven.
  • Taking the dough temperature is really important.
  • Different doughs/wheats vary in how much activity they show during bulk ferment. Sonora is an example: when they first worked with it for the class, it was really soupy after first mixing it. But after it fermented, it was too tight. It also needs more bulk fermentation.  The loaves will come out flat if you don’t do more bulk fermentation. 
  • You need to learn to make judgement calls in the moment.  There are no simple answers, because each day is different. 
  • To prevent molding, don't leave used baskets stacked for too long. Unstack them as soon as possible. The couche cloth should be hung to dry.
  • Honey problems in dough: Some honey affects the quality of the rise of the dough.  Some honeys can kill the yeast.  Honey can also turn the crust liquid after baking which is called starch degradation.
  • The levain may change with variations in temperature or weather: It may be getting more acidic.  Use taste and smell as tools to judge the readiness of the levain.
  • Soakers can cause problems, especially in the summer (enzymatic activity).
How to perk up a culture
  • Give successive feedings with shorter ferment times, catching it at a fairly young age to cut acidity.
How to strengthen dough without changing formulas
  • Keep accurate records of dough temperature, room temperature etc..
  • Mixing:  changing the number of folds, changing the time of the mix.
  • More folds will help.
  • More levain will help.
  • Another pre-shape.
  • Bulk retard or retarding shaped loaves to give it strength.
What if you have too much strength in your dough?
  • Increase hydration. Sometimes aggressively mixing a dough made with high protein wheat can give better results - higher volume, more open crumb - if hydrated sufficiently.
  • Decreasing the percentage of levain can help.
Loading the bread into the oven
  • Score the loaves, pre-steam the oven, load the bread, steam again.


  1. Thank you, dear friends, for sharing so much from Dave's wonderful class!
    - Meeghen

  2. I love you for this post and all the links MC! amazing info! I hope I will be able to join next year, so we can meet.

    1. That would be fantastic, Barbara!!!



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