Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Flour tests – Shipton Mill, British flours

While I was in England over the Christmas holidays I took the opportunity to try out some flour from Shipton Mill in Gloucestershire.

There has been a mill on the site of the restored Shipton Mill since at least the 11th Century when it was recorded in the Domesday book. The current owners discovered the mill in 1981 and though it doesn't currently drive the mill stones the wheel does turn and the site can be visited Monday to Friday and Saturday mornings.

At their old mill site and from a larger modern plant they mill a large variety of wheats and specialty grains that are sourced locally and from abroad, and include traditionally stone-ground wholemeal flour. Their activities include promoting the cultivation of rare and old varieties of wheat for benefits to culture, nutrition and heritage rather than being driven only by commercial interest.

When I arrived at my sister's house the package I'd ordered online from their store was already waiting for me. Look how nicely presented it was, it'd make a nice gift for any experimenting bread makers you might know in the UK :)

I ordered their white bread flour made from UK wheat, some stone-milled whole wheat flour, their seed mix containing oats, sunflower seeds, wheat and barley flakes and millet, and a rectangular banneton, since these are quite expensive in Japan.

I wish we had flour like this in Japan! To be fair, I've only used regular Japanese supermarket bread flour so far and so perhaps shouldn't compare yet, but working with flour from Shipton Mill for the first time was a real pleasure. My starter seemed to love it too, being particularly bubbly during culture proof and springy during kneading. The crumb of my basic sourdough loaf was pleasingly off-white and flavoursome, and it toasted marvelously when used for cheese and tuna melts.

I also made a wholewheat loaf with a few handfuls of seed mix folded in during the punching down and shaping stage. This was made to be eaten toasted Christmas morning with the peppered mackerel I had been craving, poached eggs and mugs of tea amongst the torn wrapping paper and excited children. I've stashed the remains of the seed mix in my suitcase for further experimenting back in Japan. I decided against trying to carry packages of white flour in my luggage for obvious reasons ;)

Having a little pretzel dough left over from another Shipton Mill flour experiment, my nephew inspired me to have a go at making one of his favourite snacks, breadsticks. Not having a proper recipe to hand we just rolled them out and let them proof slightly on their baking tray before brushing with a little olive oil and baking in the pre-heating oven until they coloured (about 25 minutes). They got his seal of approval and were fun and quick to make. For more grown-up variations you could roll them in sesame seeds or poppy seeds, sprinkle with rock salt and even pepper.

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