Let’s talk about… why size matters

Here in Germany, the different grain products are named by particle size (that’s why size matters) and I use those sizes and according mesh sizes in sifters to make my own semolina, bread flour or all purpose flour equivalents. My method is very much different from that of an industrial mill though, which can split the grain into different parts, grind them up separately, goes through 14 or more sifting cycles and then mixes things back together to make all the different flours you can buy.

Wholegrain flour definitely has its advantages nutrient wise, and freshly milled wholegrain smells and tastes so much better than stale, storebought all purpose flour, but it’s definitely not my first choice for everything. Breads, waffles, muffins, some coffee cakes,… they work great with different wholegrains, but there are a few things like pie crusts, pizza crusts, puff pastry, or french baguettes, that turn out much better when they’re made with mostly white(ish) flour and just a smidgeon of wholegrain for taste.

At this point, I’m still supplementing a lot of my all purpose and bread flour needs from a local mill, but mostly for economical reasons. With home milling, I’d need a kilo of wheat and 20 minutes of sifting to get about 550-600g of a bread flour equivalent. Yes, equivalent, not the real thing. First clear (german wheat 1050) is made from just the layer around the endosperm, while the starchy endosperm is used for all purpose flour (german wheat 550). I can’t do that! I can only go by particle size. But my flour behaves nearly the same and I’m very satisfied with how it bakes in my kitchen.
The byproducts of my sifting process are a bit of bran and generous portions of semolina, which need to get used up quickly as well, because home milled wholegrain gets rancid pretty fast. And there’s only so much semolina I can cook with.
I can (to a certain point) control if I want more flour or more semolina by adjusting the coarseness of the grind a little, but getting more than about 60% of bread flour is nearly impossible. Milling the bran and semolina a 2nd or 3rd time can stretch the amount a bit, but then a lot of tiny bran particles end up in the light flour, which then acts like a superfine, fluffier wholegrain flour. Not a bad thing, but not exactly what I want.

I bake a lot with rye and bake as well as cook with ancient grains, and those I grind and sift to get medium or light rye, ancient grain semolinas, or an all purpose khorasan. I just can’t justify buying those (super expensive!) and I have more than enough buckets in the basement already (you’ll see them when we talk grain storage and pests).

I’m showing you my sifting process and the results with a batch of rye. This is what I got from 350g of rye berries by setting the mill slightly coarser than usual and three rounds of sifting:

  • 18g bran (5% turnout)
  • 25g coarse semolina (7% turnout)
  • 130g fine semolina (37% turnout)
  • 177g medium rye flour (nearly 51% turnout)

I set the mill a bit coarser because I was mostly after the semolina this time. When I do it for the flour, I keep it as fine as possible and get a bit more flour, a bit less semolina.

I always start with an 18 mesh sifter, which catches the bran. I use it for porridge or add a spoonful to my yogurt. Sometimes I roll my bread dough in it before it goes into the banneton. Makes for a rustic looking loaf.

18 mesh sifter catches bran

The rest of the flour goes then into the 30 mesh sifter, which catches the coarse wholegrain semolina. This is great for dumplings that go into soup, esp. when it’s a grain that’s not ordinary wheat. Ancient grains have great flavors and make dumplings in many different colours / hues.

30 mesh sifter catches coarse semolina

The flour then gets sifted again, this time with the 50 mesh sifter, which catches the fine semolina. I love it for puddings or very smooth porridges. Go and try a cream of wheat style porridge from rye or einkorn. So good!

50 mesh sifter catches fine semolina

Everything that went through the 50 mesh sifter is what I’d use for a lighter bread no questions asked. This stage is pretty great for making pasta as well if I don’t want them wholegrain for some reason. Keeps the shape well and doesn’t go mushy while cooking.

50 mesh sifter let out medium rye flour
my equivalent to german rye 1370

To get to the bread flour equivalent, I’d use the 80 mesh after this. I only do it with rye though, when a recipe calls for german rye 1150 or 815 (light rye). I did a side by side baking test with mill bought rye 1150 as well as 50 mesh and 80 mesh sifted rye. The 50 mesh flour made a slightly denser and darker hued bread, the 80 mesh flour a slightly airier bread than the mill bought 1150. That’s why I equal the 50 mesh with rye 1370.
The small breads were made from just that one flour, water, salt, and 10g of whole rye sourdough. I weighed everything beforehand, rye dough only needs a quick mixing which took less than a minute per batch, and baked them all simultaneously.
In mixed recipes using the 80 mesh sifter wouldn’t make much of a difference, that’s why I mostly stop after the 50.

side by side baking test with different flours
100% rye breads
left to right: mill bought rye 1150, 50 mesh sifted, 80 mesh sifted

After the 80 mesh for bread flour equivalents, there’s the 120 mesh for all purpose equivalents. I use it mostly for khorasan, because it’s a big grain that has a huge all purpose flour outcome. Doing it with einkorn or other smallish grains like siberian rye is super frustrating because there’s lots of bran parts and next to no flour.
At last, there’s the 150 mesh, which lets mostly just starch through. I use it with either bought or sifted all purpose flour for slurries and custards when I’m out of cornstarch or want to add a bit of fluff to coffee cakes like my great-aunt’s sandcake recipe. But those are rare occasions.

If you’re in the market for flour sifters, think carefully how often you will use them before you buy. The finer the mesh, the more expensive they get. If you’re handy, you can make a frame from wood scraps or by cutting the bottom off a small plastic bucket or an old cookie tin, buy a small roll of stainless steel mesh from amazon (it’s enough for 4 sifters) and fix it to your frame. I did that from 80 mesh upwards and hot glued the mesh to plastic containers (from Halloween candy), which saved a lot of money. Even if you have to buy the buckets in the hardware store, you can get 4 sifters (same mesh size) for about 20€ this way. Get together with some baker friends, share the mesh, and get glueing!

I cut a hole into the bottom, hot glued the mesh to the outside and then slipped a strip of a 2nd container over it like a sleeve. No sharp edges!

Happy sifting, and I hope to see you next week 🙂

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