If you're like me, I hate throwing out any kind of food.
However, when it comes to producing that beautiful, aromatic, melt-in-your-mouth loaf of bread, don't gamble on flour that's 12 months old or more. Even if it's been stored in the freezer.
My experience with flour I've had on the shelf that long has not been good. My bread didn't raise, the taste wasn't the best and my baking efforts were disappointing to say the least.
Keep in mind that, unless you're grinding your own flour, what you buy in the store has been in that bag for at least 8 weeks before it reached your store. Nothing wrong with it at that point, but its quality will continue to deteriorate for each week that you keep it on the shelf.
I like to keep my flour in a clear container — either glass or plastic — and I label it with the date that I purchased it to ensure that I don't accidentally use flour that I bought more than 12 months ago. Ideally you should use your flour and yeast within 6 to 10 months of the purchase date. You'll see the best results with those fresher ingredients.
Yeast is susceptible to deteriorating, too. You may get some action out of yeast that you've had for a year or more, but it won't be nearly as good as a fresher batch.
I don't always keep flour in my freezer, but my yeast is always stored there.
If you know you're going to bake bread, I recommend taking the flour and yeast out of the freezer and leaving it sit at room temperature overnight or at least for a couple of hours. That helps you maintain an ideal temperature for your bread dough.
Other recipe ingredients — eggs, milk, butter, etc. — should also be as fresh as possible to enhance the flavor of your bread.
Making labels for items like flour, yeast and sugar can be as simple as writing the purchase date on a plain piece of paper and taping it to your container or printing labels from a label-maker. I don't recommend writing directly on your container as you'll be continually changing your purchase date.
Store your ingredients in air-tight containers, which helps maintain freshness. It's advisable — but not required — to wash containers after using each batch of flour. Be careful not to keep adding fresh flour to what remains in your container, as you're bound to have some low quality flour mixed in with the fresh after a period of time.
Flour and yeast can also be stored in the refrigerator, but the quality will be more susceptible to declining. For any ingredients that are refrigerated, it's helpful to allow them to sit at room temperature for a few hours to help maintain the ideal dough temperature.
In researching this topic, I've found some reputable websites that state bread flour can be refrigerated or frozen for up to 15 months. However, my experience with flour refrigerated for 10 months was not satisfactory.
Next week: How to select and prepare your bread pans!
Photo by Getty Images/Sunlike.
Loretta Sorensen makes her home in eastern South Dakota. Read more about her and her family's draft horses and hobby farm experiences at www.ourdakotahorsetales.com. And if you're loving this home made bread tutorial, watch for the release of "Bread Maker's Primer" in October 2018.