Readers have asked us why their rye breads and pumpernickels seem to have so much more “whole-grain” character than what they remember from childhood (rye and pumpernickel are pictured here in Mark Luinenburg’s beautiful shot from our book). While whole-grain character is nice, it isn’t the traditional approach to rye breads (at least for those available in the US; some European rye styles are very high in bran). The reason for our readers’ results is simple: most rye flour that’s readily sold in US supermarkets is very high in bran. You’ll get a less “whole-grain” result if you use a lower-bran (fiber) rye flour, usually labled as “medium rye.” Medium rye produces breads with a gorgeous custard crumb and noticeably less whole grain character. The hole structure is more “open” as well.
For our book, we decided to avoid this complexity and just keep the total proportion of rye low, but if you’re a rye bread fanatic, read on.
In every market we’ve surveyed, it appears that Pillsbury has stopped distribuing its medium rye product. In U.S. supermarkets, that generally means you have two choices: Hodgson Mill All Natural Stone Ground Rye Flour, which is 17% fiber by weight. Then there are the Bob’s Red Mill rye products, which range in fiber content between 15% and 23%. True medium rye, which isn’t widely distributed in stores in the US, is about 13% fiber by weight; you can find it on mail order.
If you are a true rye fanatic, you won’t be disappointed. The holes will be large and airy, the crumb less tight, even if you decide to increase the proportion of rye flour in our recipe (you may find you need to slightly increase the water after about 30% rye by volume, and don’t exceed 50%). You’ll see true “custard” crumb from the earliest loaves in a batch. And the flavor is fantastic.