JANUARY 2019: This post was originally written early in my experiments with bread, and I have since baked pumpernickel several times, and have added some techniques that I believe improves on the recipe I adapted from Smitten Kitchen, so I have deleted some of the description of my previous problems and gone straight to the new recipe.
Mmmmm, what represents our grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s culinary skills more than baking bread? The house fills with a yeasty smell. The family gobbles down the warm, soft pieces of heaven. For our ancestors in aprons it was not an “artisan” event–baking bread was just one of those chores that came around every week.
And for my German ancestors, if they had a bit of rye in their fields–or their neighbors did–they would certainly be making rye bread. And probably the queen of rye breads–dark, dense, sweet and fruity Pumpernickel.
There are two kinds of German Pumpernickel–the kind with yeast and the kind without. The kind without we’ll try another day, but this week I’ve been making pumpernickel. And my foray into replicating my ancestors in aprons made me wonder about something I had never thought about before. What did Great-Grandmother do with her mistakes? Surely not everything that came out of a wood-fired stove or a fireplace was a guaranteed success.
The 2018 version of the bread turned out beautifully, following bread-making tips from KIng Arthur’s Flour. (See photo at top of column.)
The First Attempt
Well, the bread I made the first time I tried was absolutely delicious, particularly with a little of that Ohio Smucker’s apple butter smeared on top.
Dark Pumpernickel bread slices with Smucker’s apple butter.
Delicious? Yes. But pull the camera back a bit…
Pumpernickel bread–the whole story.
What is that blob in the background? Sorry to burst your bubble–but that is what the loaf of pumpernickel bread looked like. I had not conquered the slash on the top technique.
What’s in a Name?
Now, it is absolutely no excuse if I explain to you the root of the name Pumpernickel. Believe it or not pumpernickel was named for the effect that some foods have on the digestive system making you—-well, in polite company we would say, “break wind.” This comes about because of people who looked down on the rough rye bread made by the Westphalians in what is now Germany, saying it , uh, caused flatulence. And the Nickel has been explained as a reference to Old Nick–the Devil. So (cover your ears if you’re sensitive)–doesn’t my bread look like it has been blown apart by the Devil’s fart?
The Newest Attempt at Pumpernickel
By the way, you may notice that the bread from the newest recipe (FIrst picture) is darker and shinier than the pictures below (which was the first attempt). That’s because I painted the top with a egg mixed with water before baking. The darkness in pumpernickel comes from adding cocoa powder. It works great. Some people kick it up a notch by also adding coffee or instant coffee granules.
I’m sharing the recipe, enhanced in 2018 with additional specific directions that should help you succeed with pumpernickel–experienced baker or not.
Pumpernickel Bread is moist and dense. To get the dark color you love, add some cocoa powder.
2 cups water (warm--not hot (105-110 degrees))
2 2/3 teaspoons active dry yeast ((2 packets) (If you use Instant yeast--see instructions below))
3 1/4 cups white bread flour
1 1/3 cup rye flour
1/2 cup corn meal
1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
4 tablespoons cocoa powder (unsweetened)
1 or 2 tablespoon caraway seeds
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 tablespoons molasses
Warm the water in a pan or microwave until warm but not hot (105-110 degrees). Whisk in yeast and pinch of sugar. Set aside for five minutes.
While the yeast is getting high on its sugar treat, combine the flours (using 2 1/2 C of the white flour), corn meal, salt, cocoa powder, caraway seeds and brown sugar in large bowl. Whisk them together, then stir in the yeast mixture, vegetable oil and molasses, by hand, or using the dough hook on a mixer. Add more of the rye flour as needed to get the dough to the point where it pulls away from the bowl.
Turn out on lightly floured board and knead for 5-10 minutes until elastic and no longer sticking to the board.
Lightly oil another large bowl. Put the dough in the bowl, turn it to get oil on all sides. Cover with plastic wrap or a tea towel and set aside in a draft-free spot to rise for one hour--or until about double in size.
Punch down gently and let rise another 30 minutes.
Lightly grease a cookie sheet or two 9" square baking pans. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper. Divide dough in half and form two balls. Pinch together the underside seam. place on pans. Cover and let rise another 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Make slashes in top of bread and brush with one egg mixed with 1 tsp water. Sprinkle Caraway seeds on top.
Put shallow pan (like broiler pan) on bottom rack of oven. When bread goes in oven, immediately pour 2-3 cups of hot water into pan and quickly shut door of oven.
Bake bread for 30-40 minutes until hollow sounding when tapped (190 degrees on thermometer).
Transfer hot loaves to a wire rack and let cool before slicing.
To serve slice as thin as possible. This is a heavy bread, so thin slices are best.
The oil is listed before the molasses for a reason. If you measure the oil first, then use the same spoon to use the molasses, the molasses will not stick to the spoon. (The downside is you don't get to scoop it out with your finger and lick your finger--not that I would do that.)
Some recipes double up on the darkness factor by adding a couple of teaspoons of powdered instant coffee.
Pros use some moisture in the oven for the first 5-10 minutes of baking. Put a shallow pan of water on a shelf below the bread or spritz the oven with water a couple of times after it is warmed.