Here’s how I like to eat a real pumpernickel: with lox, cream cheese and capers. Why? Because this moist, ultra-dense bread calls out for accompaniment. Smoked fish and cheese. A nice slice of pork fat with onions and chili powder on top. Something — and something rich. Oh, and beer.
Not that this bread doesn’t taste great on its own of course. This is an all-rye bread. No white wheat flour, no caraway seeds, nothing to mask it’s pure, peasant the-wheat-crop-failed-this-year-and-we-have-nothing-else-to-eat rye-ness. You’ll get it when you taste it. It ain’t no sandwich bread but it’s great for canapés, toast, or just eating with butter.
Yes there are darker pumpernickels out there, though most of those are dyed with espresso powder or sometimes cocoa to give them a coffee blackness. Others are darker because they have been baked for a dozen hours in a very steamy oven. I might try a longer baking time next time to see if I can get this one any darker. Having mail ordered both dark rye flour and rye meal so that I can make this, I’ve got several pounds left for experiments. Start by gathering your ingredients. On day one, combine your starter with the rye flour and water.
Stir it all up and let it sit about four hours until it’s swelled (about 50% larger than it was). You’ll see a few small bubbles on the top.
While you’re waiting, combine the rye flour, rye meal and boiling water.
This is what’s known in some bread circles as a “soaker”, a method for softening up large chunks of grain so they don’t shatter your teeth later. Trust me, it’s a good idea.
When the soaker is cool and the sponge is puffy, combine the two in a large mixing bowl or in the bowls of a mixer fitted with the paddle (a kneading hook will do you no good here, friends, those pentosan gums are just too gooey).
Knead or stir the mixture on low for a couple of minutes until the sponge is completely incorporated. Remove it to a bowl…
…and let it rise about four more hours until it’s about 50% larger than it was, then put it in the refrigerator overnight.
The next day combine the dough with the remaining rye flour and the salt. Stir it about three minutes.
Add the yeast and stir about three minutes more.
It will be quite sticky when it’s done, so turn it out onto a board well dusted with rye flour.
And roll it into a loaf of whatever shape you like…as long as it’s oblong.
This one I dropped into my pullman pan because I like straight sides.
I let it proof about another hour until cracks began to show.
Then I brushed it with boiling water and baked it at 475 for about 15 minutes (pouring water into a pan in the oven to generate steam), and then turned the oven down to 275 for another 2 1/2 hours. What does the boiling water paint job accomplish? It helps to gelatinize some of the starch and give it a bit of a sheen. Corn starch in boiling water does an even better job of adding shine and is a standby technique in Old World bakeries, especially those that make rye breads.
Don’t expect much of an oven spring with an all-rye bread. When it’s cooled, turn it out of the pan and let it sit until it’s completely cooled.
Let it sit for a minimum of two days before you slice it since it will be quite gummy on the inside before that. Those pentosan gums need time to dry out. Personally I like a rest of about five days, but experiment and see what you like. This is a great bread to have in your repertoire as it’s not only terrific, it’s a true representative of what peasant breads were actually like once upon a time. Enjoy it!