Pumpernickel bread is from the northwest part of Germany, particularly the island of Soest, where the oldest, continuous pumpernickel bakery has been in operation since 1570 AD. It was originally made from soaked and simmered rye berries and rye flour, without further leavening, and baked in an oven for 24 hours.
A newer recipe uses sourdough, wheat, and yeast to lighten the crumb, making a bread that can be made in about 16 hours. The Maillard reaction in the bread turns it dark brown and adds layers of flavor. Sweet, toasty, and even a little bacon fat aroma and taste can be detected in a pumpernickel bread which actually has no fat and very little, if any, added sugar.
This recipe is adapted from the cookbook Bread by Jeffery Hamelman.
- For the Sourdough Starter:
- About 2 1/2 cups (270 grams) whole rye flour
- 1 1/4 cups (270 grams) water
- 1 tablespoon refreshed sourdough culture
- For the Rye Soaker:
- 1 cup (180 grams) rye berries
- For the Old Bread "Altus" Soaker:
- 3 3/4 cups (180 grams) old bread
- For the Final Dough:
- 1 3/4 cups (224 grams) bread flour
- 1 3/4 cups (224 grams) cracked rye (If you cannot find cracked rye, you can chop whole rye in an old coffee mill or grain mill.)
- 1 tablespoon (17 grams) salt
- 2 teaspoons (6 grams) instant yeast
- 1 1/2 tablespoons (36 grams) dark molasses
Prepare Sourdough Starter and Rye Berry Soaker the Day Before
- If you have not refreshed the starter in the refrigerator for a while, do so 2 days before you plan on baking. A rye sour is best but if you only have wheat flour, that will work, too.
- Set up your sourdough starter by mixing the whole rye flour, water, and a spoonful of starter in a bowl until all the flour is moistened. Cover the batter tightly so it cannot dry out and leave it at room temperature for 16 to 18 hours. This sourdough should develop some sour smell.
- Place rye berries in a pan, cover with 2 inches of water and leave at room temperature overnight.
Making the Dough
- The next day, bring the rye berries in the pan to a boil (add water as necessary) and simmer until berries are soft, 30 minutes to 1 hour. Drain and set aside.
- Place old bread, including crusts, in a bowl and pour boiling water over; leave for several minutes or longer. If it is soft bread, it will fall apart quickly; if it is old pumpernickel, it may take longer to soften.
- Squeeze the water out of the bread (it will resemble bread pudding or clay) and set aside.
- Place all of the ingredients for the Final Dough in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook and mix on the lowest speed for 10 minutes.
- Add water or flour as needed to create a dough ball that is only slightly sticky. The amount will vary, depending on how much water was in the soaked bread and berries.
- Knead on the counter for a couple of minutes to make final adjustments. Form into a ball and let it rest in a warm spot for 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 350 F, preferably with a baking stone or another form of heat retention set inside the oven. Oil and flour 2 or more bread pans or Pullman pans (with a lid, also called "pain de mie").
- Divide dough as needed to fit your bread forms. Form the dough into loaves and place in the pans. Dust with flour, cover, and let rise for 30 minutes in a warm spot.
- Cover the loaf pans with oiled aluminum foil, wrapping tightly.
Baking the Bread
You want to bake the bread in the oven using gradually decreasing temperatures over many hours.
It is best to start mid-day so the bread can sit in a warm (but turned off) oven overnight.
- Place the pans in the oven and bake at 350 F for 1 hour.
- Turn oven down to 325 F and bake for 30 minutes.
- Turn oven down to 300 F and bake for 1 hour.
- Turn oven down to 275 F and bake for 2 hours.
- Turn oven down to 250 F and bake for 2 hours.
- Turn oven down to 225 F and bake for 1 1/2 hours.
- Turn oven down to 200 F and bake for 1 1/2 hours.
- Turn oven off and leave pans in oven until morning (oven will still be warm).
The bread was in the oven about 16 hours. Leave for an additional 24 hours wrapped in cotton or linen before slicing.