Pumpernickel Recipe

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The River Cottage Bread HandbookPumpernickel originated in the Westphalia region of Germany, invented by bakers as a way of making the most of the residual heat of their wood-fired ovens once the usual bread had been baked. The recipe includes rye or wheat berries, which you can buy in many health food shops. Please make this once, at least, just for the experience. It is a drawn-out affair, to say the least (two and a half days from start to finish), but each stage is very simple.

Use a medium cast-iron (Le Creuset-type) casserole dish with lid, or something similar, for baking this bread. Alternatively, you could use a couple of loaf tins.

  • Yield: 1 loaf


For the soaker
  • 200 g rye bread, or other brown bread, sliced (stale is fine)
  • 200 g rye berries (or wheat berries)
  • Enough water to cover
For the sponge
  • 300 g rye flour
  • 300 ml warm water
  • 1 tbsp sourdough starter
For the dough
  • 300 ml warm water (use the water from the soaker)
  • 250 g rye flour
  • 250 g rye flakes
  • 20 g salt
  • 50 g g blackstrap molasses
  • A little oil
How to Make It
  1. The evening before baking, make the soaker: preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6 and lay the slices of bread on a baking tray. Bake until they are brown all the way through to the middle – snap one in half to check. Go as dark as you dare without burning. When you are happy, place the bread in a bowl with the rye berries and cover with cold water. Press the bread down every now and then to get it nice and soggy. In a separate bowl, make the sponge: beat together the flour, water and starter until smooth. Cover and leave both, at room temperature, until the morning.
  2. The next morning, strain the soaker in a sieve set over a bowl, squeezing the bread out and reserving the liquid. Measure 300 ml of this liquid (or make it up to 300 ml with water if you don’t have enough). Heat in a pan until tepid, then pour into a large mixing bowl and add the bread and rye berries, the sponge, rye flour, rye flakes, salt and molasses. Mix, stickily, until it all comes together. Oil your baking container(s), then scoop the mixture in, filling no more than half-full. Cover with a plastic bag (or lid) and leave to double in size – this could take up to 4 hours.
  3. When you are nearly ready to bake, cover tightly with a double layer of foil (if your container doesn’t have a lid). Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6. Place the tins on the middle shelf and bake for an hour. Turn the oven down to 190°C/Gas Mark 5 and bake for another 30 minutes, then at 180°C/Gas Mark 4 and 170°C/Gas Mark 3 for 30 minutes each. Finally, bake at 150°C/Gas Mark 2 for 3 hours, then switch the oven off and leave the pumpernickel inside until morning.
  4. If you are baking your pumpernickel in a clay oven, put the tins in when it is nice and hot, seal the door and chimney up, and leave to bake until morning.
  5. The morning after, remove the almost-black breads from the tins (they may be quite well stuck – running a knife around the sides will help), wrap them in greaseproof paper and leave to mature at room temperature for a day before eating. Delicious with cheese, cold meats and smoked fish.

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