Westphalian Pumpernickel – the Real Deal –


Herself sez: The Ol’ Curmudgeon has been promising to post this – now it is here! This is incredible bread. Himself slices it fairly thin, butters it, and we eat it with thick soups – yummm! I like it just by itself as a snack. Very filling.

This is a rye sourdough that has all kinds of body. Sort of resembles a black brick. The normal loaf this size weighs about 2.25 pounds. This weighs in at 4.4 pounds.

There are all kinds of stories about what pumpernickel means and where it came from. One story says that the slang word pumpen meant flatulence, or farts. Nickel was supposed to be slang for the devil, something like ‘Old Scratch’ in English. So, according to this version pumpernickel would mean ‘devil’s fart’. There are other tales and there is no way to say anything other than ‘origin uncertain’.

The bakers in the Westphalia area of Germany – the western central area of modern Germany – came up with this hearty bread as a way to save money and energy. You and I tend to think in modern terms – an oven is a gas or electric device that you turn on, use, and turn off. Wasn’t always that way. Ovens used to be massive structures made of ceramic material – stone and mortar (sometimes mud). You had to get up early and build a fire. Or even better – the apprentices would get up in the wee hours and do the job. The oven would still have had some residual heat, so the fire was fairly easy to start. You burned a fair amount of wood or charcoal and, when the fire was out, you could begin baking. If things were right, the heat would last through the day (and the night). Big masonry structures can hold a lot of heat and release it in a slow and gentle manner. Remember, you don’t bake with direct fire type heat – too intense and uncontrolled for baking. Thing was, after the day’s baking there was still residual heat that would last through the night. So the bakers came up with this bread that cooked – untended – all through the night in the gentle and steadily decreasing heat that was already in the oven. The consequence was that the bread became dark, very dark, almost black from the Maillard reaction for coloring, not coloring agents as is the case in the false recipes of this age. People have had various reactions to this hearty rye – some considered it fit for the Gods, others thought it was fit for horses, not people. Whatever – try it – you may like it – you may hate it. I don’t regard it as good bread for sandwiches and such, but you just can’t beat it for dunking into a full-bodied soup or stew. Also good for canapés or open faced endeavors.

This is adapted from Jeffrey Hamelman’s recipe in his wonderful book – Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes.

Several stages are involved. Start a sourdough and a rye berry soaker the night before:

300 grams rye meal or coarse rye flour
300 grams water
12.5 grams good rye sourdough starter – see the article Rye Sourdough Mysteries.

Let it sit overnight, covered with plastic and a towel. 14 to 16 hours in a cool place – about 70°F.

200 grams rye berries
enough water to cover well

Soak overnight. Next day, boil in fresh water about 3 times the volume of the berries for an hour. Drain well and discard the water.

You also need an old bread soaker. Old bread is aged bread, but not stale or moldy. You want the darkest bread you can get, rye preferably, but a dark wheat can be used. Slice up 200 grams of bread and bake at 350°F on a sheet until it gets quite dark (not burned). Soak it in enough water to cover for at least 4 hours. I tend to do it overnight in a covered bowl. See Rye Sourdough Mysteries for a good rye to use as the bread soaker (after it ages a bit).

Be sure the rye berries are well drained. Squeeze as much water as you can out of the bread soaker (twist in a tea towel if necessary) and keep the water. The dough will be too soupy if you don’t get most of the water out of the soakers.

Some of this stuff you can get from a local co-op. If you can’t find the berries, chops, etc. then try Barry Farms on the internet – www.barryfarm.com. The have all the stuff. Shipping can kill you on grain products, but that’s life. King Arthur has a pretty good high gluten flour and medium rye flour and – lots of other good stuff – www.kingarthurflour.com

250 grams high gluten flour
250 grams rye chops (sliced rye flakes – looks kind of like oatmeal)
300 grams water
19 grams salt
1 pack yeast
38 grams blackstrap molasses (optional – but it helps)
all the rye berry soaker
all the bread soaker
all the sourdough

You know the drill with dried yeast – warm a bit of the water to 110°F, add the yeast and a pinch of sugar, let it sit for 15 minute or until it foams and wakes up.

Add all the ingredients to the mixing bowl and mix for 10 minutes on low. If additional water is needed, use the reserved bread soaker water. This will be a very sticky dough. If it is really wet, you can add a bit of high gluten flour, but don’t get carried away – it is a sticky dough of medium feel. Let it sit for 30 minutes and then shape into a 4.4 pound loaf. Use a lightly buttered 13” pain de mie or pullman pan (found at fantes.com). Let it rise until it almost touches the top – probably an hour or so. Close the top. Now the fun starts. This thing bakes for a long time – like 10 to 12 hours.

Start the oven off at about 370°F. Bake for an hour, lower the temp 15°F. Every 30 minutes lower another 15°F until you get down to 275°. Let bake for about 3 hours, then turn the oven off and ignore for the rest of the 12 hour total time. The work is over, the waiting is not. Cool on a rack, wrap it in linen and let it sit for at least 24 hours before you get into it. Your first reaction is that you may need a hammer and chisel to cut it. It is the densest, coarsest, darkest bread you have ever seen, but it is good with a robust stew or soup.


3 Responses to “Westphalian Pumpernickel – the Real Deal –”

  1. AlexAnatole Says:

    I think I missed something. At what point do you expose the loaf to the lightning of a violent thunderstorm and then scream, “IT’S ALIVE!”

  2. Adrian Says:


    That is right before you let it sit for 24 hours. The moisture continues to evaporate even at room temperature… I have found this even with muffins and things that have barley berries (and buckwheat flower, etc..) in them.

  3. Arthur Court Says:


    […]Westphalian Pumpernickel – the Real Deal – « Rumblings of an Ol’ Curmudgeon[…]…

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