Rye Pumpernickel with Sourdough

Pumpernickel Bread with Whole Rye Berries
Pumpernickel Bread with Whole Rye Berries. J.McGavin
    17 hrs 30 mins
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Pumpernickel has been mentioned in the literature as early as the 16th century. Originally made from soaked and simmered rye berries and rye flour without further leavening and baked in an oven for 24 hours, this bread is from the north west part of Germany, particularly the island of Soest, where the oldest, continuous pumpernickel bakery has been in operation since 1570 AD.

A newer recipe uses sourdough, wheat, and yeast to lighten the crumb, making a bread that can be baked 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 has no fat and very little, if any, added sugar.

Recipe adapted from "Bread" by Jeffery Hamelman

Makes 2, heavy loaves

What You'll Need

  • ***Sourdough Starter***
  • 2 5/8 c. whole rye flour (270 g.)
  • 1 1/4 c. water (270 g.)
  • 1 T. refreshed sourdough culture
  • ***Rye Soaker***
  • 1 c. rye berries (180 g.)
  • Water to cover
  • ***Old Bread "Altus" Soaker***
  • 3 3/4 c. old bread (180 g.)
  • Hot water to cover
  • ***Final Dough***
  • All of the Sourdough Starter
  • All of the prepared and drained rye berries
  • All of the soaked and squeezed old bread
  • 1 3/4 c. bread flour (224 g.)
  • 1 3/4 c. cracked rye (224 g.)
  • 1 T. salt (17 g.)
  • 2 tsp. instant yeast (6 g.)
  • 1 1/2 T. dark molasses (36 g.)
  • Water or flour as needed for adjustments

How to Make It

Prepare Sourdough Starter and Rye Berry Soaker the Day Before

If you have not refreshed the starter in the refrigerator for awhile, do so two days before you plan on baking. Information on caring for your sourdough here. 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 for16 to 18 hours. This sourdough should develop some sour smell.

Place rye berries in a pan, cover with two inches of water and leave at room temperature overnight. The next day, bring the contents of the pan to a boil and simmer until berries are soft, 30 minutes to 1 hour. Drain well.

Baking Day for Pumpernickel

Cook the rye berries (add water as necessary) on the stovetop until soft. Drain and set aside.

Pour boiling water over the old bread, including crusts and 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 the ingredients for the Final Dough in a large mixing bowl and mix on the lowest speed with a dough hook for 10 minutes. If you cannot find cracked rye, you can chop whole rye in an old coffee mill or grain mill. The coffee mill does a mediocre job, but it is what I used.

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 other form of heat retention.

Oil and flour 2 or more bread pans or Pullman pans (with a lid, also "pain de mie").

Divide as needed to fit your bread forms. I used a tea loaf form and a regular bread pan, since I do not own Pullman pans with lids. Instead of the lid, I covered the loaf with foil during baking.

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.

You want to bake this with an oven with falling temperature over many hours. My schematic was as follows:

  1. Place the pans in the oven and bake at 350°F for 1 hour.
  2. Turn oven down to 325°F and bake for 30 minutes.
  3. Turn oven down to 300°F and bake for 1 hour.
  4. Turn oven down to 275°F and bake for 2 hours.
  5. Turn oven down to 260°F and bake for 2 hours.
  6. Turn oven down to 225°F and bake for 1 1/2 hours.
  7. Turn oven down to 200°F and bake for 1 1/2 hours.
  8. Turn oven off at 11 pm and leave pans in oven until morning (oven was still warm).

Bread was in the oven a total of 17 hours.

Leave for 24 hours wrapped in cotton or linen before slicing. OK, leave at least one of the loaves uncut as an experiment.