How to Bake Traditional German-Style Pumpernickel at Home
Originating in Westphalia, Germany, with references as far back as the 15th century, the pumpernickel is a dark, dense, brick-like loaf, consisting primarily of coarse rye flour (rye meal). Other characteristics unique to pumpernickel are its crustless, moist body and earthy, lightly sweet flavours.
What makes German-style or Westphalian pumpernickel difficult to execute is its complex baking process, lasting from 12 to 24 hours at temperatures ranging from 100°C / 212°F to 200°C / 392°F. During this time, the rye-based sugars in the dough transforms and reacts to existing proteins, which contributes to the pumpernickel’s dark colour and distinct aroma.
Unlike Jewish or American-style pumpernickel, traditional German-style pumpernickel contain no colouring agents and sweeteners such as molasses (treacle), coffee, and cocoa powder. Consequently, traditional recipes are restricted to coarse rye flour, rye berries (whole, cracked, chopped), water, salt, and sourdough starter. However, pumpernickel purists may consider sourdough starters as a “shortcut”.
Bakers may encounter the following problems when preparing German-style pumpernickel:
- Baking temperatures are incorrect;
- The crust of the pumpernickel is too thick and dry;
- The interior of the pumpernickel is too moist.
Baking temperatures are incorrect
For home bakers, the best method to bake German-style pumpernickel is to use a wood-fired oven. If that’s not possible, the next best method is to keep a long watch on your oven and bake your dough at constant or receding temperatures. The initial temperature depends on several factors such as the size of your loaf pan, the weight of your dough, and the heat retention of your oven.
If you choose to bake pumpernickel at receding temperatures, you may turn off your oven and let the oven’s residual heat cook the dough overnight. For example, in his book Bread, master baker Jeffrey Hamelman suggests baking pumpernickel at 177°C / 350°F to 190°C / 375°F for an hour, 135°C / 275°F for 3 or 4 hours, and then turning off the oven for several hours. Further, he cautions that “experimentation may be necessary before the parameters of the bake time are established”.
The crust of the pumpernickel is too thick and dry
The key to a crustless pumpernickel is sufficient steam throughout the baking process. When using your pullman pan, Dutch oven, or Combo Cooker, ensure that it’s tightly sealed and water vapour cannot escape.
Other viable techniques involve wrapping the dough in aluminum foil or covering the loaf pan with aluminum foil.
The interior of the pumpernickel is too moist
Common additions to German-style pumpernickel includes whole, cracked, or chopped rye berries (soaked and/or cooked) and soaked altus (leftover rye bread). When adding such ingredients into your dough, heed to their moisture level. If too high, your pumpernickel may retain excess water and emerge from your oven as an exceedingly wet loaf.
Promptly after baking and prior to slicing, it’s also advised to cool your pumpernickel for a minimum of 24 hours (or up to 3 days), tightly sealed in baker’s linen or oiled plastic wrap (cling film). This allows time for the pumpernickel’s water content to distribute evenly throughout the loaf.
1: Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes. Jeffrey Hamelman.
2: Honest Pumpernickel Bread. Samartha.net.
3: Horst Bandel’s Black Pumpernickel. The Fresh Loaf.
4: Horst Bandel’s Black Pumpernickel, Take One. Wild Yeast.
5: Old Bread (Altus Brat). Baking 911.
6: Pumpernickel Bread. German Food Guide.
7: Traditional Pumpernickel. BBC.
Author: Zita (bakingbadly)
Published: October 3rd, 2013
Last Modified: June 18th, 2014